quarta-feira, 8 de março de 2017
By stealing a march, Juncker sets the agenda
By stealing a march, Juncker sets the agenda
With his legacy at stake, Commission president is driving the discussion.
By DAVID M. HERSZENHORN 3/9/17, 4:10 AM CET
The Berlaymont is battling back.
As EU leaders gather for a summit Thursday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has stunned allies and rivals alike by seizing the initiative — and the narrative — on the future of Europe, starkly challenging critics within the bloc to choose if they want the EU “more or less reduced to a free-trade area.”
It’s a turnaround for Juncker, a former prime minister of Luxembourg, who has at times seemed wobbly in the first half of his five-year term and occasionally struggled to project confidence and competence. It is also a gamble by a man who has little time left to reshape a legacy — dented by Brexit and tax scandals back home — that will hinge on his ability to hold Europe together.
Juncker’s so-called white paper laying out five scenarios for the future was initially not planned for publication until the spring. But with Brexit negotiations expected to be triggered later this month and leaders planning to use Thursday’s meeting to discuss their own declaration about the future, Juncker and his closest aides sped up the document, in hopes of driving the conversation.
In doing so, the Commission capitalized on a moment when officials in major capitals, including Berlin, Paris and The Hague, have been focused on upcoming national elections and European Council President Donald Tusk has been at least somewhat preoccupied with his own bid for reappointment to a second term.
“This summit is not a crisis summit, and we’re very happy and grateful for that” — Senior EU diplomat
Juncker’s move raised eyebrows among some ambassadors who expected the leaders would get a chance to discuss their vision of the future first. But, by all accounts, he appears to have succeeded — at least for now.
“He’s a political fox; he has put the ball very clearly in the hands of the member states,” a senior Commission official said, adding: “It’s a crucial moment.”
There are other signs that Juncker is off the ropes.
Economic data paint a brightening picture across the Continent, with growth, however slight, in all 28 EU countries. The migration crisis that fueled nationalist backlashes and spawned poisonous in-fighting seems under control, thanks largely to a tenuous deal with Turkey and recent outreach to African governments. The eurozone crisis, while hardly resolved, has largely become a matter of maintaining a slow but steady comeback in Greece. Meanwhile, the external challenges of Brexit and U.S. President Donald Trump’s Euroskepticism have given the remaining members of the bloc reasons to rally together.
“This summit is not a crisis summit, and we’re very happy and grateful for that,” a senior EU diplomat said. “Crisis management seems to be put on the back burner this time, and we think this is a positive thing.”
But while giving some credit to the Commission for steering the bloc through recent crises, the diplomat accused Juncker of maneuvering — successfully — to preempt the conversation among EU leaders about the future.
“Let me be quite frank,” the diplomat said. “Our original understanding was that the white paper would come after this European Council. I think that was everybody’s understanding, and we took it as a kind of gentleman’s agreement to do it this way.”
“Now as for how viable or, if you like, credible his five scenarios are, you make your own judgments,” the diplomat continued. “My judgment is that some of them are pretty fictitious, and my judgment is also that the EU in the next decade will not be able to follow any one of his five scenarios.”
Aides to Juncker said that was precisely his point: to present a set of options, not one of which would necessarily stand on its own. Instead, taken together, the scenarios would spark a conversation across the Continent. Most strategically, it was aimed at silencing some of the bloc’s most cranky internal critics by forcing them to take a position in favor of some vision of Europe, rather than just carping about what they don’t like at the moment.
In some ways, Thursday’s summit will showcase Juncker’s recent success.
While Juncker has not expressed a preference among the five scenarios (other than his clear opposition to becoming the manager of a free-trade zone), the white paper pointedly excluded any disintegration scenario, despite the existential questions about the bloc’s future that seemed to be raised by Brexit and Trump. “If we Europeans are doubting the future of Europe,” the senior Commission official said, describing Juncker’s thinking, “there’s nothing left.”
In some ways, Thursday’s summit will showcase Juncker’s recent success. Leaders are expected to send a pointed pro-trade message that is partly aimed at Trump. They are also expected to give a green light to the creation of a European Public Prosecutor’s Office, even though not all EU countries approve — an example of European integration at different speeds.
And the leaders will also discuss the issue of food standards — a vivid, real-life example that Juncker has helped draw up of how, in his view, the EU should play an important but limited regulatory role.
That Juncker, who served nearly 19 years as prime minister of Luxembourg before taking the helm at the Commission, had spotted his moment and managed to seize it was perhaps best confirmed by the generally positive response to the white paper from the European Council across the street.
Aides to Juncker said that one reason for the positive response was that he had consulted closely with Tusk and Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency, ensuring that they had opportunity for input and feedback. There was similar outreach to Paris and Berlin.
The Italian government had already prepared a position paper on the declaration to be issued by EU leaders in Rome, while Tusk’s office had also pulled together a concept paper, effectively calling on EU countries to renew their wedding vows. Both have been vastly overshadowed by Juncker’s document.
For Juncker, however, the white paper may be most important in how it illustrates his commitment to the idea of Ordnungspolitik — a German word that generally refers to a philosophy of limited government but is difficult to translate into English. Juncker presented the word as a challenge to EU translators during recent remarks when he thanked them for their work, including on the white paper, telling them “it means nothing and everything at the same time.”
Calling language a crucial tool of politics, Juncker added, “It is by words that we can try to influence the direction of where things are going.”