International media is widely discussing reshuffle in the EU’s top leadership. This issue is viewed mainly from the point of view of organization’s future. According to the experts, this step was impelled by the overall crisis that the EU has found itself in. Therefore, it is not about new appointments. Brussels is in the search of solutions. However, so many problems have accumulated that is not clear how to deal with them. Some experts even argue that reshuffle was unsuccessful. Uncertainty is evident in the “Old Continent”. That being said, the EU is an institution with substantial financial resources and with significant influence over global politics and economy. Therefore, predictions regarding the fate of the organization are quite fascinating.
“New Trio”: Key Aspects of Brussels’ Human Resources Policy
European Union carried out a reshuffle. Experts evaluate its geopolitical and economic substance. EU’s top three functionaries have become the most discussed topic. By drawing comparisons experts claim that EU’s new key appointees – European Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini – better represent the continental Europe. Namely, Juncker symbolizes “Old Europe”, Tusk represents the “New Europe” and Mogherini embodies the “South in Crisis” (see: Новый состав Еврокомиссии и политические тенденции Европы / “Regnum”, 11 September 2014).
In general, experts believe that domestic and foreign policies of the organization have changed, and they have reasons for that because in recent years the experts have suggested different scenarios while predicting EU’s performance. It was obvious that as an organization, EU has remained in a difficult situation and pervasive economic crisis has proven that skeptics were right.
Finally, crises in Ukraine and the Middle East have exposed vagueness of the “Old World’s” stance in the global geopolitics. EU has failed to lead in all of these processes. Especially the Ukraine crisis has exposed a lack cohesive and well-elaborated geopolitical course of the organization and also existence of significant differences within the organization.
But it does not just stop there. Vulnerabilities in the enlargement policy of the organization were also revealed. Today, some EU member states are in favor while others are against the enlargement. It must be admitted that no matter how odd it may seem but the Great Britain is actually trying to determine its position within the EU. At one point, London even mentioned the possibility of withdrawal from the organization.
And of course it is only natural that an organization with so many problems is opting for reshuffle. Yet the question remains whether these changes would bolster the EU or simply take this problem to a different level. In this connection, the professional skills and capabilities of the “new trio” at the helm of the organization are a topic of a lively debate. It must be stressed that experts differ in their assessments.
According to Lorinc Redei’s article in the Foreign Affairs magazine, “EU’s newest leaders will be a disaster” (see: Lorinc Redei. Weak and Weaker: Why Europe’s Newest Leaders Will Be a Disaster / “Foreign Affairs”, 4 September 2014). Author tries to validate his claim. He believes that High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy F. Mogherini lacks two of the most essential characteristics: ”executive experience and international stature” (previous reference). Nonetheless, she is endowed with better appearance than Catherine Ashton and happens to be the youngest member of Juncker’s team. These qualities surely evoke interest with many observers.
Other than that, experts believe that gender factor played its part in the appointment of F. Mogherini. Women make up roughly 40 percent of the EU positions. Yet some are convinced that appointment of a person with insufficient experience and expertise means that problems of the EU’s foreign policy would linger (see:Новый состав Еврокомиссии и политические тенденции Европы / “Regnum”, 11 September 2014).
Against this background the appointment of J-C. Juncker to the post of the President of the European Commission was particularly fascinating. He is particularly known for his political inclination towards the U.S. He has also served as Finance Minister of Luxembourg for 20 years. In this regard, he has gained sympathy of the French and the Germans. Based on his proposal there will be no particular individual assigned to deal with the EU enlargement.
According to Juncker, “the EU needs to take a break from enlargement so that we can consolidate on what has been achieved among the 28. This is why under my Presidency in the Commission, ongoing negotiations (reference to neighborhood policy and talks regarding enlargement – K.A.) will continue” (see: ЕС нужно отдохнуть от расширения – новый председатель Еврокомиссии / УНИАН, 10 September 2014). Nonetheless, Juncker went on to say that, “the Western Balkans need to keep the European perspective but no further enlargement will take place over the next five years”.
These remarks of the President-elect have already caused discontent in Turkey. Ankara believes that appointment of a person with distinctive anti-Turkey sentiments to oversee the enlargement denotes a conscious shift of the course in this direction. Regardless, Turkey is poised to continue its cooperation with the EU. From the very outset it becomes clear that the substance of the process will differ from the previous phases. Indeed, experts think that the official Ankara is reluctant to join a troubled union. Turkey-EU relations are in the anticipation of future developments amidst present uncertainties.
Paris-Berlin tandem: Return to the Past?
European analysts are evaluating the new appointments in the context of the synthesis of France-Germany relations. Furthermore, they argue that Great Britain had lost effective control over the situation. Director of the French-Russian Center “Observo” Arnaud Dubien have succinctly described the appointments, “this is a return of the old Europe” (see: Возвращение старой Европы: Арно Дюбьен о составе Еврокомиссии / “Regnum”, 10 September 2014).
Expert is implying the capture of the initiative by the French-German duo. This naturally could lead to changes in organization’s domestic and foreign policy, including solidification of Germany’s posture, because given fragile French economy the former is not in the position to challenge the Germans. Instead, Paris has chosen to support the Italian candidate and to display willingness to pursue development of relations with Rome (see: previous reference).
Nevertheless, experts are skeptical about France-supported Molegrini’s ability to handle the job. J. Shapiro and R. Alcaro are of the following opinion, “Just like last time, the selection of the new High Representative, Federica Mogherini, was undignified, full of haggling, and more focused on her gender, party affiliation and nationality” (see: Jeremy Shapiro, Riccardo Alcaro. High Representative, High Expectations. What to Expect from the EU’s New Foreign Policy Chief / “Foreign Affairs”. 4 September 2014). If this claim is accurate one can presume that the choice of a political course made within the EU was based not on objective reality but subjective/corporate interests.
EU officials also admit that new appointees will face concrete difficulties. Former President of the European Council Herman van Rompuy warns that Tusk is likely to encounter three problems. First is a stagnating European economy, second Ukraine crisis and the third is Great Britain calibrating its position within the EU (see: Юрий Паниев. Евросоюз меняет комиссаров и готовит новые санкции / “Независимая газета”, 1 September 2014). Some EU officials are not too optimistic about Tusk’s ability to forge pan-European consensus. They contend that unlike Rompuy Tusks lacks experience.
EU’s relations with Russia prompt multiple questions in this context. According to experts, Brussels must cooperate with Moscow. Once the job was secured, Mogherini issued a harsh statement regarding Russia saying that, “Russia was no longer European Union’s strategic partner” (see: ЕС: Смена персоналий или смена курса? / “Российский совет по международным отношениям”, 5 September 2014). This signals of the possibility that attitude towards Russia within the EU may slightly change. The point is that prior to her appointment Mogherini was known as Russia’s friend. Therefore, in the short-run EU-Russia may aggravate and abound with contradictions.
In general, it could be inferred that most recent reshuffle was not an ordinary one. Like “Le Figaro” puts it, “Change of leadership in the EU comes at a time of pervasive crisis” (see: Jean-Jacques Mevel. L’UE conclut sa releve sur fond de crises tous azimuts / “Le Figaro”, 31 August 2014). This is indicative of the inevitability of changes in organization’s domestic and foreign policies. The main effort is aimed at consolidation, overcoming financial hardships and ensuring sustainable economic development. Yet there is no confidence of success to be achieved on any of these fronts.
Western strategists are suggesting different scenarios regarding the fate of the EU. Weakening of the organization and even its eventual collapse is not ruled out. There is no light at the end of the tunnel here. Change of leadership does not guarantee the overcoming of crisis. Perhaps this is the very reason why enlargement of the EU is deemed no longer necessary. Accession of new members to the organization with vague prospects would surely be unwise.