Polish PM Donald Tusk becomes new president of the European Council

2014 - Donald Tusk (16)
Current Polish prime minister Donald Tusk has been designated as the next president of the European Council and as such tasked with chairing the meetings of the council which consists of the heads of government of the European Union member states as well as being the figurehead of the EU, a role he will officially take over from current president Herman Van Rompuy on December 1.

The selection of Tusk, an influential and high-profile liberal-conservative politician from one of the newer EU member states of central Europe could be seen as an acknowledgement of the growing importance of central and eastern Europe in European affairs, with Poland emerging as the regional heavyweight.

The modernization of the monarchies

One of the strongest traditions of the monarchical institutions has been the steadfast view that a monarch reigns until death, unless exceptional political circumstances have forced the incumbent out prematurely. The only traditional exception to this rule has been the Dutch monarchy, whose reigning queens during the 20th century have not hesitated to take a step back and go into retirement when their successor has been deemed ready to take over. But that has been the quirky exception to the rule.

Now, in the 21st century, however that age-old monarchical taboo however seem to be regarded more and more as an anachronism in today’s world. In a sweep that started with the – actually even more unprecedented – stepping down of pope Benedict XVI and then continued with the abdications of both the Dutch queen Beatrix as well as the Belgian king Albert II and, latest, Juan Carlos I of Spain, it seems like a new precedent is forming. In the modern monarchy it seems the head of state are now seen as entitled to retirement. Or deemed unproblematic enough to have around as a retiree. Because it must also be noted that the other side of the coin with abdicated monarchs is that you will in such circumstances have an ex-monarch who theoretically can remain an influential power voice and a voice that is no longer as bound by convention and position. Such a person could theoretically be a problematic political problem, all depending on his or hers personal ability to slip into the new and in many ways undefined role given. With the diminishing actual political power of the monarchs in today’s European states that could be a lesser problem, but nevertheless it is still to be seen during coming years if this new tradition of handing over the crown “in advance” will prove to be a beneficial move or not for these very archaic institutions. For now, it seems to be functioning.

Ukraine’s last hope?

The agreement now on the table might be the last chance to stop the bloodshed in Ukraine and also to avoid a situation devolving into a civil war. The main question now is how much the agreement actually will be worth. The current regime in Ukraine has not shown itself to be very trustworthy when it comes to earlier agreements and at the same time the opposition, or at least its more hardcore elements, will most likely have difficulty accepting an agreement that leaves the hated president in power for maybe up to the end of the year.

It is also ominous that the special envoy of Russia unlike his EU counterparts from France, Poland and Germany apparently haven’t signed the agreement as was first intended. The Russian statement that they too want to see a stable Ukraine might not mean in their mind the same thing as it does for the EU.

(This text is also posted at Tonakai World.)

Time for German coalition talks

The German federal election became a success for incumbent chancellor Angela Merkel and her CDU, but simultaneously something of a problem in that the liberal FDP, the traditional CDU/CSU ally, for the first time in German post-war history saw themselves voted out of the Bundestag. This means that Angela Merkel now has to find a new coalition partner, which by necessity would mean either the social democrats or the greens. In either of these cases it will mean lengthy and difficult talks before any coalition may be put in place.

The most likely outcome is a new grand coalition between the Christian democrats and the Social democrats, but this won’t be achieved without a great deal of bargaining. The SDP is most likely wary of sitting in a coalition as the junior partner again, with clear memories of the not all that rewarding time in the latest grand coalition of 2005-2009. The Greens on the other hand are perceived to be further from the CDU/CSU in ideology, even if the differences in key areas such as the nuclear energy question much have disappeared after the Christian democrats’ u-turn after Fukushima. A CDU/CSU-Green coalition is not ruled out, but remains the more unlikely option for now.

Can pope Francis make a change?

Pope Francis
Pope Francis (Source: Vatican.va)

Pope Benedict XVI’s unexpected stepping down from his office made way for the election of Cardinal Bergoglio as pope Francis. A new pope from a new part of the World and with a new, never before used papal name, apparently taken out of reverence for one of the most well-known and saintliest Saints of the church.

The Swedish writer Göran Hägg made a note in his book about the popes throughout history that the 20th Century popes seemed to fall into a pattern of alternating jovial pastoral men with more teological academical ones and the current election seems to follow neatly in that pattern. The newly elected pope Francis is much more like late John Paul II than his immediate predecessor Benedict XVI. Once again the Roman Catholic Church has at its helm a man that is following a pastoral call.