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2009: Year of the Ox, Gorilla, Astronomy or President?

By Ivan Simic

Guyana Journal, December 2009

The year 2009 is definitely Presidential year: Barack Obama is inaugurated as the 44th, and first African American President of the United States; Jóhanna Sigur_ardóttir is appointed as the new Prime Minister of Iceland, becoming the world's first openly lesbian head of government; Morgan Tsvangirai is sworn in as the new Prime Minister of Zimbabwe following the power-sharing deal with President Robert Mugabe; the President of Guinea-Bissau, João Bernardo Vieira, is assassinated during an armed attack on his residence in Bissau.

Also, in 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issues an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Darfur. Al-Bashir is the first sitting head of state to be indicted by the ICC since its establishment in 2002. The President of Madagascar, Marc Ravalomanana, is overthrown in a coup d'état, following a month of rallies in Antananarivo. The military appoints opposition leader Andry Rajoelina is the new president of Madagascar. Former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori is sentenced to 25 years in prison for ordering killings and kidnappings by security forces.

In addition, former President of South Korea Roh Moo-Hyun, under investigation for alleged bribery during his presidential term, committed suicide; El Hadj Omar Bongo Ondimba, President of Gabon dies in Spain. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is reelected as the president of Iran. The Supreme Court of Honduras orders the arrest and exile of President Manuel Zelaya, claiming he was violating the nation's constitution by holding a referendum to stay in power; Barack Obama is awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize; Prime Minister of Belgium Herman Van Rompuy is designated the first permanent President of the European Council, among others.

However, let's focus on the EU, since the EU got its first President.

The EU has chosen its first president, Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy. Leaders of the EU 27 member states also chose a woman, British commissioner Catherine Ashton, who will be the EU's new foreign policy chief.

Van Rompuy remained almost completely unknown outside Belgium's frontiers until he was anointed as a candidate for President of the European Council by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy at a Brussels summit in October 2009.

The final decision for Van Rompuy for the President was entirely made by prominent leaders: Angela Merkel, Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy. Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, had his vast share in this decision, since he initially supported Tony Blair for the EU President.

What is done is done; the EU finally got its first permanent President. But, let's find out what it means being the President of the EU:

1. Is this presidential appointment a solution to stop Muslim expansion to the Western Europe? We all know that in particularly three countries that supported his appointment; France, Germany and UK have large number of Muslims among their population. We also know that Van Rompuy is a strong opponent of Turkey joining the European Union. In 2004, he stated: "Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe. An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past... "The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey."

Does this mean that the EU did not have the voice to say no to Turkey's EU membership, they therefore installed Van Rompuy as the President to deal with the matter?

2. How much will this new presidential position cost the EU and its citizens who, by the way, did not vote to elect Van Rompuy, and were not even asked what they think about him? What we know is: he will be paid over €400,000 a year; he will have a staff of 60 people, a cabinet of 22, 10 body guards and 28 support staff. His total office budget will be €24.7 million. His new office building, which is currently under construction, will cost more than €300 million.

What about armored limousine, annual expense account, a non-taxable travel account, account for entertainment, place of residence, a country retreat, official guest house, aircraft, among others? These are all privileges and amenities that US President Barack Obama has.

3. Does Van Rompuy hold the power to declare war on another country? A declaration of war is a formal performative speech act or signing of a document by an authorized party of a government in order to initiate a state of war between two or more nations. In many nations power is given to the head of state or sovereign.

Is Van Rompuy that head of state?

4. If one country wishes to declare war on the EU, can that same country send the letter to Van Rompuy, declaring the war, or it needs to send the letter to every member of the Union individually? Van Rompuy probably knows how protocol goes, but, let us reminds him. The Hague Convention from 1907, section III - The Opening of Hostilities states:

Article 1
The Contracting Powers recognize that hostilities between themselves must not commence without previous and explicit warning, in the form either of a reasoned declaration of war or of an ultimatum with conditional declaration of war.

Article 2
The existence of a state of war must be notified to the neutral Powers without delay, and shall not take effect in regard to them until after the receipt of a notification, which may, however, be given by telegraph. Neutral Powers, nevertheless, cannot rely on the absence of notification if it is clearly established that they were in fact aware of the existence of a state of war.

How can this be done in the EU case?

5. Will the new EU military be under Van Rompuy's command? According to The Helsinki Headline Goal by the year 2010, the EU will have full military capabilities in humanitarian and rescue tasks, disarmament operations, support to third countries in combating terrorism, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, and peacemaking.

By the way, with this new European army in place, will the EU-NATO Member States suspend their membership in NATO?

6. Will Van Rompuy be the new Commander-in-Chief of the EUFOR (European Union Armed Forces)? Javier Solana, the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy is the main coordinator of the Common Foreign and Security Policy within the European Union. Solana will be replaced by Catherine Margaret Ashton, the EU's first High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Usually countries have Presidents or Monarchs as Commanders-in-Chief of the Armed Forces; therefore, now when the EU has a permanent President, will he command the EUFOR?

7. Who is the supreme authority for military affairs: Van Rompuy or Catherine Margaret Ashton, and who is the only competent authority for the use of nuclear weapons? This is the case with French President Sarkozy and the US President Obama, among other head of states. What about the EU?

8. Which country/member state will benefit most from Van Rompuy: the UK, Belgium, Germany, France or Italy? We know that Van Rompuy is a close ally to Gordon Brown, the UK Prime Minister, and in addition the UK now has its own chief of EU foreign policy. Does this mean that the UK got its long desired advantage over other EU members?

9. Who will be the first head of state to meet Van Rompuy: Barack Obama or Dmitry Medvedev, or none of the above?

10. Does this mean Van Rompuy will be blessed with the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010? Barack Obama got the Peace Prize after being elected the first African American President, why not Van Rompuy after being elected the first EU permanent.