Reflections on the recent EU appointments of Poland’s Donald Tusk and Italy’s Federica Mogherini
Last Saturday, EU member states agreed that the new leader of the EU Council will be the current prime-minister of Poland, a country that (only) ten years ago joined the EU. At the same time, EU member states appointed Federica Mogherini to run the EU’s foreign relations as the High Representative for Foreign Affairs. These two appointments suggest that the importance of Poland in governing the EU is reaching unprecedented levels, as well as that EU diplomacy is dedicated towards a compromise in finding a solution in its dispute with Russia.
Donald Tusk, the prime-minister of Poland, is coming from a country that joined the EU in 2004 and whose voice, so far, did not carry much weight in the EU. Poland, like the other nations of the former Eastern bloc, was usually considered a poor member of the EU that needs to follow decisions made by Western European countries. However, Tusk’s appointment as chair of the EU Council indicates that this is no longer the case. This recent advancement of Poland’s political importance reflects the strength of its recent economic performance. Namely, Poland’s economy remained strong during the world economic crisis, which strongly hit France, Spain, Italy, and other countries of the “old Europe.” Poland’s economy was the only EU economy to keep growing in every quarter since the outbreak of the crisis in 2008.
Besides being very often considered a poor member of the EU, Poland was also considered “new Europe,” in a sense that, unlike many other older members of the EU, Poland supported wars led by the US President George W. Bush. Therefore, and because of the prominence of Poland’s anti-Russian attitudes, Poland was referred to as the “American Trojan horse” in Europe. However, Tusk recently said that the EU should not radicalize its stance towards Russia. As a prime-minister of Poland, Tusk has in recent years built a strong alliance with Berlin, not with Washington. Therefore, it might be that Tusk arrived at the top of the EU not because he is the “American man”, but because he is a powerful figure of the country that became the West.
Donald Tusk appeared on the public scene as an anti-communist advocate of the Solidarity movement. He is a conservative politician and is very close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He speaks German, knows only the basics of English and does not know a word of French, a fact that symbolizes the strengthening of the German and weakening of the French and British influence in the EU.
The ability to reconcile different interests, the ability he thoroughly used as a prime-minister, will be expected from Tusk as he will be chairing the meetings with Angela Merkel (the German Chancellor), François Hollande (the French President), David Cameron (the British prime-minister) and other leaders of the EU member states. The same ability is expected from Federika Mogherini, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is appointed to be head of EU diplomacy. The Baltic countries are opposed to her arrival on the basis that she favors Russian President Vladimir Putin. It was in July, at the height of the crisis in Ukraine, when Mogherini visited Kiev and Moscow and invited Putin to the Economic Summit in Milan in October. Mogherini has since been trying to convince the Brussels club that she is not “weak on Putin” and recently said that the “Kremlin acts contrary to the interests of their own people.”
Nevertheless, Mogherini comes from a country that has no interest in further aggravating the situation with Russia. Italy is one of the largest consumers of Russian gas and advocate for the pipeline “South Stream” that would bring gas to Europe bypassing Ukraine. Mogherini will definitely not be alone in her hesitancy to toughen trade sanctions to Russia as many EU economies are heavily reliant on Russian gas.