There is now an ugly horse-trading going on in Europe, with national leaders embroiled in a petty fight over the next commission president, unworthy of Europe. Claude Juncker, the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg "won" the elections, but he would do the Union a great favor if he got out of the way as soon as possible. Prime Minister Cameron might be right, even if he is right for the wrong reasons, that perhaps Mr. Juncker is not exactly the person we need right now. Others are simply hiding behind Cameron (perhaps the Hungarian Viktor Orbán, who holds a personal grudge against Juncker, being an exception, is pretty open about it).
Europeans are having the wrong discussion.
The legitimacy of the European institutions is not artificially established by the virtue of the still very immature election process, very distant from the man on the street, but by the persons heading its institutions getting the job done. That job is huge, and not getting any easier.There are plenty of examples how it leads to disaster when the search is upside down: looking for a job for someone instead of setting the priorities -- strategic and tactical -- and finding the right man for the job. Juncker's nomination was in itself an insult to voters. The message was that we are not taking these elections seriously ourselves.
The next president of the European commission will have a daunting and historically decisive five years ahead of it. That person can be Churchill, someone who bravely leads Europe to victory against all odds, or could be Chamberlain, whose wishy-washy politics lead Europe to war and almost total destruction. Here are some of the issues he or she will have to deal with. For do not exclude the possibility of the job going to a woman. Just a little mental exercise: anyone thought of asking Mrs. Merkel if she would want the job herself (or extend the search and someone might want to give a European passport to Hillary Clinton.....?).
The next leader will have to fight back credibly and hard against euro-skepticism. This can only be done by a credible and tough person. Europeans who voted for the extremists at the recent European Parliament elections are not necessarily extremists. Most of them are simply scared of the future. Their questions were not answered by the mainstream parties. Alas, the extreme right which picked up on and exploited their worries gives terrible answers, but at least they respond. With no strong leadership from traditional parties in sight, some Europeans voted for the ones giving them comfort. It pretty much will rest on the commission president to win their hearts back.
The next five years will bring about security challenges for Europe, which were always on the horizon but no one took seriously. Russian expansionism, which will not cease, even if it might relapse temporarily, cannot be dealt with by appeasement. Terrorism will be on the rise: thousands of European citizens are now being trained in Syria by Al-Qaida franchises, who will return to the Old Continent with a cause. Europe will also have to face the growing number of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East. It is unprepared and the debate about how to deal with it has not even started.
Jobs, jobs, jobs. EU documents state that unemployment rate for the population under 25 of age is 22.8 percent, i.e. more than one in five young European job-seekers cannot find a job. In Greece and Spain it is more than one in two. This is a nuclear bomb in political and social terms waiting to be detonated. The growing divide between North and South threatens to tear the continent apart. The solutions, while acknowledging the huge differences and diversity, must be aligned or at least synchronized. This will test the president's perseverance.
The next president will have to spend a lot more time repairing and strengthening the relationship with the United States. TTIP is slowly getting off the rails, and if we don't watch out, it will. Energy will be on the daily to do list. Cutting Europe's dependence on Russia is just one element, giving bold alternatives is another.
Europe's next leader will have to strengthen democracy, at European and national levels alike. This is not a choice, it's an obligation. Transparency and accountability, checks and balances must be enforced. And finally, he or she will have to have the guts to fight back pressure from national leaders, however difficult it is, in the interest of Europe as a whole.
So go ahead and find the person who is capable of understanding what is at stake. Someone who has the empathy for the sufferings and fears of Europeans, understands the necessities, but is not blinded or paralyzed by them. Someone who is a fresh face, dynamic and can communicate in simple terms with ordinary European citizens, but will not turn to populism.
A Union of 450 million can certainly do better than the process it is currently entangled in, which is shameful and harmful. The sooner it is over, the better.
It should result in a capable and strong leader who will be respected by friend or foe alike.