Finnegan's Take

It’s a question set to cause bitter disputes at pub table quizzes, given the variety of plausible answers.

EU Leaders have chosen Herman Van Rompuy as the first permanent president of the European Council. So will he be the boss in Brussels?

Well, the new foreign affairs position – handed to the UK’s Catherine Ashton – could develop into a highly visible international role, akin to the US Secretary of State, and will represent the EU on major issues like the Middle East.

And despite the creation of a new European Council President, EU member states will still take turns running the nitty gritty of the Council’s agenda for six months apiece.

Then there’s Jerzy Buzek, President of the European Parliament, who can at least claim to be a directly-elected power-broker.

And, lest we forget, José Manuel Barroso has been reappointed as President of the European Commission for a new five-year term. The Commission continues to set the tone in Brussels, proposing legislation and making big decisions in areas like competition law, so Barroso’s claim is as strong as any.

(Outside observers are wondering just how many Presidents Europe really needs.)

Still, as the revamped European institutions settle into the new post-Lisbon era, the chances are that the most influential figures in Brussels are still Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy.

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  1. The most powerful figure on the EU level is definitely Barroso. He has been nominated by all member states and confirmed by a vote of the European Parliament. van Rompuy is just nominated by the European Council, Buzek is just elected by the Parliament, and Ashton will only be confirmed by the EP in a team vote on the whole Commission.

    Barroso also has the longest high-level experience in an EU institution, and he thus has the best contact networks in Brussels and abroad. And his personality is more outgoing than the ones of van Rompuy and Ashton (even though he’s not the most charismatic person), and Buzek, who could win through personality, does not get the (European and international) media stage to show it.

    So Barroso is the strongest EU figures, overshadowed by powerful national leaders, but in the Brussels business I think he knows how to handle the crowd.

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