Day One in Donald Tusk’s life as the new European Union president: make an unabashedly pro-American declaration, then call the White House. Day Two: meet Afghanistan’s new leaders; on Day Three, catch up with the presidents of China and Ukraine and have NATO’s chief drop by.
The foreign-policy role staked out by Tusk, a former Polish prime minister who took the EU’s top job on Dec. 1, contrasts with the internal preoccupations of his predecessor, Herman Van Rompuy, whose five-year term was dominated by the euro debt crisis.
In part, Tusk was signaling that what passes for European global strategy will be set by the bloc’s leaders, not by lower-level officials. It was also a recognition that times have changed: Russia’s intimidation of Ukraine has shattered the EU’s sense of security.
“It sounds more muscular,” said Ian Bond, a former British diplomat now with the Centre for European Reform in London. “You can argue that the euro zone is still in a pretty terrible economic state, but the external world has become very challenging. Almost regardless of how bad the crisis is, Tusk may want to get more involved.”
Tusk’s out-of-the-gate affirmations of trans-Atlantic feeling were rare for a top official of the EU, a bloc of 28 nations and a similar number of foreign policies. The U.S. was the only foreign country mentioned in his Dec. 1 inaugural speech, teaming with Europe to form the “backbone of the community of democracies.” He then went upstairs to his new office to deliver that message to Barack Obama.
Center of Gravity
Europe and the U.S. are “like a synonym of western civilization,” Tusk, 57, said in a video biography on his YouTube channel.
Tusk’s focus on the U.S. as the global center of gravity was shaped by a political apprenticeship in Poland’s anti-communist resistance and seven years as the country’s prime minister. Whether he can impart that worldview to the EU, in a continent of multiple and conflicting priorities, will start to emerge when he presides over his first summit of national leaders on Dec. 18.
One factor in Tusk’s favor is that the Ukraine crisis has resurrected the joint trans-Atlantic will to stand up to Russia, at least temporarily. The principal American project on his agenda, however, is a trade deal that the EU figures would add 120 billion euros ($150 billion) to its slumbering economy.
The accord known as TTIP is “not just about free trade — it is an expression of our geopolitical partnership,” he said.
Europe’s foes of globalization are massing to block the trade pact, drawing support in unlikely places. American spying in Europe has spurred opposition in Germany, which as Europe’s export powerhouse is a traditional advocate of open markets.
“It’s a high-risk project because it may go nowhere,” said Roderick Parkes, a senior fellow with the Warsaw-based Polish Institute of International Affairs. “Tusk might be prepared to take the political risk of standing up for TTIP even when negotiations are so tricky and popular dissent seems to be rising.”
Internally, Tusk’s pro-American, pro-free-trade rhetoric is designed to appeal to Britain, now in the throes of deciding whether to stay in the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron is campaigning for re-election in May with the promise of offering the British an opportunity to pull out in a referendum in 2017.
“Among his tasks will be to keep Britain in,” said Vit Dostal, research director at the Association for International Affairs in Prague. “One of the issues he can use in doing so is the trans-Atlantic link and the importance of that for the EU.”
Tusk, initially for a 2 1/2-year term, became the EU’s second full-time president, with the main job of brokering compromises at summits. While the position carries little formal power, the battle to save the euro and later imposition of sanctions on Russia brought about a shift. Big decisions became “a job for the boss,” as German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble put it. It was the leaders, with Van Rompuy as the impresario and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the strongest actor, who bailed out indebted countries and confronted the Kremlin.
That development left the person nominally in charge of European foreign policy with less to do. The bloc’s chief diplomat during Van Rompuy’s time, Catherine Ashton, had her own internal business to sort out, the setup of the EU foreign service. While she scored successes like brokering a rapprochement between Serbia and Kosovo, a nuclear agreement with Iran and settlement of Ukraine’s status proved elusive.
As a result, the way was open for Tusk to encroach on the turf of the new foreign-policy chief, Federica Mogherini, a former Italian foreign minister. In part, Tusk can thank Mogherini for his appointment: to offset the Italian’s perceived softness on Russia, eastern Europeans insisted on one of their own in the top post.
“For many, Donald Tusk embodies the last chance for EU foreign policy,” Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie Endowment’s Brussels office, said in a blog post. “It’s a thankless task. And now, it is his.”
Autor: James G. Neuger