2015 in the Rear-view Mirror …

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Should 2015 be identified as the year of multilateralism? Despite the multitude of crises facing the West throughout 2015, the signature of three major multilateral agreements was not only meaningful, but will contribute to the shaping of world politics well beyond 2016.

2015, or the Year of Multilateralism

Could 2015 be seen as the year of multilateralism? Even if this question seems quite absurd considering the succession of negative news from terrorism, to economic slowdown, racism, populism, so on and so forth. But looking back, 2015 was to some extent the most promising year in recent years in getting regional and global leaders around the table and having them signed important documents. Three highly impactful agreements ought to be reviewed.

World-Climate-Summit-bannerFirst, the Paris Agreement of December 12, 2015 ought to be number one on the list. Yes, climate change is a reality. Yes environmental destruction is the greatest threat facing humanity. If polls, like the recent one produced by the Pew, show that Euro-Atlantic citizens feel that terrorism is the greatest threat to their security, they are certainly looking at it from a narrow angle. If ISIS has demonstrated to be effective at slaughtering unarmed civilians drinking coffee and listening to music, it does not represent the existential threat that climate change presents.

Source: Source: Carle, Jill. 2015. "Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners Focus on ISIS as Greatest Danger." Pew Research Center. July 14. Online: http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2015/07/Pew-Research-Center-Global-Threats-Report-FINAL-July-14-2015.pdf [Accessed on September 15, 2015]
Source: Source: Carle, Jill. 2015. “Climate Change Seen as Top Global Threat Americans, Europeans, Middle Easterners Focus on ISIS as Greatest Danger.” Pew Research Center. July 14. Online: http://www.pewglobal.org/files/2015/07/Pew-Research-Center-Global-Threats-Report-FINAL-July-14-2015.pdf [Accessed on September 15, 2015]

The Paris Agreement (which will only come into force once signed by the Parties on April 22, 2016 and ratified by 55 Parties) is more a political victory than a great climate deal. The political victory comes as the developed and developing nations have finally been able to agree on a global agreement. For instance, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is unable to get its Doha Round anywhere and most of the global initiatives are going nowhere. But in Paris, world leaders were able to show unity for a cause. However, the document falls short as there are no enforcement mechanisms in place in order to penalize states that do not comply. The European Union wanted a binding treaty with serious teeth and got instead an Agreement pledging to limit GHG emissions in order to maintain global warming below the 1.5 degrees Celsius target and a 5-year review of national progress and target readjustments. More work needs to be done domestically in order to transform current models of production and ways of living, especially in the US, India, China and the EU, but it is a good starting point.

The second major success for multilateralism is the Nuclear deal with Iran. After almost a GTY_iran_world_leaders_ml_150402_16x9_992decade of negotiations initiated by the EU (remember the EU3+1?), the US under the leadership of its Secretary of State, John Kerry, was able to come to an agreement on the nuclear negotiations with Iran. If the US and European nations were quick on framing it as a political victory, such deal would not have been possible without China and Russia. Both nations were central in order to have Iran signed the deal.  If the Europeans were on the side of the Americans, it was quite uncertain throughout the process to count the Russians and Chinese in. But Russia has appeared as an important partner. For instance, on December 29, Iran shipped more than 11 tonnes of low-enriched uranium to Russia. But the deal came through and is, as the Paris Agreement, imperfect. At least, it permits to relaunch diplomatic relations with Tehran and re-includes Iran as a member of the international community. Some of the sanctions will be lifted, permitting Iran to sale its crude oil starting next year, in exchange for a discontinuation of the nuclear program.

The third major agreement is the signature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Since the collapse of the financial markets in 2008, which have caused an economic decline of the US and its allies and seen the rise of China, the US has initiated two major trade agreements: one with its Pacific partners (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States, and Vietnam), the TPP, and one with its European allies, the Transatlantic Trade and Investmenttpp eng Partnership (TTIP). If the negotiations with European partners on the TTIP are still ongoing (read here a book on the topic), a result for TPP was finally reached in October 2015. In a document released by the Office of US Trade Representative, it is argued that “The result is a high-standard, ambitious, comprehensive, and balanced agreement that will promote economic growth; support the creation and retention of jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in our countries; and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections.” Regardless of the supports for such trade agreement, the TPP will have undeniably major impacts on regional and global economic and political relations. The US is solidifying its position in Asia and diplomacy is playing a big role in promoting cooperation. However, one question clearly remains: should have China been included in such deal?

Notable European Leaders in 2015

A paragraph could have been written on each of the 28 European leaders. But this piece focuses only on three EU leaders.

François Hollande, President of France, could very well be at the top of European leadership by the way he has maintained his position at the helm of France under such 98cebbe6a5319916285991f0e66baa545b8bf9bddegree of threats and instabilities. Economically, the French economy is not picking up. The French GDP growth is of 0.3% in the last quarter of 2015 with an unemployment rate of 10.6% illustrating a situation of stagnation and difficulties to draft and implement meaningful structural reforms. In addition, his approval rating in 2014 and early 2015 was around 13%, the lowest for all Presidents of the Fifth Republic. In the middle of these domestic turmoils and failed reforms, Paris was struck twice by terrorist attacks, once in January targeting Charlie Hebdo, and nine months later against civilians in a hipster arrondissement of the capital. Despite all these crises, François Hollande has been able to see an increase of his approval rating, avoid the take-over of regions by the Front National at the regional elections, and host one of the most welcomed global summits in Paris. 2015 was quite a year for François Hollande, whom has demonstrated serious skills of leadership against adversity. However, this is coming at a cost as he has taken a securitarian approach and is now passing laws, like the removal of citizenship, that are in complete opposition with the philosophical roots of his party (and arguably his own).

Angela Merkel, or the Emotional Leader of Europe. If François Hollande is shifting towards the right in order to make the homeland more secure undermining French

Generated by IJG JPEG Library
Generated by IJG JPEG Library

republican values, Angela Merkel has managed to maintain Germany in a sound economic direction (even though German economy is showing some signs of weakness), while becoming the emotional leader of Europe. Germany’s friendly policy of welcoming refugees was in some degree one of the most positive policies of 2015 in Europe. If EU Member States were calling for the construction of walls, use of army and other aberrations (Denmark planning to confiscate refugees’ jewelry) in order to stop the flow of refugees, Germany instead welcomed them. Angela Merkel’s decision to go against her political allies and political foundation illustrates one of the most human moves in Europe (read a recent piece here published in the New York Times). Chancellor Merkel may very well paying the cost of her actions if Germany is the target of a terrorist attack later on and struggle in integrating all these refugees.

David Cameron – The British Prime Minister was reelected in late Spring 2016 on an ultra-David-Cameron-Europenationalist and anti-european platform. Since his reelection, he has now identified himself as the British leader fighting for Britain’s national interests and integrity against the European Union. The publication of his demands to Brussels initiating negotiations in light of a future referendum about the membership of the UK solely responded to a national agenda without any clear vision for Britain’s future. Cameron is another European head of government with no long-term vision for his country and the Union. He embodies the shift of the past rights moving to the extreme without a clear political philosophy. Cameron’s polices have proven to be more based on ideology than facts.

Voices from Brussels?

What about HR Mogherini, President Tusk, President Schulz, and President Juncker? The heads of the largest EU institutions – EEAS, Commission, Parliament, and European Council – have not been that vocal at the exception of President Juncker at the ‘beginning’ of the migration crisis. The European leadership was pretty quiet throughout the year (at the exception of Commissionner Vestager going after the largest global corporations one after the other). Eventually 2016 could be the year for Federica Mogherini, whom is scheduled to release the new European Security Strategy in mid-Spring (read here an analysis on the current strategic thinking). 2016 could be as well the year for Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, as Warsaw will be hosting the 2016 NATO Summit. Such meeting in Poland will be important for two reasons: first, promote European principles and values in a country moving away from Europe’s ideals; second, it should address the ongoing regional crises from Ukraine, to Syria, to Iraq, Afghanistan and think seriously on how to engage with President Putin.

(Copyright 2016 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Defense Matters, Redux?

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The two-day informal EU Defense ministers meeting in Riga sent an interesting signal to EU Member States and their commitments to European security and defense. This informal meeting consisted in discussing current issues and preparing the up-coming European Council discussion on defense in June 2015. The informal meeting permitted for EU defense ministers to look at a series of issues such as the EU’s fight against hybrid threats, strategic communications and the EU’s rapid response capacity.

But France’s Defense Minister, Jean-Yves le Drian, did more than simply seat and listen, he called his European counterparts for greater burden-sharing, responsability and help in the war against radical Islamists in Africa and the Middle East.

Defense matters?

The question of European defense, under the umbrella of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), has been an area of low motivation from European capitals. Historically, the interest in European defense has come and gone (read here a review on a book on the CSDP). The last serious defense meeting took place in December 2013, three years after the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty (read here, here, and here analyses on the Defense summit). The large European Council meeting agreed on three axes in order to boost cooperation and ultimately strengthen the CSDP:

  • increasing the effectiveness, visibility and impact of the CSDP
  • enhancing the development of military capabilities
  • strengthening Europe’s defense industry.

The 2013 European Council’s conclusions ended by a call to evaluate the progress during the European Council’s meeting in June 2015. At the time of the Council’s meeting, the message from European leaders was simple, ‘Defense matters.’

France’s Call for Solidarity and Burden-Sharing

In his declaration ensuing the meeting, French Defense minister, Jean-Yves le Drian made some alarming comments about the lack of urgency of his European partners in recognizing the environing threats and addressing them accordingly. He declared that “I came in order to bring a message of emergency to my European partners and friends. An alert about the risk that we won’t be present. We are facing a multiplication without any precedents of challenges and threats for the security of our European citizens.”

Aside from the urgency of the threats, Jean-Yves le Drian asked a fundamental question: “We are 28 States within the European Union, but how many are we to really tackle in solving crises in our neighborhood?” He went on arguing that “the weigh of the European security is not equally distributed. France will continue to take care of his share of the burden, but only its share. We are waiting for our partners to join us.”

Challenges and Threats to EU Security

“In the current security environment in which we are faced with new and complex threats,” said Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, “unity is required more than ever.” The European neighborhoods require a clear attention, agreement on strategies, and implementation of clear policies.

Since 2011, the French have been very active and led the Europeans in their efforts to promote peace and stability south of Europe. The war in Libya, military interventions in Mali and Central African Republic (CAR), the large counterterrorist operation Barkhane, and airstrikes in Iraq are the most obvious illustrations. The rise of the Islamic State (IS) continues to occur and destabilize the region of the Middle East and now North Africa. The arrival of IS in Libya is changing regional geopolitics. Egypt feels threatened and started airstrikes against IS (and recently bought 24 Rafale combat jet to France. However, both events may not be related) in Libya. With IS on the shore of the Mediterranean, Europe is directly threatened.

On the Eastern border, Ukraine has become a battlefield between the West and Russia. A week after the February Minsk agreement, the combats are still raging, which are a clear violation of the cease-fire. The hopes ensuing the Minsk agreement seemed to have been short-lived as the tensions and conflict in Eastern Ukraine continue. The EU and its Member States are unprepared to now addressing Russia and certainly fight over control of territories. In a very critical 128-page report, titled The EU and Russia: before and beyond the crisis in Ukraine, produced by the House of Lords’ EU Committee (and published on February 20th, 2015), the British Parliament analyzed the shortfalls and failures of the UK and EU to tackle the Russian challenge. Several points can be underscored: first, the Committee claims that “Russia has been gradually turning away from Europe.” The report highlights two reasons linked to this shift: first, the EU failed to build an “institutional framework;” second, a continuous disagreement over the “shared neighborhood.” Additionally, the report takes a very critical tone against the EU and its Member States when writing:

“We also observe that there has been a strong element of ‘sleep-walking’ into the current crisis, with Member States being taken by surprise by events in Ukraine. Over the last decade, the EU has been slow to reappraise its policies in response to significant changes in Russia. A loss of collective analytical capacity has weakened Member States’ ability to read the political shifts in Russia and to offer an authoritative response. This lack of understanding and capacity was clearly evident during the Ukraine crisis, but even before that the EU had not taken into account the exceptional nature of Ukraine and its unique position in the shared neighborhood.”

So the EU and its Member States are confronted to a wide-array of issues, challenges and threats. “We [Europeans] have not the choice” claimed Maciek Popowski, a European diplomat. “We cannot cherry-pick a crisis over another. We must confront the threats from the East as from the South.” As opposed to other countries, the EU Member States have a solid advantage as they are 28 plus NATO. With 28 armies, 28 defense spendings, the EU should not be in a position of cherry-picking its crises, but rather addressing serious and rigorously all of them (especially with four Member States with some of the largest defense budgets in the world as illustrated below). The solution is in part burden-sharing.

Defense budget 2014

In his essay, L’Europe dans la tempête, Herman Van Rompuy, former President of the European Council, wrote about two principles when reflecting on his first days in office and in trying to save Greece from defaulting in 2010: responsibility and solidarity (p.9). This ‘shared responsibility,’ as he writes, does not solely apply to  monetary matters, it fits perfectly the case of defense policies and matters. Responsibility: EU Member States must address their defense shortfalls at the national and European level and be ready to act; Solidarity: EU Member States ought to think in terms of European interests and contribute to security efforts for the sake of the Union. Ultimately, Jean-Yves le Drian’s call for greater distribution of the burden and solidarity should not be perceived as a criticism, but rather as a wake-up call for Europe to address its challenges and guaranteeing the future of European defense and security.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

The Minsk Provisions – The Emergence of a New European Foreign Policy Engine?

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After an all-nighter, the four-nation peace talks in Minsk concluded with a list of 13 provisions in order to bring peace back in Eastern Ukraine. The meeting was held between French President François Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro O. Poroshenko. The marathon bargaining peace talks almost collapsed in the early morning, but was finalized thanks to an agreement on several key provisions such as: ceasefire on February 15th (point 1); withdrawal of heavy weaponry (point 2); a promise for constitutional change (point 11), and “special status” for the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk (points 4 and 5); humanitarian assistance (point 7) among others.

The concern, now after having Presidents Putin and Poroshenko at the same table, consists in enforcing the 13 provisions (listed below) and ultimately guaranteeing peace. The EU and the OSCE will have to continue their monitoring roles as requested in the provisions (points 2, 3, 10, 12). However there is two threats flying over the success of the

AFP/Mykola Lazarenko
AFP/Mykola Lazarenko

peace agreement: first, will Vladimir Putin bind himself to the agreement? So far, Vladimir Putin has yet to demonstrate his compliance. Second, will the US give a chance to diplomacy and avoid the continuous threat of providing lethal weapons to the Ukrainian government? (read here a previous analysis on arming Ukraine). Even though none of these questions can be answered, the success of this peace agreement depends on them.

Franco-German Engine – A Shift in European Foreign Policy?

Ensuing the talks, German Chancellor and French President expressed their views and conclusions in a joint-declaration. “We have no illusions,” Chancellor Merkel said, “A great, great deal of work still needs to be done. But there is a real chance to turn things around toward the better.” On the 12th of February, both leaders were briefing the European Council about the Minsk agreement. “It is as well a relief for Europe” said President Hollande. “It is an example of what Germany and France are capable of accomplishing in promoting peace.”

The German-Franco diplomatic engine is an interesting illustration of a shift in European decision-making in foreign policy. After years of reluctance in leading in foreign affairs and of rapprochement with the East (policy known as Ostpolitik, or Eastern policy, which focused more on rapprochement with the east, and especially with Russia), Germany has recently changed its course of actions. Since the annexation of Crimea, Germany has been a European pillar in seeking for a solution in Ukraine and with Russia. Both Berlin and Paris understand the strategic consequences of the war in Ukraine and even an eventual lasting frozen war on the European continent. Both countries understand the importance of normalizing relations with Russia for economic, energy, commercial, political and naturally security reasons.

However, the Normandy format – the four nations talks – “eclipsed the EU, sidelined Poland, and excluded the United States, something that Putin surely wanted” writes Judy Dempsey. “But the presence of the EU and the United States would have signaled a strong and united transatlantic front.” Such format permits Chancellor Merkel to follow her strategic avenue based on diplomacy and economic sanctions. Such approach is defined as ‘strategic patience.’ Additionally, France provides strong diplomatic support to Germany.

Interestingly enough, the missing Member State is the United Kingdom (UK). Prime Minister Cameron has really put the UK on the sidelines on foreign policy questions. Even former Britain’s highest ranking NATO, General Sir Richard Shirreff, underlined the absence of the UK in shaping negotiations and solving the crisis. “The UK is a major Nato member, it is a major EU member, it is a member of the UN security council,” he said,“and it is unfortunate that the weight that the British prime minister could bring to efforts to resolve this crisis appear to be absent.” Philip Hammond responded to the criticism by claiming that the UK had “chosen to take such a back seat” and let the Germans lead the negotiations. Nevertheless, Cameron’s absence – or irrelevance – is a considerable missing piece to the puzzle. His domestic policy of euro-bashing has affected UK’s role in shaping a common European foreign policy.

Last but not least, the fact that the EU is not an active part of the negotiations demonstrates the complexity in forging a common strategy between Western and Eastern Members and between willing and unwilling foreign policy actors. But on a positive note, historically, questions of foreign and defence policies have been initiated through bilateral agreement, which have then spilled-over at the Union-level. The EU may not need to be at the negotiation table with Putin and Poroshenko, but it will need to bring a credible voice and force in assuring the survival of the ceasefire and then avoiding a war on the European continent with Russia in the middle.

The 13 Provisions of the Minsk Agreements for a Peace in Eastern Ukraine

Based on the Elysée’s webiste, here are the list of the 13 provisions agreed by the four nations in order to bring peace back in Eastern Ukraine:

1. Immediate and comprehensive ceasefire in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine and its strict implementation as of 15 February 2015, 12am local time.

2. Withdrawal of all heavy weapons by both sides by equal distances in order to create a security zone of at least 50 km wide from each other for the artillery systems of caliber of 100 and more, a security zone of 70 km wide for MLRS and 140 km wide for MLRS ‘Tornado-S,’ Uragan, Smerch and Tactical Missile Systems (Tochka, Tochka U):

for the Ukrainian troops: from the de facto line of contact;

for the armed formations from certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine: from the line of contact according to the Minsk Memorandum of Sept. 19th, 2014;

The withdrawal of the heavy weapons as specified above is to start on day 2 of the ceasefire at the latest and be completed within 14 days.

The process shall be facilitated by the OSCE and supported by the Trilateral Contact Group.

3. Ensure effective monitoring and verification of the ceasefire regime and the withdrawal of heavy weapons by the OSCE from day 1 of the withdrawal, using all technical equipment necessary, including satellites, drones, radar equipment, etc.

4. Launch a dialogue, on day 1 of the withdrawal, on modalities of local elections in accordance with Ukrainian legislation and the Law of Ukraine “On interim local self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions” as well as on the future regime of these areas based on this law.

Adopt promptly, by no later than 30 days after the date of signing of this document a Resolution of the Parliament of Ukraine specifying the area enjoying a special regime, under the Law of Ukraine “On interim self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, based on the line of the Minsk Memorandum of September 19, 2014.

5. Ensure pardon and amnesty by enacting the law prohibiting the prosecution and punishment of persons in connection with the events that took place in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

6. Ensure release and exchange of all hostages and unlawfully detained persons, based on the principle “all for all”. This process is to be finished on the day 5 after the withdrawal at the latest.

7. Ensure safe access, delivery, storage, and distribution of humanitarian assistance to those in need, on the basis of an international mechanism.

8. Definition of modalities of full resumption of socio-economic ties, including social transfers such as pension payments and other payments (incomes and revenues, timely payments of all utility bills, reinstating taxation within the legal framework of Ukraine).

To this end, Ukraine shall reinstate control of the segment of its banking system in the conflict-affected areas and possibly an international mechanism to facilitate such transfers shall be established.

9. Reinstatement of full control of the state border by the government of Ukraine throughout the conflict area, starting on day 1 after the local elections and ending after the comprehensive political settlement (local elections in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions on the basis of the Law of Ukraine and constitutional reform) to be finalized by the end of 2015, provided that paragraph 11 has been implemented in consultation with and upon agreement by representatives of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group.

10. Withdrawal of all foreign armed formations, military equipment, as well as mercenaries from the territory of Ukraine under monitoring of the OSCE. Disarmament of all illegal groups.

11. Carrying out constitutional reform in Ukraine with a new constitution entering into force by the end of 2015 providing for decentralization as a key element (including a reference to the specificities of certain areas in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, agreed with the representatives of these areas), as well as adopting permanent legislation on the special status of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in line with measures as set out in the footnote until the end of 2015.1

12. Based on the Law of Ukraine “On interim local self-government order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions”, questions related to local elections will be discussed and agreed upon with representatives of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the framework of the Trilateral Contact Group. Elections will be held in accordance with relevant OSCE standards and monitored by OSCE/ODIHR.

13. Intensify the work of the Trilateral Contact Group including through the establishment of working groups on the implementation of relevant aspects of the Minsk agreements. They will reflect the composition of the Trilateral Contact Group.

Participants of the Trilateral Contact Group:

Ambassador Heidi Tagliavini 

Second President of Ukraine, L. D. Kuchma

Ambassador of the Russian Federation

to Ukraine, M. Yu. Zurabov

A.W. Zakharchenko

I.W. Plotnitski

1 Such measures are, according to the Law on the special order for local self-government in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions:

Exemption from punishment, prosecution and discrimination for persons involved in the events that have taken place in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

Right to linguistic self-determination;

Participation of organs of local self-government in the appointment of heads of public prosecution offices and courts in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

Possibility for central governmental authorities to initiate agreements with organs of local self-government regarding the economic, social and cultural development of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

State supports the social and economic development of certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

Support by central government authorities of cross-border cooperation in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions with districts of the Russian Federation;

Creation of the people’s police units by decision of local councils for the maintenance of public order in certain areas of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions;

The powers of deputies of local councils and officials, elected at early elections, appointed by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine by this law, cannot be early terminated.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

A New European Leadership – When the East Meets the West

Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA
Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

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

Credit: Reuters
Credit: Reuters

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

Credit: European Commission
Credit: European Commission

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).

New People, New Directions for the EU

Credit: AP
Credit: AP

On June 26th and 27th, EU Heads of State or Government met in Ypres in order to commemorate the First World war, appoint the new President of the Commission and identify the strategic agenda – new directions and priorities – for the Union. This European Council’s meeting mattered for one simple reason: the fight about the future direction of the Union towards either a more federalist road, or towards some sorts of status-quo maintaining the current stagnation of the Union.

Juncker, Towards a Federalism?

The appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker, a centre-right Christian Democrat and former Prime Minister of Luxembourg and a European federalist, was seen as a signal for a motion towards further integration. Additionally, his appointment reflects the political inclination of Europe in accordance with the newly elected European Parliament. The party winning the elections in May was Europe People’s Party (EPP), the right wing party. “The Parliament, and the political groups, have made the most of the treaty language stating that parliamentary election results must be taken into account” writes Benjamin Fox of EUObserver, “when EU leaders nominate a person to replace Jose Manuel Barroso.” Such practice is known as spitzenkandidaten, or lead candidates.  So EU leaders could difficulty go against popular wills. Not only Europeans do not see the European Parliament or these European elections as vital, but if European leaders were to already bend the law, one could imagine a widening of the democratic deficit and fueling the euroskeptic argument of extreme parties flourishing throughout Europe.

The appointment of Juncker was preceded by a political fight at the European level between the United Kingdom and Germany. One should underscore that France has progressively shied away from this political fraught. In the UK, Prime Minister Cameron has based/gambled most of his mandate on fighting the EU in the name of British national interest. His argument is that the integration of the EU and the expansion of its powers are not working in favor of British interests. He has, like all his elected leaders, sought to increase its political base by seeking the extreme side of his party. Cameron has since the beginning of his mandate threatened the EU by waving the card of a possible referendum on the future of the Britain’s EU membership (first, Cameron must be reelected in 2015, and the referendum could take place in 2017). Since the EP elections, Prime Minister Cameron has fought, a little bit like Don Quixote, the inevitable appointment of Juncker. Even the Economist consents by arguing that Cameron fought the right battle – spitzenkandidaten system -, but with the wrong tactics. Cameron’ strategy was purely political in order to demonstrate to his British fellows how much he has been fighting for Britain’s interests.

Photographer: Eric Feferberg/AFP via Getty Images
Photographer: Eric Feferberg/AFP via Getty Images

Cameron’s gamble has not paid off, but has contributed to widening the gap among EU Member States. With his narrow vision, Cameron has forced on a vote by qualified majority voting for the President of the Commission that he lost 26-2. Such vote requested by Cameron was unprecedented. The appointment followed the results of the European elections of May 2014. He threatened his European counterparts that the appointment of Juncker would contribute to pushing Britain further towards the exit of the Union.

The appointment of Juncker at the helm of the Commission is certainly positive in two aspects (one can read here the article titled The accidental president of Charlemagne in the Economist. This op-ed offers a completely different argument that the one advanced in this present commentary). First, after 10 years of a Barroso Commission, the EU needed a new leader. Barroso leaves Brussels with a very mixed, mostly negative, tenure. Second, for all pro-Europeans, Juncker seems a good appointment considering his experience, but most importantly his passion and understanding for the Union’s project.

However, the appointment of Juncker is fueling the debate about the future of the Union. His pro-European view, in favor of European federalism (even though we are very far from the creation of United States of Europe), is scaring many EU Member States aligned with the UK. The UK has been fighting for a return of powers from Brussels to the capitals. The current debate is directly embedded in the following directions: either, a deepening of the Union towards federalism; or, a stagnation of the deepening process with some sort of institutional status-quo. The Lisbon Treaty offers some instruments to move the deepening process, but Member States have since been effective in limiting it through the institutional maze.

The Strategic Agenda

Aside from the political appointment, EU Heads of State or Government identified five strategic dimensions for the future of the Union. The report is titled Strategic Age for the Union in Times of Change:

  1. stronger economies with more jobs, meaning boosting growth, competitiveness, and employment through lowering taxes, signing the TTIP in 2015, solidifying the EMU and the common market.
  2. societies enabled to empower and protect all citizens, through the reinforcement of the welfare state.
  3. a secure energy and climate future, by balancing out clean and cheap energy in order to secure energy consumption in Europe, while fighting against global warming.
  4. a trusted area of fundamental freedoms, securing the homeland from external and illegal migration, while preventing homeland crimes and terrorism through greater judiciary cooperation.
  5. effective joint action in the world, defending the interests and values of European citizens in the neighborhoods and beyond; engaging strategic partners, reinforcing bilateral and multilateral fora as well as continuing the deepening process of the CSDP.

Ultimately, these five strategic dimensions are not surprising and are very Union-like. They all encompass the weaknesses of the Union and the Member States’ willingness to cooperate on these matters. The interesting point is about the EU’s global role through the Common Security and Defense Policy. The conclusions express that the EU will increase its role and influence in the world “by strengthening the Common Security and Defence Policy, in full complementarity with NATO.” Does that mean that the EU and its Member States are dropping the idea of keeping the CSDP as a sole European project? Is the CSDP destine at some point to be merged inside NATO?  

What is next?

Prior the European Council’s meeting five high level EU positions were up for grab: the President of the Commission, now filled by Juncker; the President of the Eurogroup, the powerful group of finance ministers of the Eurozone; the President of the European Parliament, filled once again by Martin Schulz reelected on the first round, getting 409 of the 621 today (July 1st); the President of the European Council; and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs/Vice-President of the Commission. Now that the Commission is in the hands of Juncker, Member States are now fighting over the distribution of the important Directorate Generals inside the Commission and the other very important posts, which will be decided during the next European Council’s meeting on July 16th. It appears that the EU’s Socialist and Social Democrats are now seeking for the next two big job: President of the Council and the HR. The Financial Times argues that European socialists want to secure the next two jobs in order to balance Juncker.

So far, the biggest speculations have been around the appointment of the next HR (read here the humorous and excellent Josef Janning’s job description for the next HR). According to the press, Federica Mogherini – Italy’s foreign minister -, the Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermansmay, or even Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, may be the leading candidates for the job. In any case, the political game of thrones will continue to be played in between soccer games until the 16th of July.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)