Will EU flunk its big moment?
The dinner hour approaches when the EU must decide who will be its face on the world stage. It's a big credibility moment but with the clock ticking away there is, at the moment, only confusion, rumour and disagreement.
It is not even clear how the dinner will be conducted. Will there be a wide-ranging
discussion of various candidates? Will there be an early show of hands? And if it comes down to majority voting, what formula will be used?
There is mounting criticism of the way the Swedes have run the selection process.
As rotating President of the Council it fell to the Swedish Prime Minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, to try and find a compromise candidate acceptable to all. He has made two rounds of phone calls, but some diplomats say there is a lack of trust that all names are being fairly considered. It all depends on how you frame the discussion. One of those with a knowledge of what has been happening said "I've heard people talk of mistrust".
Others are complaining about a lack of transparency; that a job that is at the heart of the Lisbon Treaty should be decided by horse-trading behind closed doors is very damaging. What European voters are not being told is what kind of Europe these potential candidates believe in. One former Europe minister said, "they'll never again get away with something like this". One claim of the Lisbon Treaty was that it would deliver greater scrutiny and openness, but many are saying this has all the transparency of a papal conclave.
And then the candidate is not just being selected on who is the best qualified for the job. There are trade-offs between political groupings, between left and right, between large countries and small countries, between men and women.
There is a growing mood of suspicion. Quite a few countries are deliberately shielding their hands, waiting to see what happens when the leaders meet face to face.
There are suggestions that the Germans and the French will meet beforehand. It looks as if they will hold a joint press conference before the dinner. Some of the smaller countries will resist any attempt for these key decisions to be carved up between the French and the Germans.
In the meantime the British are still fighting for Tony Blair. Gordon Brown is likely to argue that the most important part of the Lisbon Treaty was the plan to give Europe a much stronger position on the world stage. Europe, in his view, needs a politician with an international name and, without doubt, Tony Blair is the best known.
What is unclear is how insistent Gordon Brown will be. But if the mood is for the Belgian Prime Minister, Herman van Rompuy, the British may put up strong resistance. They will point out that, for all his mediating skills, the Belgian has zero international recognition and they see him as wanting to increase Brussels's powers.