Auteur: Valentina Pop
BRUSSELS - EU leaders on Saturday (30 August) agreed to appoint Polish PM Donald Tusk for the EU Council presidency and Italian minister Federica Mogherini as the bloc's foreign affairs chief.
Outgoing council head Herman Van Rompuy praised Tusk for his strong pro-European credentials and for having successfully steered his country through the economic crisis, noting that Poland was the only EU economy which kept growing while most others suffered recession.
Tusk said his appointment comes at a time when "eastern European expertise will be badly needed in Europe" and that he will seek an EU consensus on how to handle the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
As he will also chair summits of eurozone leaders only, Tusk added that Europe should not be divided into “separate clubs” and that he would not have taken up the post if there was to be a separate, eurozone-only chairman.
Amid criticism from some EU states that his English is weak and that he speaks no French, he replied with an English pun: “Nothing is good enough for Europe, including my English, and I will polish my English … So don’t worry”.
For her part, German chancellor Angela Merkel also voiced approval in a brief statement.
“It is good that Europe will have such a highly qualified and motivated European, 25 years after the collapse of the Berlin wall, 25 years after the end of the Cold War”, she said.
Tusk, 57, is the second Polish politician to get a high-level EU job after Jerzy Buzek, also a former prime minister, chaired the European Parliament between 2009-2012.
Speaking to EUobserver after the announcement, a Polish diplomat said: “I feel happy. Not just happy. I feel it’s an important day for Poland … the fact a Pole got one of the highest posts in the EU brings to an end certain old divisions in Europe, which no longer exist on the map, but which still exist in some people’s mentalities”.
The other appointment, Mogherini, looked impossible less than two months ago when leaders had a first attempt to fill the two top jobs.
Mogherini, 41, faced a wall of opposition from eastern member states for her lack of experience and her Russia-friendliness.
But with Tusk tipped for the council job, opposition faded, while Mogherini on Saturday promised to represent "all member states and all EU citizens" in her work.
She noted that she has worked in foreign plocy for 20 years in various capacities - including with civil society - and that she represents "a new European generation”.
Switching from English to French, she quoted from one of the EU founders, Robert Schuman, who said that "peace can't be safeguarded without creative efforts."
Recalling her controversial trip to Moscow in July, she pointed out that her first trip after Italy took up the rotating EU presidency, was in fact to Kiev.
She also said the Moscow visit was "co-ordinated" with the outgoing EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, in a bid to "facilitate a form of dialogue” with Russia, which in the end “failed”.
Portfolios battle begins
Part of the debate around the Tusk-Mogherini tandem was also linked to portfolios in the new EU commission, to be led by Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker.
Finnish PM Alexander Stubb on Saturday, after a meeting of centre-right leaders in which Juncker took part, said "part of the discussion was about commissioner posts”.
He said his country is pushing for "a very strong position for former [Finnish] prime minister Jyrki Katainen - after all he has been finance minister for four years and prime minister for three years. He's highly qualified for any high position inside the European Commission."
Juncker will next week hold hearings with all commissioner candidates and is to finalise a list of names by Friday, before seeking formal approval for his choice from EU countries’ ambassadors.
Juncker met Mogherini already on Saturday ahead of the summit, with his spokeswoman tweeting a picture saying that Juncker was "interviewing" her - meaning that he has already ticked her off the hearings list.
He is to finalise the allocation of portfolios on 8-9 September and submit the names-and-portfolios list to the European Parliament, which will hold hearings with all of them, including Mogherini, later in September, before voting on the entire commission in October.