BRUSSELS: European leaders yesterday named Polish premier Donald Tusk as the next EU president and Italy’s Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini to head the diplomatic service as the bloc faces challenges including the crisis in Ukraine.
The Polish premier, who speaks only a halting English and no French, is the first eastern European to hold such a senior role in the EU and is known as a critic of the Kremlin.
“The suspense is up, the new EU leadership team is complete,” said current EU President Herman Van Rompuy moments after the announcement was made.
He said the new team faced three major challenges: the stagnating European economy, the crisis in Ukraine which was “the gravest threat to continental security since the Cold War,” and Britain’s place in the EU.
“I come to Brussels from a country that deeply believes in the significance of Europe,” Tusk said at a news conference with Van Rompuy, at which the outgoing leader presented him with a bunch of flowers.
Tusk will take office on December 1 while Mogherini will start her new job on November 1.
Strongly backed by Germany’s Angela Merkel, Tusk is a pro-European free marketeer with roots in Poland’s Solidarity anti-Soviet trade union who has been prime minister since 2007.
He will also head up summits of the countries that use the euro, despite Poland not being a member of the single currency.
Mogherini, Italy’s 41-year-old foreign minister, has been a long favourite to replace Catherine Ashton as head of the EU’s foreign service, hailed by her supporters as a new, younger face
With leaders unnerved by Russia’s latest actions in Ukraine, the nomination of Tusk to replace Belgium’s Van Rompuy could send a message of resolve to Moscow as EU leaders also mull fresh sanctions against Russia.
Mogherini’s candidacy initially faced fierce resistance, with Eastern European countries — and reportedly British officials — criticising her as both inexperienced and too soft on Russia.
She was initially sidelined at a first summit in July. But six weeks later, and after Italy staunchly backed more sanctions against Russia, Mogherini overcame the opposition.
“I know the challenges are huge, especially in these times of crisis,” Mogherini said at the same press conference.
“All around Europe we have crisis.”
Hours before the summit, left-of-centre EU leaders meeting in Paris formally backed her as the bloc’s new foreign policy chief.
“I have high hopes that she will be chosen tonight,” said French President Francois Hollande, eager to see a socialist and southern European in a top role.