EU says it has solved the Kissinger question

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union says it finally has the answer to a question long attributed to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger: Who do I call if I want to call Europe?

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger is introduced before speaking to the 14th International Economic Forum of the Americas/Conference of Montreal in Montreal, June 11, 2008. REUTERS/Shaun Best

That answer is simple. The secretary of state phones Briton Catherine Ashton, chosen on Thursday as the 27-nation bloc’s foreign policy chief. But less simple is the answer to the question: who should U.S. President Barack Obama call? Here EU leaders seemed less sure of the protocol.

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU’s executive European Commission said he knew who Kissinger should call.

“Henry Kissinger, when he made that remark, was secretary of state. What we usually call foreign minister in Europe. So for now there is no doubt -- the secretary of state of the United States should call Cathy Ashton because she is our foreign minister,” he said.

He said “the so-called Kissinger issue is now solved.”

On the question of who is Obama’s EU counterpart, Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, appointed on Thursday as the EU’s first president, saw himself as that man. “I’m anxiously waiting for the first phone call,” he told a news conference.

But Barroso was more vague on that point, explaining the EU was not one country. “We are not the United States, we are not China, we are not Russia and we do not want to be... We are a union of states, so by definition our system is more complex,” he said.

In addition to the two new posts, the EU will still be represented by the head of the European Commission and the government of the country holding the bloc’s six-month presidency, an organizational role held by member states in turn.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel played down the need for high-profile figures in top European positions.

“I’m one of those people that believe that characters can grow into jobs,” she said. “What is expected from someone called (by U.S. President Obama) is that he is someone who speaks for Europe and not the person who is the most well-known.”

Additional reporting by John O’Donnell and Adrian Croft