New EU heads: More of the same, Germany still at the helm

Those wishing a strong European Union foreign policy have something to smile about this week, according to Politico, citing the nomination of Ursula von der Leyen at the helm of the European Commission and Josep Borrell as the EU’s foreign policy chief, but there are many reasons to believe little will change.

The article thinks that the new occupants of these posts will beef up Brussels’ role in the world.

If the proposal for the EU’s top jobs approved by the European Council on Tuesday passes muster in the European Parliament, the Continent’s foreign policy will be in solid hands, thinks Politico.

The EU Council will be led by Belgium’s Charles Michel, who has vowed to work on building a united EU “respecting national diversity.” Ursula von der Leyen, a German politician, will become the European Commission president, Spain’s Josep Borrell will take up the EU foreign policy chief post and France’s Christine Lagarde will head the European Central Bank. These candidates will have to be approved by the European Parliament.

But is this really the case? It is obvious that the Balkans remain a very thorny item for Europe, while the need for a more robust European defense has been noted but remains a pipe dream, and as tensions are brewing over the Iran nuclear deal and the relationship with the United States is becoming ever more distant.

The selection of Ms von der Leyen as head of the Commission signals that Germany will maintain its hegemony within the Union, with all that that will mean. Politico notes that she has also overseen the gradual but steady reversal of German defense policy, but this so nebulous as to be hardly noticeable, and more of a shadowplay to trow dust in the eyes of the US, who under Trump has hammered Germany for its commitment to NATO and defence spending.

Germany has, in recent years, been an unwilling defence partner of the trans-Atlantic Alliance, refusing to spend more than a modicum for defence, far below NATO standards, virtually becoming a nation with only nominal armed forces. Under Ms Ms von der Leyen , the German defence ministry followed this path of indifference.

Germany has also never been keen on facing Russia as an adversary and has not minded the close, almost exclusive dependence on Russia in order to cover its energy needs. German industry has sought ways to by-pass sanctions placed by the international community, and/or its allies to rogue states, or war zones.

But Russia is not happy, either, or at least appears pensive. “For Russia, this [Ursula von der Leyen] is one of the worst candidates. Previously, the politician had not made any attempts to seek closer ties with Russia. And she will definitely continue insisting on keeping the sanctions,” Deputy Director of the Institute of Europe Vladislav Belov told Kommersant.

Moscow also looks distrustfully on Josep Borrell, who has, in the past, described Russia as a threat. For Moscow, however, Bulgarian Socialist Sergei Stanishev, who may become the European Parliament president, is a bonus. He was born in Ukraine and was a citizen of the Soviet Union and then of Russia. Stanishev, who graduated from Moscow State University and fluently speaks Russian, said he did not view Moscow as a serious security threat for Bulgaria and the EU.

While much has been made of the whole charade and behind-the-scenes dealings that led to the nomination of the specific individuals, one must be very careful in assessing any sudden change in the machinations of the bureaucracy in Brussels, Strasburg, and Frankfurt, and a deviation from the beaten track. The question is whether Europe can expect more, or less, of the same.