Friday

20th Sep 2019

US welcomes Europe's two new faces

US President Barack Obama has said the election of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton to the helm of the EU would "strengthen" the bloc, but his words came as European media criticise their lack of weight on the international stage.

The two figureheads and the other changes coming into force with the Lisbon Treaty will "enable the EU to be an even stronger partner of the United States," Mr Obama said in a brief statement Thursday night.

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  • Herman van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton will 'strengthen' Europe, says Obama (Photo: White House)

"The United States has no stronger partner than Europe in advancing security and prosperity around the world." He added that Washington was looking forward to working with Mr Van Rompuy and Ms Ashton, as well as EU commission president Jose Manuel Barroso and his new cabinet.

US foreign policy supremo Hillary Clinton said the appointments were a "milestone for Europe and for its role in the world."

But media were less enthusiastic about the installation of Mr Van Rompuy and Ms Ashton, in several cases portraying it many as a backroom stitch-up that will result in Europe's decline in importance on the international stage.

"Fading presidential ambitions" is the editorial in the Guardian, while the Financial Times says "Europe fails to punch its weight."

The New York Times writes that "Europe seemed to be living down to expectations," with the election of "such low-profile figures" highlighting its "problems" instead of its "readiness to take a more united and forceful place in world affairs."

"Europe counts on nobodies" writes Spiegel Online, noting that EU heads of state have reconfirmed the clichés about giving top jobs only to people who are less prominent than themselves. "'If you have a grandpa, send him to Europe' is a saying that still seems to be valid. Backbenchers instead of leaders, was the thinking behind this."

"German Chancellor Angela Merkel said generously that the two will still grow in their functions. Indeed, the expectations are so low that Mr Van Rompuy and Ms Ashton can only be positive surprises. No wonder there is no enthusiasm about Europe," concludes Spiegel Online.

Germany's conservative-leaning Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes a similar editorial, entitled "An old-school compromise," noting that if the European Constitution was too ambitious and had to be downgraded to the Lisbon Treaty, so are the two posts – foreign minister and EU president.

Meanwhile, Mr Van Rompuy's anti-Turkey stance from a few years ago has already raised red flags in Ankara.

Turkish MP Onur Oymen told the BBC he was concerned about what the Belgian's appointment could mean for Turkey's EU aspirations.

"We are not very optimistic about the future of our relations during his presidency," Mr Oymen said.

Defending the 'European way of life' name splits MEPs

European People's Party group leader Manfred Weber defended Ursula von der Leyen's decision to rename a commission portfolio, partly dealing with migration, "protecting the European way of life". He said it means rescuing people in the Mediterranean.

Hungary claims EU 'witch-hunt' over rule of law hearing

Hungary was quizzed by EU ministers over its domestic crackdown on media, judges, academia and NGOs. Hungary's minister responded by saying the country had defended "the European way of life" for centuries, and it should be respected.

EU divided on how to protect rule of law

Poland and Hungary have argued that rule of law is purely a domestic matter and the EU should respect legal traditions, but Dutch foreign minister warned backsliding was a worry for all.

Catalonia celebrates national day ahead of trial verdicts

Catalonia celebrated on Wednesday its national day - while awaiting the trial verdict on 12 Catalan separatists, former politicians of Carles Puigdemont's government. That decision is expected for early October.

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