Madam President for Europe?

With all the geographical and political calculations going into the selection of the EU president and foreign minister, there’s one consideration that’s been getting less attention: gender. As Jean Quatremer pointed out last week, women have been largely absent from the list of names circulating as potential candidates for the posts. But that’s changing, with a late push for the appointment of a woman to one of the top spots. Today, Quatremer advocates for former Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga as a viable candidate.

But even if a woman does end up being named to one or both positions, the fact is that the EU and Europe remain male-dominated at the highest levels of national and supranational government. So while a women EU president would be symbolically important, it would also be misleading.

Also, the deliberations have underlined a major shortcoming in the selection process, which — although fascinating for Brussels-watchers and EU insiders — has been opaque and characterized by backroom horse trading. Given the wide gap between elite and popular opinions about Europe in general and “more Europe” in particular, that’s hardly the way to bring public opinion on board for a reinvigorated European project under Lisbon.

These historic appointments could have been a way to generate enthusiasm, buy-in and a sense of accountability between Europeans and their EU leaders — across national borders. Instead, they are just reinforcing the image of an unaccountable Brussels making decisions based on bureaucratic calculations, largely detached from the concerns of the European constituency.