Weak and Weaker

Why Europe's Newest Leaders Will Be a Disaster

European Council President Donald Tusk of Poland and newly elected European High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini of Italy in Brussels, August 30, 2014. Yves Herman / Courtesy Reuters

Late last Saturday evening, European leaders collectively rendered the European Union irrelevant to global affairs. Through their choice of nominees to two of the EU’s top posts, and their decision to postpone sanctions on Russia even as its troops invaded Ukraine, they made it clear that they prefer a Europe that is internally incoherent and unable to defend its interests abroad. Whether the European heads of state and government acted out of ignorance or cowardice, the repercussions will be felt by ordinary citizens throughout the continent.

Indisputably, EU politics are more incoherent than ever before. The special EU summit appointed Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as the next president of the European Council, the body that convenes the leaders of EU member states to give policy direction. The president’s ostensible purpose is to embrace the interests of the entire continent (as opposed to those of individual member states), and to forge consensus among the various national capitals through extensive bilateral communication. Tusk may be a talented politician: He is the only re-elected prime minister of post-communist Poland. He may also be a well-liked figure in Brussels -- he did, after all, revive Poland’s standing within European circles after the tumultuous leadership of Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski -- Poland’s former president and prime minister, respectively -- and is known as a tough negotiator in the European Council.

But Tusk is nevertheless an exceedingly unlikely architect of continental consensus. Unlike his predecessor, outgoing Council President Herman Van Rompuy, whose background in Belgium’s federalized politics gave him decades of experience building bridges among many competing factions, Tusk is not known to be a skilled coalition-builder. Both of his governments in Poland relied on only one coalition partner in the lower house (and none in the Senate). Plus, Tusk speaks no French and has limited command of English. It is hard to believe that he could construct creative bargains among his former colleagues given all the trouble he’ll have

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