EU's new leadership trio may surprise on upside

Paul Taylor and Robin Emmott, Reuters, 02.09.2014

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At first sight, the European Union's new leadership team looks like a missed opportunity.

Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and Federica Mogherini seem a less than ideal crew to tackle the EU's biggest challenges - dynamising a stagnant economy, standing up to Russia over Ukraine and preventing Britain from drifting away from Europe. [...]

Tusk, 57, who speaks German but basic English and no French - the EU's main working languages - has presided over a historic rapprochement between Poland and Germany. He has long been Merkel's preferred candidate for a top European job.

Tusk has led his nation of 40 million through seven years of economic growth and rising political and diplomatic influence in central Europe and the EU.

Critics say he has shied away from bold economic reforms and slowed Warsaw's path towards joining the euro out of electoral timidity. His last year in office has been marred by political scandals.

Janis Emmanouilidis, chief political analyst at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, dismissed media criticism of Tusk's linguistic shortcomings.

"If Chancellor Merkel, who does not address the public in English, wanted to become president of the European Council, would we have doubted her ability?" he told Reuters. [...]

The most controversial choice was Mogherini, 41, who has only six months' government experience and was criticized by several central European countries as being too soft on Russia over its detribalization of eastern Ukraine.

A veteran former EU official said he feared Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would "eat her for breakfast".

Some EU governments and many strategic analysts would have preferred Polish Foreign Minister Radislaw Sikorski, a strategic thinker and fine orator, to give EU foreign policy a stronger profile. But Berlin and Paris saw him as too provocative towards Russia - and in terms of the box-ticking, he suffered the dual handicap of being neither a socialist nor a woman.

Outspoken Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite opposed Mogherini in July, saying she would not support a person who lacked experience and was "pro-Kremlin". She made it known she had not voted for the Italian on Saturday.

"She is just too new in the business, being foreign minister for only a few months, not having a personal network of foreign policy contacts," Emmanouilidis said. "Member states chose her and not others because they do not want someone who would create problems." [...]

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