The EU has a new power that rarely catches the public eye but will have a say on almost every major issue: Thérèse Blanchet.
EU leaders agreed on Friday to appoint Blanchet as the next secretary-general of the EU Council. Blanchet, who is Franco-Swiss, currently heads the Council’s legal department.
As first reported by POLITICO, Blanchet has emerged in recent days as a compromise candidate to step up and help lead the whole Council amid fighting among EU members over who should replace Jeppe Tranholm- Mikkelsen, Blanchet’s predecessor. Tranholm-Mikkelsen resigned in March to become the top foreign ministry official in Denmark, his home country.
European Council President Charles Michel confirmed the appointment at a press conference on Friday afternoon.
Blanchet’s name came as a surprise to many, as she had not been in the discussion for the position until this week. Michel formally nominated her as a candidate at the summit on Friday, and leaders later approved the choice, according to three officials.
The position of Secretary General of the Council of the EU is one of the most influential in Brussels. The Secretary General not only attends meetings of the European Council of EU leaders, but has a role in drafting the leaders’ decisions, giving her influence on all key dossiers. Also, the Council of the EU is one of the main EU institutions helping to negotiate and adopt legislation.
For months, countries have been trying to bridge the divides preventing the appointment of a secretary general.
Many Western countries, and a few others, initially backed France’s ambassador to the EU, Philippe Léglise-Costa, as their preferred candidate. French President Emmanuel Macron personally pushed for Léglise-Costa, but some diplomats did not believe French officials were unanimously behind him.
Separately, many in the East feared that another close Macron ally would get such an important job. In the European Council, Michel is already considered close to Macron, and some countries were wary of the EU Council’s rapprochement with Paris.
Enter Blanchet. Although part French, she is not considered a “Parisienne”, a diplomat said.
For a time, the eastern wing of the EU was behind another experienced ambassador, Matti Maasikas, as a candidate. Maasikas served in Brussels as Estonia’s Ambassador to the EU and is now EU Ambassador to Ukraine. Easterners also argued that they were underrepresented among the Council’s top brass.
But the deciding factor seemed to come on Friday, when, according to some diplomats, Macron opted to switch and back Blanchet for the job.
Blanchet is a well-respected EU civil servant but does not come from the typical background of former secretaries-general, who often have experience as an EU ambassador or ‘sherpa’, the civil servants who help groom national leaders for their jobs. European.
Some fear Michel has backed Blanchet to give his team more control over the EU Council, even though the institution is supposed to work for member states.
The move “certainly won’t quell suspicions that President Michel is looking for a weak secretary-general to try and wield more power himself,” another diplomat said.