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EU, Michelle and von der Leyen broke up at home. Metsola overshadowed Qatargate

L’The year drawing to a close has been a complicated one for the heads of the EU’s three main institutions. The President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of Parliament, Roberta Metsola, after the Covid-19 pandemic that locked Europeans in their homelands, with a stop and go, for about two years, they had to deal with Russian aggression against Ukraine, which changed Geopolitical coordinates of the ancient continent. It also restored the idealistic sense of liberal democracies, after the neoliberal drunkenness after the fall of communism, which the West sinned with arrogance, according to The Economist.

The London Weekly writes that the lesson from Ukraine is that the West is also freedom, which, as Ukrainians know, may be worth dying for. And the support for Kyiv, given immediately without reservations despite the initial reluctance of some large member states, gave a new lease of life and an exemplary mission to EU leaders, in particular to Roberta Metsola, who was the first to be visited by Volodymyr Zelensky. , then the other two follow (separately).

Now Maltese politics, the rising star of the European People’s Party, must manage a big deal, the investigation that Judge Michel Claes is conducting on suspected corruption by non-EU countries to influence decision-making processes, for which he has already jailed the vice-speaker of Parliament, the Greek Eva Kayley, she was promptly fired from PASOK and removed as Vice President in record time, by a near unanimous vote. Bags of cash seized from the home of the former TV journalist and from her father, who was caught fleeing with a cart full of bills, rewards the presumption of innocence, knowing the damage to the room’s image that would have caused the defense was the bitter end for the VP It would be colossal, if not fatal.

Metsola acted decisively, but it is inevitable that the scandal caused by the investigation, with a cash seizure of about 1.5 million euros, complete with photographs of bundles of banknotes, will temporarily tarnish her image. The mockery of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose country has been blamed for corruption by the European Parliament for years and years, is also inevitable: the solution to the scandal, said the leader of Fidesz, is to abolish the Strasbourg Chamber, to replace it with delegates from national parliaments. Metsola, who said he felt “anger and anger” at the judicial storm that raged in and around the courtroom, was forced to take advantage. But the next European Championship is still a year and a half away: he has time to recover, if he does the cleansing.

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Also because on the other side are von der Leyen and Michel, now officially separated in the house, on either side of the rue de la Louie. Although it seems that Henry Kissinger never said the famous line about the EU’s problem with telephone numbers, in this legislature the ambivalence between the President of the Commission and the European Council is becoming more apparent. Last December 1, Michelle met Chinese President and Chinese Communist Party Secretary Xi Jinping alone, not exactly a minor visit, while von der Leyen traveled to Ireland to meet Michel Martin’s Irish Prime Minister, Taoiseach.

That was enough to revive the saga of the two bosses in constant competition with each other. An account that has some basis, if the Deputy Commission Spokesperson is keen to stress on the record that the EU Executive Director has no “involvement” or “exchange” with Building Europe over the organization of Michel’s visit in China. In other words, they didn’t even ask us if we wanted to go.

And so it became the news of not only the first personal meeting between the leaders of the European Union and China since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also the ongoing competition between the two heads of the union. A rivalry, is the competition between the former Belgian prime minister and the former German minister, which has continued since the diplomatic incident that took place in April 2021 during Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Ankara. . That episode, with von der Leyen slumped on the sofa while Erdoğan and Michel sat in conversation on two chairs, showed everyone that relations between the two presidents were not stellar, even if EU sources claimed they had “good working relations”.

In fact, this incident occurred in Turkey, as Libération journalist Jean Quatremer explains on his blog, Coulisses de Bruxelles, through a fault of von der Leyen, who did not send the master of ceremonies to the scene. There was a definite reason why the legation’s protocol officer at the time, French nobleman and “anarchist” Nicolas de la Granville, the current EU ambassador to Norway, had not been sent to Ankara.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, he made a fatal mistake, which Quatremer redone: on the occasion of an official visit to the committee, the guest was sent in the elevator with the chair and with the chief of protocol, as required by Covid regulations. The chief of staff to the president, Bjorn Seibert, was left out of the elevator for health reasons. But he wanted to go up with a collaborator. Enraged, he allegedly obtained from the President the chief of protocol, who appropriately appointed then Josep Borrell as the representative of the European Union in Oslo.

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For this reason, if the story told by Quatremer is true (and there is no reason to doubt it: it was not denied), the commission did not send anyone to Turkey to attend to the practical details of the visit. But in international politics, protocol is important and Michel, who was prime minister unlike von der Leyen, knows it so well, that he, chief of protocol, sent him to explore and how, covid or not covid. However, German politics, which with great skill took advantage of the mistake made by Michel, who was sitting next to Erdogan, and left her on the sidelines on the sofa, was able to derive a significant image advantage from that incident, as she appeared as a victim of a sexist act. Wanted by Erdogan, which Michel was wrong not to oppose. “I felt hurt and alone, as a woman and a European,” she said later in Parliament.

Since then, the story of the two chiefs’ saga has served as a unifying narrative for this legislature. Michel’s visit to Beijing on Dec. 1, which concluded with a three-hour bilateral meeting with Xi and was complemented by a live press conference, is another chapter in this episode. Especially since Michel’s government, as an EU source confirmed to Adnkronos, “made no attempt” to organize a joint visit with von der Leyen to Beijing, which might have had more impact than an individual mission by the President of the European Council. However, the same source notes that “nowhere in the treaties was it written that the two chiefs should always travel together”.

In fact, Article 15 of the Treaty on European Union states that the President of the European Council “guarantees, at its level, the external representation of the Union in matters relating to its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the prerogatives of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs.” For the record, the European Union’s High Representative, Josip Borrell, was in Lodz, Poland, for the OSCE ministerial meeting on December 1st. The Commission President, for her part, “represents the Commission at meetings of the European Council, at the G7 and G20 summits, at summits with non-EU member states and in key debates in the European Parliament and in the Council”.

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Therefore, according to the treaty, von der Leyen must be present at the EU-China summits, but not necessarily at a bilateral meeting between Michel and Xi, such as the one on December 1. But treaties are one thing, practice is another: otherwise it is not clear why von der Leyen would go to Ankara in April 2021, if not for the fact that Turkey is a very important partner in the European Union. It is difficult to say that China is not a partner of paramount importance to the Union.

EU spokeswoman Dana Spinant explained that there are several institutions in the EU, “and each has a very specific role and mandate. Sometimes we meet foreign personalities or leaders together, sometimes we meet them separately, we travel separately or we receive them in Brussels separately.” On many things, including of course what is on the agenda and what we intend to discuss. That’s why we sometimes travel alone, sometimes we don’t.” In all this, the contents of the conversation between Michel and Xi have been partially obscured, at least at the media level, although they are relevant: the European Council president stated that he discussed with the Chinese leader both the crisis In Ukraine and the situation in China from the Covid-19 epidemic, stressing that European Union companies are ready to supply vaccines to Beijing, provided that they are approved by the Chinese authorities.

Foreign policy is hard power and it belongs to the member states, not the Union, which is the era of soft power. But the fact that the treaties also give a role to EU heads of state in this area provides the politicians who occupy those positions with opportunities for high visibility. So it looks like the saga of the two bosses will continue. But in Brussels there are those who think that the two “quarrels” would do well not to underestimate the third, Metsola, a young woman, an EPP woman and very good in the media. Maltese politics have “burned” both of them, first going personally to Russian-bombed Ukraine, and announcing the visit with a rocky tweet on April 1 last year: “On my way to Kyiv.” If Qatargate allows, the Legislative Council ends in 2024, which is not far off, and the balance in Parliament is developing rapidly. Stay tuned, in the words of the highly capable former spokesperson.