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New EU leadership takes office during time of crisis

By Zhao Qi | 2014-12-23 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

New European Council President Donald Tusk (left) and outgoing European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (right) attended a handover ceremony at Brussels, EU Council Headquarter on Dec. 1.



Marc Pierini, an analyst at Brussels-based think tank Carnegie Europe and former EU ambassador to Turkey, said it is an old rule that “the European Union only makes progress by way of an external shock.”

If this is true, the new leaders have a bigger opportunity for success than their predecessors had in light of multiple crises breaking out in and around the region. The Ukrainian revolution, tensions with Russia, unrest in Syria and the emergence of ISIS militants in Iraq—these crises offer many opportunities for the new leaders to have an impact on European foreign policy.

One of the strengths of the new leadership is its political legitimacy, said Pierini, pointing out that Juncker filled the ranks of the European Commission with experienced candidates after winning the European Parliament elections in May. His appointees included five former prime ministers, 19 former ministers and three former EU commissioners. Former Polish PM Tusk was then appointed as the president of the European Council.

Coming many years after the accession of most Central European states to the European Union, Tusk’s appointment carries an enormous political significance. To some extent, it means the recognition of the region’s fundamental importance in the union and an acknowledgment of Poland’s crucial role in the European Union’s relationship with Ukraine and Russia.

In addition, Mogherini’s appointment as EU high representative signifies the return of Italy to the forefront of EU politics.

With strong intellectual credentials and communication skills, the new generation of EU leaders is expected to inject new life into future foreign policies.

To improve the diplomatic situation of the European Union and better handle its trade policy, financial sanctions, development cooperation, humanitarian assistance, visa policy and migration, the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty must be effectively implemented, Pierini said. Moreover, the new EU leaders can have more effective communication with the “big three” of the European Union—France, Germany and the United Kingdom—which are influential on issues pertaining to Libya, Syria or Ukraine.

Moreover, the leaders will need to fulfill two major conditions. First, they will need to work together in a consistent, coherent fashion, especially in terms of serious issues, rather than being guided by the incomprehensible rules dividing their inter-institutional relations.

They will also have to communicate effectively to the public—European citizens want to understand how their leaders think, especially during a time when the region is facing such major foreign policy crises.

In the future, the European Council needs to do more in the field of energy, technology and economy in order to achieve maximum efficacy, said Ian Bruff, a scholar of European political study from the University of Manchester.

An indispensible factor that affects the foreign relations of the European Union, energy is a common concern for all EU members. This means the European Council must shoulder the responsibility of energy allocation, consultation and relevant decision-making in a balanced way.

Furthermore, more technological support should be given to EU members so as to close the gaps that exist among countries in terms of technological progress. As for economic growth, European Council will need to help create a better external environment for economic consultation and negotiation.