|Author (Person)||Coss, Simon|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.8, No.28, 18.7.02, p10|
HE is invisible now, but he could one day be the face of the European Union.
As EU officialdom considers just how to give the Union a higher profile, the idea of naming a "Mr or Mrs Common Foreign and Security Policy" is being widely contemplated.
A foreign minister for the Union, a single voice representing the harmonious common policy of its member states? Maybe. But if so, who should it be?
Some offer the name of a man who has worked exclusively in European affairs for a quarter of a century, and who now leads the Council of Ministers, the seat of CFSP decisions.
Jürgen Trumpf, secretary-general of the Council of the European Union, would not turn down such an offer, colleagues say. They add that Trumpf, devoted to European integration, would not seek the post for personal glory, but for the sake of that integration.
For many Germans of his generation, European unification is more than an economic necessity. Colleagues say that for Trumpf, it is "not just a career, it's a kind of personal commitment".
Trumpf reportedly feels that the Brussels-based Council needs to become more visible to offset the growing attention being paid to EU decisions when they are made outside Brussels.
Instead of just taking turns at running ministers' meetings, member states are now using their six-month presidency terms increasingly as a means of staging prestigious EU events at home - as in the case of this month's EU-US summit in Madrid.
To balance the growing visibility of presidencies and the European Commission, many diplomats feel the Council itself should become more visible. Red carpets should be rolled out in Brussels, as well as in Paris and Madrid, for foreign leaders visiting the assembled EU ministers.
As for the man who should step out to meet them, few could have better qualifications than Trumpf, who has seen 25 years of European policy in the making after spells in London, Rotterdam, Bonn and Brussels.
Colleagues are quick to point out, however, that their boss is "not a typical Eurocrat", adding that his classical background distinguishes him from the scores of lawyers and economists in EU ranks.
Trumpf took degrees from the universities of Innsbruck, Cologne and Athens in philology, the science of structure and development of languages. Classical first, then Byzantine, then modern Greek, ending in a doctorate in classical philology at Cologne. He was born too late for the golden age of German archaeology, but he capped his studies off in a manner befitting the gentleman of two generations earlier, with research on the Kerameikos excavation, a protogeometric cremation site, in Athens.
As well as an education, Greece also brought him a wife, Maria, with whom he has two grown-up children. The family speak Greek and still spend their Easter and summer holidays on the island of Crete, where Maria was born.
Some suggest that Trumpf's move from classics to politics was accidental. When a friend said he was going to apply to join Germany's growing foreign service and suggested Trumpf do the same, he agreed.
"It was the Fifties and it wasn't clear what Germany would do. He liked international affairs, so he joined," said a long-time friend.
Trumpf's youthful exposure to hot sun and dust did not come to an end when he joined the diplomatic service, as his first post was that of attaché at the German embassy in Cairo. He then returned to greyer climes, with posts in London and Rotterdam.
Trumpf still loves London and can sometimes be found browsing in the tiny, cramped antiquarian bookshops near the British Museum. Those bookshops could serve as an apt metaphor for Trumpf's own character, unimposing from the outside, but packed with fascinating facts on the inside.
"With him, the first feeling is 'what a nice, normal chap', but when he talks, you find out he's very knowledgeable," said a fellow diplomat. "But he's not a flamboyant host of champagne receptions."
"At first glance he does not impress you as a brilliant intellectual light, but he is a good observer and he goes to the bottom of things," says another.
Almost always described first as "easy-going" or "down to earth", Trumpf's quiet, sympathetic manner makes people trust him.
One such person is German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who both trusts him completely and respects him. Despite Trumpf's long-time membership of the opposition Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD), Kohl appointed him as his personal representative for the perilous negotiation of the Maastricht Treaty's political chapters and was responsible for getting Trumpf his current Council job.
Trumpf is known in Bonn as the man who best understands the motives driving Germany's EU partners. "Kohl felt he was the best man for the job," remarked a German diplomat, adding: "Trumpf's European credentials are impeccable."
They are indeed. After serving as deputy to Bonn's ambassador in Brussels from 1979 to 1984, Trumpf went home to Bonn to head the foreign office's European Communities directorate for five years and then returned as Germany's ambassador to the EC.
Although he no longer represents his country in Brussels, he still stays close, getting his insider information through German channels, championing the language and taking a particular interest in the German press.
When Trumpf arrived at the Council in September last year, officials braced themselves for a Teutonic-style crackdown. But diplomats say Trumpf's loosely-structured meetings are relaxed compared to the strictly regimented reunions run by his predecessor Niels Ersboll.
Council employees also say Trumpf keeps in closer touch with his staff than Ersboll did, holding Friday morning meetings with the 11 directors-general who answer to him, keeping himself informed and them aware of each other's projects, creating a much more concerted Council. "The house is more integrated," they say.
Ersboll, secretary-general for a decade, became famous for influencing policy with his input into summit meetings, and for strokes of genius such as the formula that allowed the Danish government to hold a second referendum on the Maastricht Treaty.
Trumpf has not been in the job long enough to make a real mark on the institution, but colleagues do not doubt that he will. Trumpf may have more of a battle than his predecessors had, however, with the unmanageable beasts of CFSP and Justice and Interior Affairs (JAI) in his menagerie.
The arrival of three new member states and the resulting staff and language increases have also forced Trumpf to spend more time on organisational matters than his predecessors did, and, say aides, "he can't concentrate as much as he would like to on political issues".
Nevertheless, Trumpf does have real influence over the major decisions made by member states, providing a continuity which would otherwise be lacking.
Because the presidencies rotate, a government minister from one country will lead Council meetings for six months only once every seven and a half years. In between, he will attend meetings, but will be there only to fight his government's corner in Brussels.
Trumpf is the chief advisor to the foreign ministers and finance ministers in the chairman's seat, even to heads of state preparing EU summits. Sitting next to the president at foreign affairs and economics councils, he acts as co-pilot, giving in-flight advice on formulating compromises and finding the strategy for conducting meetings in sometimes stormy conditions. Trumpf recently accompanied Spanish Prime Minister Felipe González on his European tour as he prepared for this week's summit in Madrid.
Diplomats who have seen Trumpf at work say he talks little during ministers' meetings, listens to all the positions carefully, then disappears to draft "brilliant compromises". "He is not active in the debate, but he is critical to concluding the debate," said a British diplomat.
"He summarises and brings to the ear of the presidency all the concentrated wisdom of the member states and the EU," a colleague commented. "It cannot be underestimated how important that is."
Major profile of former French Prime Minister Alain Juppé.
|Countries / Regions||France|