E.U. Precedent

In First, European Council Looks East for New President

tusk and mog afp
Donald Tusk, the Polish prime minister and EU Council president-elect (R) arrives for a press briefing with Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini, who will direct E.U. foreign policy.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    As leader of the European Union’s upper chamber of government, the Polish prime minister will shape key financial and political challenges facing Europe.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Mr. Tusk heads the European Union’s sixth-largest economy.
    • Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini is the bloc’s new foreign policy chief.
    • Ms. Mogherini speaks English and French, but lacks international experience.
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    Audio

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In the end, it went quickly.

The political leaders of the European Union needed only three hours over the weekend to fill the two vacant posts in the new governing team.

On December 1, Prime Minister Donald Tusk of Poland will succeed Herman Van Rompuy of Belgium as European Council president. The council acts as the upper chamber of government in the E.U., complimenting the parliament.

On Nov. 1, Italy’s foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, will replace Catherine Ashton as high representative for foreign policy, a quasi-foreign minister for the 28-nation bloc.

The moves ended months of wrangling. Before the summer break, E.U. political leaders had nominated a Christian Democrat from Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, as head of the European Commission, which is the European Union’s executive branch.

The German Social Democrat, Martin Schulz, was also appointed to another two-and-a-half year term as European Parliament president.

Since 2007, Mr. Tusk has headed the government of the sixth-largest member state. He guided Poland through the global economic crisis at the end of the last decade, when the country was the only E.U. state that didn’t slide into recession.

Mr. Tusk enjoys widespread respect for his achievements in economic policy. E.U. leaders saw no problem making Mr. Tusk head of the European Council even though Poland isn’t yet using the euro as its currency. Only 18 of the E.U.’s 28 member countries use the euro.

Mr. Tusk is considered a close confidant of Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor. In the hot debate about the direction of Europe’s economic policy, he can be expected to be more aligned politically with Ms. Merkel than with François Hollande, France’s president.

On Saturday, Mr. Tusk indicated it was possible to stimulate economic growth without disregarding fiscal discipline.

 

tusk ap
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk is the first eastern European leader to take on a key E.U. role. Source: AP

 

Mr. Tusk is the first politician from the eastern reaches of the European Union to assume a top leadership position in Brussels. “This is a great opportunity to bring eastern European energy into the E.U,” he said.

Mr. Tusk faces a hurdle before his move to the de facto E.U. capital of Brussels: His command of the English language is less than perfect. But he is studying diligently. “In December, I will be 100 percent ready to get going,” he said.

The next person to be what is officially known as the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy doesn’t have a language problem. Ms. Mogherini of Italy speaks English and French quite well.

But her appointment is not without controversy. Critics cite her lack of experience. The Italian Social Democrat has been the country’s foreign minister for only about six months and is relatively unknown internationally.

During her first appearance after being designated for the position, Ms. Mogherini surprised by commenting on economic, not foreign, policy. She said the fight against youth joblessness must have absolute priority, so that the European dream does “not become a nightmare.”

This article was translated by George Frederick Takis. Vinny Kuntz also contributed to the story.

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