Henry Kissinger might well have been right when he said power was the ultimate aphrodisiac – although it was as US president that Bill Clinton went on to prove that. But even the obvious attractions of those aphrodisiac powers would not persuade most of us to seek public office.
This would certainly apply to be being an EU commissioner. It brings a nice salary and lots of travel opportunities – but equally a lot of frustration from trying to persuade national politicians and MEPs to accept what you believe to be common sense.
Against that background it’s surprising that the farm commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, has been hinting that he might like to serve a second term in the post. He did this during an informal meeting of farm ministers. We all know the old adage that it’s polite to wait until you’re asked – and Mr Ciolos did acknowledge that there were a number of fairly large stumbling blocks to him securing a second term. These include persuading members of a new European parliament agriculture committee that he’s the right person for the job.
Even more importantly he would need to be nominated again as a commissioner by the Romanian government. However the government in Romania has said it will nominate him again, provided he secures one of three key portfolios, led by agriculture, followed by regional development and development. If that’s rejected Mr Ciolos will not be returning and the jockeying for the agriculture brief will begin afresh – with the chairman of the agriculture committee in the latest European parliament, Paolo de Castro, not yet out of the running.
The bigger question for the other 26 EU Member States is whether Mr Ciolos deserves a second term. He’s certainly not been a big personality commissioner like Ray MacSharry, Franz Fischler or Marian Fischer Boel. He’s always been more of a technocrat than an orator, and even those that are part of his inner circle say he’s a difficult man to get close to – although that changed as his English improved.
Judged on his achievements, Mr Ciolos did deliver a CAP reform deal within the time-scale needed, albeit after a difficult start and a painfully slow first year of negotiations with farm ministers. But to be fair he succeeded when the negotiating conditions were a lot more difficult than in the past, in that for the first time the European parliament had joint decision-making rights with the Commission and national ministers.
The fact that he achieved that is probably largely down to the Irish farm minister, Simon Coveney, who used the Irish EU presidency at a crucial time to put life into a process that was dying on its feet. That it had got to that position was down to Mr Ciolos and an apparent lack of confidence to drive his own plan forward aggressively. In Mr Coveney he recognised an opportunity and was wise enough to go with it. If he becomes a second-term commissioner, implementing his own plan and beginning preparations for the post-2020 reform, he would almost certainly be more confident about driving the process.
To his credit he kept much of his thinking intact, and was wise enough to recognise areas where there had to be concessions. He’s secured a flatter payments structure, modulation and greening, all of which were big headline issues. He saw down attempts by the environment and climate change commissioners to use the CAP as a weapon in their campaign against climate change. As the first commissioner from one of the new Member States he resisted enormous pressure to favour them in CAP reform. On the basis of all those positives, he probably deserves a second term and a chance to implement his policies.