New EU leadership must work to halt decline in Europe’s influence

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe U.S.-China battle for supremacy has intensified while Britain has been stepping up moves to exit the European Union. Maintaining EU unity and international cooperation to halt the skid in the EU’s influence will be an important task for the new EU leadership.

The personnel lineup of major EU posts to be replaced this autumn has been decided. Former German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen will become president of the European Commission, which is tasked with such jobs as working out policies and drafting bills. She was nominated at an EU summit before being approved by the European Parliament.

Von der Leyen has advocated “a stronger Europe” and called for maintaining multinational frameworks and free trade. She emphasized at a press conference the raison d’etre of the EU, saying that Europe is needed by the world in this difficult and turbulent period.

The world order has been shaken by the “America First” policy pursued by the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, and the authoritarian politics of China and Russia. Tensions in the Middle East have been heightening due to the confrontation between the United States and Iran. The EU, which respects international rules, will likely have a significant role to play.

The EU needs to present realistic approaches concerning the climate change issue and measures against giant information technology firms, which are difficult for a single country to deal with on its own.

Coping with the principle within the EU of putting domestic interests first is also a task for von der Leyen as the new president of the European Commission.

Poland and Hungary reject quotas set by the EU for the acceptance of refugees. Intervention into judiciary and media organizations by autocratic regimes has emerged as an issue.

No quick remedy

Italy’s populist government calls for more fiscal spending to achieve economic growth. It has been continually at odds with the European Commission, which demands strict compliance with the fiscal discipline set by the EU.

There is no quick remedy to immediately enhance the EU’s unifying force. Refugees, the economy and employment are serious issues for the people of EU member nations. There is no alternative but to regain the trust of the people through such measures as bolstering border security to appropriately control the influx of refugees and implementing measures to help decrease northern-southern economic gaps among EU members.

France and Germany took the initiative in carrying out the personnel reshuffle this time. Christine Lagarde, a Frenchwoman and the head of the International Monetary Fund, will become president of the European Central Bank while Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel will assume the post of the president of the European Council.

The appointment of von der Leyen as head of the European Commission was rocky. Her nomination was approved at the European Parliament by an unusually slight margin. This is because France rejected the candidate recommended by the largest group of the European Parliament, due to lack of international experience. France and Germany received a barrage of criticism over the alleged backroom deal to decide on key EU personnel appointments.

The European Parliament is currently multipolar, as liberals and environmentalists gained seats while center-right and center-left forces suffered setbacks in the election held in May. Detailed communications are called for between the European Commission and Parliament.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, July 29, 2019)Speech


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