After months of negotiations, the EU top jobs were finally filled during an EU summit in Brussels on August 30th. The Presidency of the European Council goes to Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, for a 2.5 years mandate renewable once; while the EU diplomatic chief, High Representative/Vice President (HRVP) goes to the Italian Foreign Minister, Federica Mogherini, for a mandate of 5 years, renewable once (see here their official CVs). The appointment of Polish and Italian politicians permits to maintain an East-West European balance at the helm of the EU. As argued by Janusz Reiter, “Poland has arrived in the West.” In addition to the appointments, the summit covered the following issues: furthering Russian sanctions, the conflict in Ukraine and the situation in Iraq due to ISIS.
This double appointment sends a clear signal, European leaders have heard the message of the May elections and are giving high-level/visible job to pro-European Member
States. Poland has been since its inclusion inside the Union in 2004 the best student of the group of the 10 new members in 2004. The post of President of the European Council demonstrates the commitment by Western EU Member States of finally including the Eastern arm of the Union. Additionally, with the current tension between Russia and Ukraine, some Eastern EU Member States have felt under-protected by either the Union or NATO. Tusk’s appointment is demonstrating such commitment. Charles Grant of the CER argues that Tusk’s appointment is a clear “signal” to Moscow. The role of the President of the European Council may not have direct decision-making power, but it has nevertheless a clear global visibility and serious power in assisting Member States reaching consensus and compromise on important issues. Donald Tusk has demonstrated to be a successful politician in Poland by being prime minister for two terms as well as “his ability to build consensus [and] open to compromise.” According to the Treaty of Lisbon (article 15(6)), the role of the President is as follow:The President of the European Council: (a) shall chair it and drive forward its work;
(b) shall ensure the preparation and continuity of the work of the European Council in cooperation with the President of the Commission, and on the basis of the work of the General Affairs Council;
(c) shall endeavour to facilitate cohesion and consensus within the European Council;
(d) shall present a report to the European Parliament after each of the meetings of the European Council. The President of the European Council shall, at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The President of the European Council shall not hold a national office.
In terms of the diplomatic leadership, Federica Mogherini is facing a dual challenges: she has been criticized for her lack of experience and credential in the field, and is perceived
to soft/favorable towards Russia (read here and here a good coverage of Federica Mogherini). For instance, Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite, abstained to vote in favor of Mogherini in order to express her criticism of Mogherini biases toward Russia. Since her appointment, Mogherini has advanced tougher narratives vis-a-vis Moscow. On the question of her young age, 41 years old, she responded “There is a new generation of European leaders and we need to respond to and represent all of Europe” (I could not agree more with her argument). Thus, Mogherini is part of the new wave of Italian politicians led by the even younger Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of 39 years of age. Le Monde, one of the leading French newspaper, wrote a tough piece regarding the reasons behind Mogherini’s appointment: first, because powerful EU Member States want to maintain their diplomacy without being overshadowed by a powerful diplomatic leader; second, because Tusk is from Poland; third, she is a woman and quotas matter in Europe; fourth, she is a social-democrat; last, to please Matteo Renzi. But time will tell about reason 1 as she has brought back Italy to the center of European foreign policy. With only being Italian foreign minister for 6 months, “her appointment may say more about big countries’ determination” writes Charlemagne of the Economist “to retain control over crunchy foreign-policy issues than it does about any supposed European spinelessness.”
Sadly, it seems that for European leaders the appointments of the two high level EU jobs is an end by itself. The negotiation process has been so difficult and tumultuous that it may appear as such. If Herman van Rompuy, President of the European Council, leaves the job with the upper-hand considering the quality of his job, the same cannot be said about his counterpart, Lady Catherine Ashton (see here one of the best academic articles on the topic by Jolyon Howorth). Donald Tusk takes over a healthy and credible European Council, while Federica Mogherini assumes the leadership over a shaky and weak EEAS. The Big Three – Berlin, London and Paris – have done a great job during the Ashton’s mandate of undermining the EEAS in order to maintain the prestige and influence of their respective foreign ministries. From these three EU Member States’ point of view, as well as some others EU Member States, the EEAS has always been perceived as a direct threat and competitor to national foreign policies and interests. The current debate in Britain about Brussels’ power over national decision-making and independence is directly linked to the EEAS (even though most European citizens may not even know about the existence of such institution). Mogherini certainly knows it and will have to balance the reality of the game and promote European’s interests.
Both newly appointed leaders are facing pressing and challenging issues awaiting them (aside from learning English in the case of Donald Tusk):
- building a common position regarding Russia (which is currently happening among the 28) and a common voice in shaping EU’s actions and reactions towards Moscow’s conduct in Ukraine. Tusk and Mogherini have already expressed a tougher voice against Moscow. For instance, Mogherini said during a meeting before the Parliament’s Foreign Affairs committee, in her capacities of Italian foreign minister, that “I think Russia stays a strategic player in the regional and global challenges, [regardless if] we like it or not, but I don’t think it’s a strategic partner anymore.” Until she takes on her functions in November as the next High Representative/Vice President, Mogherini will have to balance out the Italian with the European interests.
- the economic context of the EU is still weak with an anemic French economy, a slower German economy, and the decline of some other Eurozone economies. Mogherini will have to deal with the impacts of the economic crisis on EU Member States’ limited commitment towards EU foreign affairs, while Tusk (politician of a non-eurozone member, which could create tensions during Eurozone meeting) will have to continue fostering the debate on the required reforms. But in any case, “his pro-EU convictions, with the pro-integration Juncker by his side in the commission,” writes Andrew Rettman “bode well for EU economic reforms.” Despite not being a Eurozone member, Poland has been one of the few EU Member States to have seen an economic growth since the beginning of the financial crisis.
- the Ukrainian crisis is a complex one and the EU has to continue to shape a clear approach on assisting Kiev. Certainly, a Eastern European leader will contribute to bring a new dimension into the European foreign policy making. The recent Russian attacks against Ukraine are a clear violation of Ukrainian national sovereignty and are causing a headache to EU leaders.
- the crises in Syria and Iraq are of clear importance to the security of the Union and its Member States. Some Member States, like Germany, France, Britain and Italy, are already providing weapons to opponents of ISIS, namely the Kurds of Northern Iraq, but the EU has yet to agree on a common strategy on dealing with the crisis in Syria and Iraq;
- last but not least, Tusk will have to maintain collegial relationship among the 28 EU leaders. The current wave of euroskepticism reflected during the May elections added to the independentist desires of Scotland, Catalonia and other European regions, plus the looming British referendum of the future of Britain’s EU membership will necessitate a savvy politician to deal with these internal tensions. Good thing that Tusk is described as “quiet, pragmatic, tenacious.”
A new leadership at the helm of the EU, with Schulz, Juncker, Mogherini and Tusk, may be the missing link in order to rejuvenate the European endeavor in search of a new identity and purpose.(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).