I’m glad to see that Wolfgang Munchau, who covers the European Union for the Financial Times and probably knows what he’s talking about to a much greater extent than most journalists who’ve touched on this subject, agrees with my sense that an obscure-but-effective Belgian is, in fact, exactly the right man for the job of new EU president:
But critics say that Belgium is a tiny county with little more than 10m inhabitants. Surely it is not comparable to the EU, a colossus with a population of 500m? I do not believe that size is that relevant. The EU is in many respects more similar to Belgium than to any of its large member states. Like the EU, Belgium is linguistically and culturally divided. The art of Belgian political leadership consists of bringing consensus to a broad and fractious coalition. This is exactly what the president of the European Council will have to do. In such an environment the last thing you need is a traffic-stopping visionary leader. There is therefore no point in comparing Mr Van Rompuy to Barack Obama, the US president.
As Munchau says, it’s a bit silly to think that appointing a well-known celebrity like Tony Blair would be the best way to achieve Europe’s aspirations on the world stage. Europe has a hard time playing a role on the world stage because it’s hard for Europeans to agree and because European institutions don’t always work very well. The path to Europe playing a larger role is for Europe to have a leader who succeeds in building consensus and making European institutions work. Von Rompuy may well fail, but he seems like the right kind of person.