Sunday

25th Sep 2016

EU leaders pick Tusk, Mogherini for top posts

  • Van Rompuy (c) congratulates Tusk and Mogherini (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU leaders on Saturday (30 August) agreed to appoint Polish PM Donald Tusk as the next EU Council president and Italian minister Federica Mogherini as the bloc's new foreign affairs chief.

Outgoing council head Herman Van Rompuy praised Tusk’s pro-European credentials and for the way he steered Poland through the economic crisis, noting that it was the only EU economy which kept growing while most suffered recession.

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Tusk said his appointment comes at a time when "eastern European expertise will be badly needed in Europe" and that he will seek an EU consensus on how to handle the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

As he will also chair summits of eurozone leaders only, Tusk added that Europe should not be divided into “separate clubs” and that he would not have taken the post if there was to be a separate, eurozone-only chairman.

Amid criticism from some EU states on his weak English, he threw in an English pun: “Nothing is good enough for Europe, including my English, and I will polish my English … So don’t worry”.

German chancellor Angela Merkel also voiced approval.

“It is good that Europe will have such a highly qualified and motivated European, 25 years after the collapse of the Berlin wall, 25 years after the end of the Cold War”, she said in a brief statement.

Tusk, 57, is the second Polish politician to get a high-level EU job after Jerzy Buzek, also a former PM, led the European Parliament between 2009 and 2012.

Speaking to EUobserver after the announcement, a Polish diplomat said: “I feel happy. Not just happy. I feel that it’s an important day for Poland … the fact a Pole got one of the highest posts in the EU brings to an end certain old divisions in Europe, which no longer exist on the map, but which still exist in some people’s mentalities”.

’New generation’

The other appointment, Mogherini, looked impossible less than two months ago when leaders had a first stab at filling the two top jobs.

Mogherini, 41, faced a wall of opposition from eastern member states for lack of experience and Russia-friendliness.

But with Tusk tipped for the council job, opposition faded, while Mogherini on Saturday promised to represent "all member states and all EU citizens" in her work.

She said she has worked in foreign policy for 20 years in various capacities - including with civil society - and that she represents "a new European generation”.

Switching from English to French, she quoted an EU founder, Robert Schuman, who said "peace can't be safeguarded without creative efforts”.

Recalling her controversial trip to Moscow in July, she noted that her first trip after Italy took up the rotating EU presidency was to Kiev.

She also said the Moscow visit was "co-ordinated" with outgoing EU foreign policy chief Catherine in a bid to "facilitate a form of dialogue” with Russia, which, later on, “failed”.

Portfolio battle begins

Part of the debate on Tusk-Mogherini was linked to portfolios in the new European Commission, to be led by Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker.

Finnish PM Alexander Stubb on Saturday, after meeting with centre-right leaders and Juncker, said "part of the discussion was about commissioner posts”.

He said Finland wants "a very strong position for former [Finnish] prime minister Jyrki Katainen - after all he has been finance minister for four years and prime minister for three years. He's highly qualified for any high position”.

Juncker will next week hold hearings with all commissioner candidates and is to finalise a list of names by Friday, before seeking approval for his choice from EU countries’ ambassadors.

Juncker met Mogherini on Saturday ahead of the summit, with his spokeswoman tweeting a picture and saying that he was "interviewing" her already.

He is to finalise the allocation of portfolios on 8 or 9 September and submit the names-and-portfolios list to the European Parliament, which will grill the candidates, including Mogherini, later next month before voting Yes or No on the new commission in October.

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