Monday

27th May 2019

Opinion

New trio of EU leaders has chance to make a difference

  • Tusk (l) and Mogherini took up their EU posts in November and December, respectively (Photo: Council of European Union)

Donald Tusk took office as president of the European Council on 1 December, completing the new EU leadership team.

On the foreign policy front, Tusk, together with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and EU high representative Federica Mogherini, will become the second generation of EU leaders after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which was supposed to give the EU new visibility on the world stage.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

An old rule says that "the EU only makes progress by way of an external shock."

If true, this new trio stands a bigger chance for success than their predecessors as the EU faces multiple crises in its neighbourhoods. From Ukraine to relations with Russia, and from Syria and Iraq to battling ISIS, these crises represent many opportunities for the Tusk-Juncker-Mogherini trio.

They have many cards in their hands, but will also need a little support.

The biggest strength of the new trio is its political legitimacy. Juncker comes from the centre-right party that won the most seats in the May 2014 European Parliament elections.

Wisely, he designated the most politically experienced commission that Brussels has ever seen, including five former prime ministers, 19 former ministers, three former EU commissioners, and just one "rookie commissioner".

Former Polish PM Tusk was then appointed president of the European Council.

Ten years after the accession of most Central European states to the EU, his appointment gives recognition to the region's fundamental importance in the union and, indeed, recognition of Poland's crucial role in the EU's relationships with Ukraine and Russia.

Tusk's presence at the helm of EU summitry therefore carries an enormous political significance.

Finally, appointing Mogherini, a true "rookie foreign minister" in Italy, acknowledges the political weight that Matteo Renzi's Partito Democratico carries after the May European elections, especially as so many other parties in power suffered at the hands of eurosceptics.

Mogherini's appointment also signifies the return of Italy to front-stage EU politics.

The three new leaders have strong intellectual credentials and communication skills.

In addition, the synergies between the European External Action Service, the diplomatic corps headed by Mogherini, and the EU commission, headed by Juncker - where Mogherini also holds a vice president seat - have been reconstructed.

This gives the hope that foreign policy will now work hand-in-hand with the “technical" instruments under the commission's control, including trade policy, financial sanctions, development co-operation, humanitarian assistance, visa policy and migration.

The trio will hopefully put to rest a lacklustre five year inception period of the Lisbon Treaty.

While the "big three" - France, Germany, and the United Kingdom - thought they would inspire and implement EU foreign policy during this period, they proved largely ineffectual, be it on Libya, Syria, or Ukraine.

As a result, other EU member states developed a real frustration that now stands to be corrected.

The deep crisis in Ukraine and the related rampant confrontation with Russia, as well as the Syrian-Iraq-ISIS conundrum, provide ample opportunities for the new EU leaders to prove that the proper combination of national and EU foreign policy tools can achieve lasting influence when implemented within smart policies proposed by the relevant EU institutions.

This is, of course, more easily said than done.

The Tusk-Juncker-Mogherini trio will need to fulfill two major conditions. First, they will need, as they proclaimed, to work together in a seamless fashion and avoid disastrous incidents seen recently, where a commissioner and the high representative followed each other on Maidan Square in Kiev without much co-ordination or consistency.

They will have to operate their many tools in a co-ordinated fashion, instead of being guided by the incomprehensible rules dividing their portfolios or their inter-institutional relations.

They will also have to communicate efficiently to the public: faced with such major foreign policy crises, European citizens want to understand where their leaders take them.

Yet political clout, institutional tools, and smart brains will not be enough.

The trio will also need to be given a genuine chance by the "big three" member states, instead of being either bypassed or ostensibly left out of the decision-making room.

Tusk, Juncker, and Mogherini will also have to earn the trust of the United States, which remains by a long shot the most influential Western actor in areas of strategic interest to the EU.

Can the new trio put the EU on the world map? Only time will tell, probably sooner than later.

Marc Pierini is an analyst at Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based think tank, and a former EU ambassador to Turkey

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

'Haiku Herman' quietly leaves EU stage

EU Council chief Van Rompuy is ending his five-year term true to his nature, with no glam or pomp. But his legacy is significant, particularly in the eurozone crisis and its institutional follow-up.

Analysis

From Solana to Mogherini: What did Ashton really do?

Ashton's defenders say she created Europe's foreign service and clinched the Iran and Kosovo-Serbia accords. But in fact she played a minor role in all three, posing the question: How should we remember the EU's first foreign policy chief?

EU sanctions regime cannot be an 'EU Magnitsky Act'

The debate about the choice of name should not boil down to a political muscle show against Hungary, which opposes the reference to Magnitsky because of its political relations with the Russian government.

Voter turnout will decide Europe's fate

European voter turnout is in deep crisis. Since the early 2000s, the share of voters in national elections has fallen to 66 percent on average, which means that the birthplace of democracy now ranks below average globally.

Can Tusk go home again?

The opposition may not be able to defeat the rulling PiS without him, but if Donald Tusk wants to go home again, he will first have to remember where he came from.

News in Brief

  1. Catalonia's Puigdemont wins MEP seat
  2. Weber opens door to alliance with greens and liberals
  3. Tsipras calls snap Greek election after EP defeat
  4. Polish ruling PiS takes lion's share of EU vote
  5. Romanian voters punish ruling PSD party
  6. First official EP projection: EPP remain top, Greens fourth
  7. UK forecast puts Brexit Party on top, with 24 seats
  8. Exit poll: Narrow victory for Le Pen in France

Press freedom and the EU elections

We are campaigning for the next European Commission to appoint a commissioner with a clear mandate to take on the challenge of the protection of freedom, independence and diversity of journalism.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Latest News

  1. Populists' EU breakthrough fails, greens and liberals gain
  2. Jubilant Greens in party mood after first EP projection
  3. 2019 European election results
  4. Thunberg: We can still fix climate, but must start today
  5. Turnout up in Slovakia, with pro-EU liberals scoring high
  6. Belgium votes in hybrid EU-national election
  7. Irish greens take Dublin in second EU exit poll
  8. EU election results to trigger top jobs scramble This WEEK

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us