Office staff rotation and new people in key posts is a difficult problem for any country, as is illustrated by the developments in the United States and the UK. This year has demonstrated that this is also a problem for established and advanced integration communities like the EU.
But after eventually being selected by the EU member states, the new team was not accepted at once. This was not due to claims against the new presidents of the European Council, the European Commission, the European Central Bank, the European Parliament, or the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
But promises were made to voters before the elections that the commission would be headed by someone who would receive the majority vote. This promise was not fulfilled. Originally, other candidates were considered for leading posts. But the effort to reach a consensus on this has failed. The eventual choice was questionable because it looked like a deal: meritocratic criteria were sacrificed to the kingmakers’ personal predilections.
Most importantly, the EU seems to have emerged from the current rotation round a weaker player than before. The European Parliament is more fragmented than in the past, with its governing majority drawn from widely different political movements. Moreover, it has been deprived of its hard-won privilege to automatically define the president of the European Commission.
This is why it immediately plunged into hectic activities aimed at upholding its preeminence among the EU institutions, an ill-advised step toward a union of states (as distinct from members of a federation). The very first resolutions approved by the European Parliament sought to demonstrate that it was more Catholic than the Pope. But radicalism is something totally un-parliamentary.
Fearing defeat, the European Commission president and members had to make promises, including a pivot to a greener economy – de-carbonization, etc.; an effort to restore the EU’s prestige and influence in the world; and solutions to a huge number of problems, and more. Today, they have to live up to their promises.
This raises three questions. First, should this be done at all? Second, does the EU have enough resources, willpower and unity? Third, does it have a reliable strategy and an awareness of where it is going?
There are doubts about the first question. Their programmatic statements on energy, climate, social matters, migration, foreign policy and military strategy initiatives are permeated with populism. These will have to be streamlined, carefully considered and submitted for expert analysis.
Excessively bold measures to encourage a climate-friendly energy transition will overburden the economy and make it hard to boost competitiveness in the fight for markets against the US, China, and other APR countries. Military strategy ambitions will clash with the plans of those who support NATO’s role. Their promise to grant the European Parliament legislative initiative generally runs counter to constituent treaties.
Opinions diverge with regard to resources. It is emphasized that the EU’s economic growth is sluggish at between 1 and 1.2 percent. Its main rivals have much better indices, which implies that the EU will lose ground to them. Moreover, it has yet to recover from all its crises and the effort to do so will also prove an impediment. Nevertheless, the critics forget that the EU has the world’s second biggest economy with a vast internal market, the best social system in the world, the second most important reserve currency, and huge financial resources. About one trillion euros will be pumped into the economy within the next few years. Many are still emulating EU law.
Answering the third question is a more difficult proposition. The general trends to be followed in strengthening the EU are obvious: the economy must be digitalized; the community must achieve self-reliance in terms of energy; the European military-industrial complex must be upgraded. The Franco-German initiative is a clear sign that this strategy would have to be addressed without delay.
Paris and Berlin have suggested calling a European convention on the future of Europe with a mandate to discuss where to go, how fast to get there, and in what manner. They would need to decide promptly on a convocation date to have an agenda for the German presidency of the European Council in the latter half of 2020 and a final result by 2022 when France is scheduled to assume the presidency.
This initiative has met with much skepticism. Yet the criticism was targeted at just some of its points and irregularities. As for the idea itself, it directly promotes the interests of the Franco-German tandem and the EU. How long it will take to implement the plan will show whether the EU is sufficiently united and willing to embark on a new lease on life. There are many hopes pinned on the first 100 days of the new European Commission. It must hurry and meet the expectations. We will soon see whether it is up to the task.
At the same time, the EC will not rush things as far as relations with Russia are concerned, despite the fact that the clamor for normalization is growing increasingly loud. Brussels, Paris and Berlin are aware that they have weakened their standing in the world by accepting a confrontation with Russia. But they must first run the new people in high positions through their paces, help them adjust and let them see the alignment of forces. It is only after accomplishing this that they can act.
It is encouraging that the new officials in the EU feel this demand. They bear no responsibility for the mistakes committed by their predecessors and can afford to pursue a more reasonable and rational policy.