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Giles Goodall is a member of the European Movement’s National Council and has been a Liberal Democrat MEP candidate for South East England
In the well-worn tradition of filling the EU’s top jobs, last week’s summit stands out as something of a mini-revolution. In a delicate and complex (s)election process – whereby 28 leaders must agree on a candidate whilst simultaneously satisfying multiple requirements ranging from political to geographical – merit is not always the primary criterion.
This time though, it was different. In choosing Poland’s Donald Tusk as president of the European Council and Italy’s Federica Mogherini as the EU’s next foreign affairs chief, the system may just have worked. As a ticket, the new appointments successfully tick all the right boxes: centre-right/centre-left, male/female, and east/west. Yet they are so much more than that too.
Tusk’s election marks the first time a central or eastern European takes one of the EU’s top jobs (though his compatriot Jerzy Buzek already successfully led the European Parliament). Mogherini is a bold (and young) new face for the EU, bringing strong communication skills to a role that has suffered from low visibility since it was created in 2009.
The significance of Tusk’s appointment in particular is hard to overstate. It marks the coming of age both of Poland as a major player in Europe – after a decade as an EU member – and of an EU that has successfully reunited east and west. 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, foreign minister Radek Sikorski – himself a candidate for the foreign affairs role – heralded ‘a great day for Poland.’
But it isn’t just a good result for Poland – Tusk’s election also marks a notable diplomatic success for Britain. It crowns the achievement of EU enlargement, a policy devised, promoted and implemented by the UK. Learning perhaps from his ill-advised campaign against Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission President, David Cameron realised the strategic interests at stake and publicly backed Tusk’s candidacy. He was right to do so.
Tusk moved quickly to say he “cannot imagine an EU without the UK” and that many of the reforms put forward by Britain are “reasonable”. More importantly, the Polish prime minister is one of Europe’s star leaders, overseeing a hugely successful Polish economy and growing presence on the world stage in recent years. He is well connected with Germany and has strong credentials for standing up to Vladimir Putin in the Ukrainian crisis.
He is also a convinced – and convincing – European. Launching Poland’s stint at the EU presidency in 2011, he departed from the usual downbeat, crisis-dominated script to declare: “the European Union is great. It is the best place on Earth to be born and to live your life.” Bringing perspective to anti-Europeans, he said: “We were truly occupied by the Soviets. That’s why for us EU integration is not a threat to the sovereignty of the member states.” He has called the free movement of people “a great value” whose benefits some in ‘old Europe’ take for granted.
Even on his weakest point – his supposedly limited language skills – Tusk successfully quipped (in fluent English) that he will “polish his English.” Finally, he promised to bring some much-needed central and eastern European energy to the EU. It will successfully complement Juncker’s experience and Mogherini’s communication skills. That’s good news for Britain, and good news for Europe.
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