Daniel Schade and James Bartholomeusz note the appointment of Donald Tusk and Federica Mogherini to major positions in European government.
Recent weeks have seen the appointment of two figures to positions at the apex of European government: the President of the European Council; and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the primary position of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Many Europeans will be asking two questions. Who are these appointees? And how will they impact on the short- and medium-term future of the European project?
Europe’s heads of state and government should be congratulated on their recent choice to fill the seat of Europe’s Council President with the current Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk. Awarding this post to an eastern European acknowledges the importance of these countries for the future of the continent, and marks the normality of their membership in the EU exactly ten years after the ‘big bang’ enlargement. Indeed, that Tusk is Polish is of particular significance, as he represents the leading member-state of the 2004 accession cohort.
Furthermore, we can expect that Tusk will fill the role in a somewhat more lively manner than his outgoing predecessor, Herman Van Rompuy, who despite his obvious economic qualifications never shaped the post with the necessary degree of publicity to make it matter. Tusk has other, wider-looking strengths which Van Rompuy has appeared to lack. Aside from the symbolic value of nominating an eastern European for such an important post in times of heightened tensions in that region, Tusk has intimate knowledge of Russia and will be able to converse with his Russian interlocutors in their mother tongue.
Obviously there are downsides to Tusk’s nomination. For one, he does not properly speak either of the Union’s two most common working languages, English and French, though like many other designated Brusselites before him this can easily be addressed. What is more problematic, however, is the fact that Poland is not a member of the Eurozone. Whereas economic and financial matters were at the heart of Van Rompuy’s work, addressing these will be much more difficult for Tusk. This need not be a bad thing, however, as the former ‘Mr. euro’, Jean-Claude Juncker, is now heading the European Commission, the result of post-election wrangling between federalists and Eurosceptics as to the proper interpretation of the Lisbon Treaty. While this will lead to an odd shift of economic and financial matters aways from the Presidency of the Council to the Commission, such a set-up will bring the latter actor back front-and-centre into a policy process from which it has been largely marginalised since the beginning of the financial crisis. The division of labour between Tusk and Juncker is to be welcomed in this regard.
Whilst the nominee for the post of High Representative, the Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini, has been criticised due to her limited international experience, here lies another opportunity. Her initial announcements that she will take her jointly-packaged role as Vice President of the Commission more seriously (an element which her predecessor, Catherine Ashton, has largely ignored) may be good news for the Union’s coherence in foreign affairs, something which is a topic of hot debate in Brussels at present. Mario Telò, head of the Institute for European Studies at Université Libre de Bruxelles, is one supporter of her potential in this regard. It is also most welcome that the representation of women at the highest level of European politics, whilst still severely lacking, has some continuity in the post of High Representative.
Any appointments to positions such as these will encounter inevitable criticism, some of which is well-founded. However, there is hope that with the incoming ‘triumphirate’ of 2014 – Juncker, Tusk and Mogherini – we might be seeing the beginning of a better era of cooperation and coordination between Europe’s key institutions.
Image: ‘Donald Tusk’ courtesy of the EPP via Flickr, released under Creative Commons.
Image: ‘Federica Mogherini 2014’ courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.