Monday, 1 September 2014

President Tusk and High Representative Mogherini

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini are set to take two of the top EU posts: European Council President and the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs respectively. So what does this choice tell us about the EU's direction?

President Tusk

The choice of Tusk for EC President is being hailed as demonstrating the importance of Poland - and the growing integration of the new Member States within the EU (apparently former Polish PM Jerzy Buzek being President of the European Parliament back in 2009 doesn't count anymore). Politically, Tusk is part of the centre-right European People's Party and has a close relationship with Germany. But in the UK Tusk is seen as a counter-weight to Juncker's federalism; it's reported that Cameron and Tusk have agreed on the need for welfare reform within the EU despite their previous bust-up over free movement rights.

In terms of treaty-change and EU reform, having a sympathetic EC President will be worth more to Cameron than a sympathetic Commission President. As EC President, Van Rompuy was often asked to look into economic and institutional solutions to the various crises over the last 5 years, so the EC President is well placed to influence the EU's institutional direction. However issues like welfare are largely controlled by the Member States, which is why the UK can change its laws in the way it wants already, even if there isn't that much of a problem to begin with.

High Representative

Mogherini was the most controversial choice. Like her predecessor, Catherine Ashton, back in 2009, Mogherini's great political strengths are that she balances out Tusk and Juncker as a (PES) woman in one of the top EU jobs. However, while she hasn't had much more than 6 months ministerial experience, unlike Ashton, foreign policy seems to be her area of study and expertise. How good she will be in the job remains to be seen, but it is worth remembering that it's hard to really use the office to great effect during a crisis. Ashton's foreign policy achievements - apart from trying to build up the External Action Service - were mostly where she undertook unglamourous and time-consuming negotiations, such as with Iran and Serbia and Kosovo.

So when concerns were voiced over Mogherini's actions in the Russia-Ukraine crisis, we should remember that the Council has taken the lead on this - and the Iraq/Syria crisis - rather than Ashton. The High Representative has a coordinating role, and Mogherini's background and linguistic skills appear to make her better suited to the job than Ashton when she first took the post. The office needs time and hard work to build up its effectiveness: under Ashton institution-building was the priority. Mogherini will probably be a more publicly active High Representative, and could help build the credibility of the office further - depending, of course, on how good she is at bringing the Member States together.

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