It is Politics, Stupid!

CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY
CREDIT: ANADOLU AGENCY

“I really cannot remember, in all my time in European politics, whether I have come across a situation like this. This is really all about the European Union. If the EU is going to have any credible force, it is going to have to demonstrate it is capable of solving its own problems.” – President Martin Schulz on July 12th, 2015 during the Euro Summit Meeting

Forget about economics, finance, banking regulations, social welfare policies, debt forgiveness; the future of Greece solely depends on politics. “The answer [of endless negotiations on solving the Greek crisis these last five years] cannot be found in economics,” writes Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek finance minister, “because it resides deep in Europe’s labyrinthine politics.” Greece’s destiny is a simple political question based on several concept: trust and confidence.

The Deal

After a week long of back and forth between Greece and the European capitals, Brussels is once again the siege of a Greek marathon. A meeting of the Eurogroup finance ministers started on Saturday, July 11th and ended the next day around 3pm. Ensuing it a general EU summit, with the 28 leaders, was supposed to take place, but was instead cancelled and transformed into a crisis summit of the 19 EU leaders of the Eurozone. The future of Greece as a member of the Eurozone was clearly on the line with a very reticent German team (Chancellor Merkel and her Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble proposing an eventual ‘temporary Grexit’).

As reported by the Financial Times, the finance minister negotiations, which were fruitless and tense, let the way to the EU leaders, whom could not do better considering Germany’s position. Until François Hollande, President of France, whom had been extremely active in advising, helping and defending Greece in the last mile, called for a meeting in Tusk’s office. Preisdent Tusk was reported saying “Sorry, but there is no way you are leaving this room” until a deal is reached.

Credit: Aris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Credit: Aris Messinis/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Interestingly enough, Tsipras’ proposal prior the July 11th meeting included: raising the age for retirement; a VAT hike at 23% across sectors; privatization of key sectors of Greek economy; and removal of tax breaks for some Greek islands. These reforms would permit to unlock a third loan package of $59.6bn until 2018. Tsipras’ proposal was highly similar to the one offered by the international creditors. Even Jean-Claude Juncker during the meeting recognized the proposal brought by Tsipras as almost identical to the one put on the table by the creditors weeks earlier. And the President of European Parliament, Martin Schulz, called for avoiding a Grexit and find a solution.

Based on the deal reached on July 13th, the Greek Parliament voted and agreed on July 15th, on the bailout deal, which was approved with a 229-64 majority. However, Tsipras’ party, Syriza, seems to have lost some unity with 32 Syriza MPs defying their leader’s pleas and rejected the deal. Clearly the terms of the bailout are in direct contradiction with Syriza’s policies, beliefs, and promises, as well as sidelining the results of the referendum. These contradictions could push even further the political crisis in Greece and lead to yet another election during the summer.

Chancellor Merkel, the Finish government and others are not convinced about the proposal and especially Greece’s commitment. The Greek drama is taking more than a simple economic/financial turn, it is purely political. It appears that some EU Member States, like Germany, Finland, Slovakia and others, are more inclined to go after Greece and its leftwing government led by Alexis Tsipras, than finding a real deal that would help in the long term the country.

One core reason is trust, or at least ‘lack of trust.’ Some experts have argued that Tsipras was now on Merkel’s black list after his political coup, the referendum. Merkel and others EU leaders do not trust any longer Tsipras and his government. Or even has argued by Yanis Varoufakis, “based on months of negotiation, my conviction is that the German finance minister wants Greece to be pushed out of the single currency to put the fear of God into the French and have them accept his model of a disciplinarian eurozone.”

Death of the European Project?

The Greek file should be considered as an overall failure for the European ethos. Many economists, like Joseph Stiglitz, have been very critical of the negotiation process and the agreed deal. One of the most virulent denunciation of the deal was Paul Krugman, writing that “it’s [the deal] a grotesque betrayal of everything the European project was supposed to stand for.” Even the International Monetary Fund, a global advocate for austerity measures and straightjacket policies, has been critical of the dealbroken_euro_fit calling instead for a huge debt relief for Greece.

Last but not least, Nicolas Gros-Verheyde of Bruxelles2 wonders about a core question: “Is Europe becoming the sum of its egos?” The Greek file embodies more than solving an economic problem, it has become a vicious fight between powerful EU Member States. These egos are affecting their global visions and understandings of the core principles and values of the European endeavor. But right now, the EU is failing at this important crossroad. The EU cannot find a real solution on any major crisis from counterterrorism in Mali, to migration crisis in the Mediterranean, to Ukraine/Crimea, to the domestic rise of nationalism, and naturally Greece. Are politics killing the EU? It certainly looks like it.

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

Greece votes Oxi, Europe says Grexit

ATHENS, GREECE - 2015/06/29: The word 'OXI' (NO) written on a banner in front of the Greek parliament.  Greeks demonstrate in Syntagma square in support to a 'NO' vote in the referendum that will take place on the 5th of July, whether to accept the  new agreement between Greece and it creditors. (Photo by George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
ATHENS, GREECE – 2015/06/29: The word ‘OXI’ (NO) written on a banner in front of the Greek parliament. Greeks demonstrate in Syntagma square in support to a ‘NO’ vote in the referendum that will take place on the 5th of July, whether to accept the new agreement between Greece and it creditors. (Photo by George Panagakis/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“All of us are responsible for the crisis and all of us have a responsibility to resolve it.” – President Donald Tusk, July 7th, 2015

Greek citizens voted in majority Oxi to the July 5th referendum. The question asked by the Tsipras government, which was campaigning for a ‘no’ vote, was yes or no to accepting a continuation of the bailout program with all the austerity measures coming with it (read here a previous analysis). The results were very clear throughout the country with 61.31% for the no vote and 38.69% for the yes vote (see here the map produced by the Gr20150711_woc001_0eek Ministry of Interior showing that the no vote won in each Greek region). Greek citizens felt that the best option – out of two bad – was to reject the terms of the bailout on the table. If for a day the discussion was about the meaning of the ‘no’ vote (is it against the EU, the Euro, or simply a desire to remain a member of the Eurozone), today’s reality is about the future of Greece as a member of the Eurozone. So where do Greece and the EU go from now on?

Negotiations and Survival

In less than two days, a succession of events has taken place. For over five years, it seems that the Greek file was dragging, it has certainly taken an all new meaning and urgency. Prior to the results, Chancellor Merkel of Germany was meeting her counterpart, President Hollande, in Paris in order to find a common ground. The day ensuing the political victory of the Tsipras government, the infamous Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, announced his resignation. Many advanced that Tsipras had to go in order to demonstrate to his European counterparts that Greece was serious in seeking for a viable option. Varoufakis had gone too far and had lost some of his support within the Eurogroup of finance ministers.

Then on Tuesday, an emergency summit meeting took place with no substantial results.

Credit: Yves Herman/Reuters
Credit: Yves Herman/Reuters

Tsipras was supposed to bring, as highly recommended by the French government, a new proposal. But the summit meeting failed as Athens did not provide an acceptable option. Tsipras has now until Thursday (as requested by Merkel) in order to present a new proposal to his creditors. A failure in finding an agreement could lead to “the bankruptcy of Greece” warned Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, “and the insolvency of its banking system.” Tusk added that “tonight I [Donald Tusk] have to say it loud and clear — the final deadline ends this week.” On Sunday, as announced by the 19 eurozone countries on tuesday, the 28 EU leaders will be deciding on the future of Greece.

In addition, the New York Times reported that for the first time – at least publicly – the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has announced that he has “a Grexit scenario prepared in detail.” If a Grexit scenario is now on the table, Tsipras will be defending his case before the European Parliament on Wednesday morning.

Consequences of Staying in the Eurozone, or Leaving It?

In the middle of the negotiations and in finding a solution, a key player is the European Central Bank (ECB). Currently the ECB is the institution that is keeping the Greek banks alive by providing liquidity. Because today Greece is unable to borrow money on the international market and the Europeans are the one providing money to Greece in order to have its economy and banking systems going. The ECB will continue to do so if a deal is agreed. However, in the case of a break-up, the ECB will remain a central player as it will stop providing liquidity to Greece. In addition, even if Greece missed its first payment of July 1st to the International Monetary Fund of $1.8bn, the second deadline of July 20th to the ECB of $3.8bn will be key for Greece and the EU.

If Greece wants to stay in the Eurozone, they will have to implement a set of policy measures that will require: tax reforms; fixing the pension program, which will affect early retirement program; labor market practices. Once these are ongoing the international and european creditors will have to give meaningful debt relief.

In the case Greece decides to leave, or is expelled from the Eurozone, then it will have to introduce a new currency. The country will ultimately default on their debts, and will have to create its own economic agenda in order to lay down the foundation for future economic growth. This scenario will naturally require serious structural reforms.

If Size does not matter, Precedent does

The Greek case is not about the size of the Greek economy. In fact the Greek economy only represents 2% of the Eurozone GDP. So far it does not appear that a Greek default could take with it the whole Eurozone and send a massive shockwave throughout the global markets. No, the case of Greece is a matter, for the EU and its Member States, of establishing a precedent. Germany and other wealthy Eurozone members want to avoid such precedent, where a member state refuses to pay its debts and call for a national referendum in order to provide such country leverage at the European level. Chancellor Merkel was correct in claiming that Greece is a sovereign state and has the right to organize such a referendum, however what type of legitimacy does that provide the Tsipras government in coming back at the bargaining table?

The Greek referendum is national decision on a complex financial question. But the Greek referendum does not affect the decision of Greece’s creditors. If the vote empowers Tsipras domestically, it does not at the European level. Now, Tsipras has to navigate in these tumultuous waters of a domestic electorate, opposed to additional austerity, while providing a proposal acceptable to his creditors, most of them highly in favor of additional austerity measures. Tsipras seems to be facing a conundrum, either remaining in the Eurozone and what it entails, or leaving the Eurozone, and dealing with the consequences of a default.

In the mid-term, there are many technicalities that need to be figured out if Greece decided to leave the common currency. The legal baseline is the 1992 Maastricht Treaty,

Photograph by Federico Gambarini — picture-alliance/dpa/AP
Photograph by Federico Gambarini — picture-alliance/dpa/AP

which does not provide any information in order to leave the common currency. In the contemporary European history (aside from the collapse of Habsburg empire), there are no precedents, no rules and no plans in order to leave a common currency. But with a return of the Drachma, the real question for the Greek government will be about the exchange rate between the Drachma and the Euro as all Greek accounts are in Euros. At the end of the day, the Greek savings will be severely devaluated causing massive financial losses.

The Greek drama illustrates the complexity of the unfinished European construction. Since the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992 laying out the current foundations of the European Union, the Member States have avoided any decisions for furthering/deepening the integration process or completely loosening it. Today, if Greece is in such trouble, is certainly because of its domestic problems (high level of corruption and lack of structural reforms), but as well because of an integration à la carte of the Eurozone. At the end of the day, a Grexit or not is only a technicality. The real question is: will the Eurozone members be working once and for all on finalizing a fully integrated and functional Eurozone?

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

Mr. Tusk Goes to Washington

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

In his first visit to Washington in his capacity as President of the European Council, Donald Tusk met with President Obama and Vice-President Biden today, March 9th, 2015. Over his two-day visit to the American capital, Donald Tusk seeks to solidify the EU’s relationship with the US. In addition, President Tusk will visit the Holocaust museum tomorrow, March 10th, in order to send a message of reconciliation to Europe’s Jewish community after the recent rise of anti-Jewish sentiments.

The agenda discussed between the two transatlantic leaders covered the following issues: Russia and the crisis in Ukraine; the situation around the Mediterranean with Syria, Libya and the consolidation of the Islamic State (IS); and naturally the negotiations over the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This comprehensive agenda underscores an interesting paradigm: each crisis is regional for the EU with serious international repercussions.

On the case of Ukraine and the role of Russia, the Europeans and Americans share the visions of the problem as it is a direct threat to the old concept of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, the Europeans, as expressed by President Tusk prior meeting with President Obama, are not willing to deepen the sanctions against Russia. There is a lack of unity among the EU-28 for domestic political reasons – like in Italy and Greece – and strong lobby groups in France, Britain and Germany – weapons, energy and finance – fearing a deepening in the tensions between the EU and Russia. From a personal standpoint, President Tusk, a former Prime Minister of Poland, has much more hawkish view of the problem and tends to emphasize the role of NATO.

The Mediterranean region is becoming one of the hottest part of the world. Geopolitics are moving fast and looking dire from Europe. The war in Syria seems unattainable, and the consolidation of IS in Syria, Iraq and now Libya is of great concerns for the EU. With a number of failed-states causing a regional vacuum, IS has found its territory to implement its strategy and vision. IS is attracting young Europeans, leading Europeans to conduct terrorist attacks against other Europeans, as well as widening its territorial control in the Middle East. President Tusk told reporters on March 9th, that “We [Europeans] must help because we cannot have a failed state run by warlords and anarchy — sitting in anarchy just 100 miles off the southern coast of Europe.” The power vacuum left after the fall of Gaddafi in 2011 had not been filled until the arrival of IS. Now IS is at the doorstep of Europe.

In the case of the TTIP, the negotiations initiated in 2013, are moving into their their year. It was supposed to be a mega-free trade deal, quickly signed, allowing further harmonization and lowering tariffs, allowing to bail-out the European economies, and ultimately boosting up the transatlantic economy. The TTIP is a way for the US and the EU to compete with the rise of new powers like China, India and Brazil. But instead a quick agreement, the negotiations have become more complex and Europeans have increased a certain numbers of concerns about the consequences of such FTA on their lives. Several issues are of concerns for Europeans: first, the lack of transparency in the negotiation process; second, lowering standards on health and food regulations (on Genetically Modified Food or even chlorine washed chicken); third, investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms (ISDS); and last, a certain opposition to globalization and American capitalism. If Americans and Europeans want to have the TTIP agreed, it will need to take place in 2015 otherwise it could look like the endless WTO’s Doha Round.

The transatlantic relationship is one of the world’ strongest and this high-level visit by President Tusk demonstrates that the EU and the US see eye-to-eye on foreign and economic policies. The degree of interdependence and interconnection between the two sides of the pond is such that the US cannot ignore what is happening at the doorsteps of Europe, and the Europeans have to realize the importance of the alliance with the US in order to assure its security.

(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).

The Promise of a more Political, Social and Human Europe

European Parliament 2014
European Parliament 2014

Jean-Claude Juncker has been approved as the next President of the Commission by the European Parliament (EP) during a meeting in Strasbourg on July 15th, 2014. The new rules, since the Treaty of Lisbon, entail that the President of the Commission must be elected by absolute majority by the EP, meaning at least 376 of the 751 total votes. Juncker received 422 votes in favor, 250 against and 47 abstentions, which represents 56% of the vote (note that only 729 MEPs were in Strasbourg for the vote).

The election of Juncker does not come at a surprise considering the new institutional design implemented by the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon. Following the European elections in May 2014, the leading party, in this case the center-right Europe People’s Party (EPP), won the most seats at the EP (see the results here). For such reason, Juncker became the leading candidate for the Commission’s top job. He was then approved by European leaders during the Council meeting in late June 2014. The vote at the EP marks the end of the appointment process of the Mr. Juncker as the new President of Commission. Following the vote, the Euroskeptics, and especially the MEPs from the French extreme-right wing party, le Front National, expressed their opinion comparing such elections as a mascarade and a direct threat to national sovereignty. Such opinion could not be further from the truth; as argued by Juncker in his speech, “For the first time, a direct link has thereby been established between the outcome of the European Parliament elections and the proposal of the President of the European Commission” (p. 2).

A more social Europe

Prior to the vote, Mr. Juncker delivered a speech before the EP in French and German. The linguistic choice is already marking a split with his predecessor principally using English (yes, languages still matter in Europe especially for the French). In his speech, entitled A new start for Europe: My agenda for Jobs, Growth, Fairness and Democratic Change, Mr. Juncker laid out his ‘political guidelines’ for his next Commission. In short, he promises a more social Europe.

In his introduction, Mr. Juncker explains his vision of his job for the next five years:

As candidate for President of the European Commission, I see it as my key task to rebuild bridges in Europe after the crisis. To restore European citizens’ confidence. To focus our policies on the key challenges ahead for our economies and for our societies. And to strengthen democratic legitimacy on the basis of the Community method.
 

In sum, Juncker wants to establish himself as the transition from a Europe in crisis to a reforming and growing Europe. Could it be that the EU finally stop seeking solutions in perpetual institutional make-up, and now focuses on launching meaningful policies? His agenda for his quinquennum is based around 10 policy areas listed below:

  1. boosting employment, growth and investment
  2. creating of a digital single market
  3. establishing a European Energy Union aligned with environmental standards
  4. stronger industrial base to boost the internal market (related to the four freedoms of the common market: goods, services, capital and people)
  5. adjusting the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) through greater convergence of national economic, fiscal and labor policies
  6. concluding the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)
  7. promoting fundamental rights and rule of law
  8. developing a new EU policy in migration (common asylum policy, policy on legal migration and irregular migration, securing the borders)
  9. continuing the fostering of the EU as a global actor (more effective EU foreign policy; greater cooperation with the HR/VP; deepening the defense market at the EU level; and digestion of the 13 recent EU Member States). Juncker underscores, even put the sentence in his speech in bold, that no further enlargement would take place in the next five years (the Balkans and Ukraine will have to wait)
  10. promoting and developing a more democratic Europe with greater transparency and communication

This speech seems aligned with national demands – from European citizens -. An important problem that Barroso may not have handled well enough was the low level of the communication and understanding between European citizens and Brussels. Juncker’s agenda is broad, but yet focused, and tackles a lot issues important to the European citizens such as legal and illegal migrations, TTIP, GMOs, energy, environmental policy and so on. Now, his task will be to convey the message to Europeans.

What’s next?

The overall process for the appointment of the new Commission is composed of several steps: first, the European elections; second the appointment of the new President of the Commission; third, the selection and appointment of the new Commission and other EU’s top jobs. The transfer of power from Barroso to Juncker is scheduled for November 2014. The rest of the Commission, meaning the Commissioners (read here the possible nominees for the different seats at the Commission), has yet to be approved by the European Parliament after the summer.

But the hiring process seems much more difficult than expected. For instance, European leaders were supposed to have selected the new EU foreign policy chief – legally called High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission (read here an analysis on the position) – and the President of the European Council, but have failed to do so. The political fight, or bargaining process, over the appointments of top EU’s jobs has been difficult. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, was quoted saying during the negotiations, “it can very well be that it’s just a first discussion and no decision yet. I am rather sceptical we can agree today.” The meeting ended after midnight with no decisions on the next EU diplomatic chief and President of the European Council. EU leaders are scheduled to meet again on August 30th. The time lapse may indicate the difficulty of the negotiation and lack of agreement on the these two top positions as well as some of the candidates for positions in the Juncker Commission.

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