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15th Apr 2024

Opinion

Why Mette Frederiksen should be next EU Council president

  • The presidency of the European Council is not to be assumed lightly at such a critical moment for Europe (Photo: Magnus Fröderberg/norden.org)
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The end of Charles Michel's mandate as president of the European Council this year comes at a time of seismic — and consequential — geopolitical shifts.

Ukraine's future is hanging by a thread as it fights courageously against a superior military force. Fears are mounting over a potential Russian attack on Moldova, Georgia, or even Nato itself in the Baltic Sea region. And across the Atlantic, American isolationism threatens to return with Donald Trump the favourite to take over the White House this November.

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The presidency of the European Council is not to be assumed lightly at such a critical moment for Europe. It is this office's responsibility to set the European Union's priorities and maintain unity across all of its 27 member states. Whoever succeeds Michel will need to make a hard assessment of the geostrategic challenge facing the EU today. It is my view that Mette Frederiksen, the prime minister of Denmark and the longest-serving incumbent female head of government in the EU, is the leader best placed to meet this demand.

Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is not an isolated event based on an imperialistic whim of Vladimir Putin. It is part of a wider neo-revisionist Russian threat towards the entire postwar process of European integration. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia refused to accept the unchallenged primacy of the United States in international affairs and moved to reassert what it considers to be its traditional sphere of influence.

The emergence of this geopolitical reality points to a renewed period of Russo-European confrontation that is likely to last for the foreseeable future. Very few political leaders outside of Central and Eastern Europe have a greater understanding of the scale of Russia's threat than the Danish prime minister.

"I see a more aggressive Russia in all aspects, not only in Ukraine. And I think we have to ask ourselves: is it the final destination for Russia?", said Frederiksen in a recent interview with the Financial Times.

Denmark, a country of 5.9 million people, is one of the staunchest supporters of Ukraine in the EU. It is the second-largest bilateral donor to Kyiv in proportion to gross domestic product (behind Estonia), according to the Kiel Institute. Despite the economic fallout from the war, Denmark has allocated 60.4bn kr (€8.1bn) in a national Ukraine fund. Frederiksen has also personally led joint efforts to ramp up defence investment.

All European countries are responding to Russia's all-out attack on Ukraine in different ways as it is their sovereign right to do so. But it is noticeable that the two largest EU economies, France and Germany, have adopted a centralised approach. Emmanuel Macron initially used his semi-presidential powers to try to dissuade Putin from launching the invasion. Very soon after the Russian assault, Olaf Scholz delivered an epochal address to the Bundestag that announced the most radical transformation of German foreign policy.

What sets Denmark apart from its Western European counterparts has been Frederiksen's decision to base her response on the Danish principle of consensus-building. In June 2022, Danes went to the polls in a referendum on their country's opt-out from the EU's defence policy, with a two-thirds majority voting to reverse it (66.9 percent). It was a brave decision for a traditionally Eurosceptic country to take. But Frederiksen believes in the power of broad coalitions to solve complex challenges, which the EU will find useful as it looks to strengthen its unified support for Ukraine.

Bringing East and West EU together?

Russia's assault on Ukraine and the fundamental European values in democracy and the rule of law calls for a shared East-West understanding within the EU. This will not be easy as a result of the emerging differences between the EU's three major powers. France and Germany are diverging over how Europe should manage a resurgent Russia.

Meanwhile, Poland maintains its unequivocal position that Ukraine must win. The Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, used his visit to Berlin under the Weimar Triangle format to stress the importance of deepening financial and military aid to Kyiv.

These cracks within the EU are a concern. Russia's confidence that it can outlast Ukraine is growing after Putin secured a sixth term in office with a landslide election victory. A strong European alliance against the Kremlin requires not only credible defence and security capabilities, but trust and dependability among all the EU member states. This is why Frederiksen should be the next president of the European Council.

The Danish prime minister's understanding of Russia's neo-revisionist threat means that she is well-placed to build confidence across the EU-27 as it confronts a rapidly evolving security situation. What's more, Frederiksen's strong record as a consensus-builder may serve as a catalyst for Scholz, Macron, and Tusk to see eye-to-eye when European cohesion is needed more than ever.

Author bio

Hugo Blewett-Mundy is a non-resident associate research fellow from the EUROPEUM Institute for European Policy in Prague.

Disclaimer

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

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