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Opinion: EU is entering risky ground

EU summits often get bogged down in petty political compromise hunting. This week, though, the EU's heads of state and government are entering new territory. That's a daring move, writes DW's Christian F. Trippe.

Even dramatic changes in the EU tend to come at a creep. The appointment of the new European Commission president could very well prove to be a prime example of a Brussels decision whose full significance won't become apparent for months.

A summit of EU leaders has now elevated Jean-Claude Juncker to the post after he presented himself around Europe as vying for the job during the European election campaign. Things have never unfolded that way before. Until now, Europe's heads of state have negotiated behind the scenes to come to consensus on a candidate - and then proposed his appointment to parliament. This time, the reverse was the case. Juncker is the European Parliament's man. It's thanks to the parliamentarians that he will become the Commission's president.

Christian Trippe

Christian F. Trippe heads DW's studio in Brussels

As a result, the European Commission is unlikely to continue being merely the "guardian of treaties," restricted to strict neutrality. Politically, the institution is conceived of as an executive body. It has taken its cues until now from the European Council - made up of European heads of state or government. But with Juncker's election, the continent's axis of power has tipped in favor of the parliament.

Setting a precedent?

Some may welcome this move as making the EU more parliament-oriented. If everything goes well, it could even cause the Union to become more transparent and, thus, democratic as a whole. But that calculation may prove misguided. The only thing that's certain now is that the debris from the collateral damage of Juncker's appointment needs to be cleared. Under the circumstances, Britain is now even more estranged from the EU, and a British departure from the bloc in the near future cannot be ruled out.

"We have rewritten the rules of Europe's constitutional reality," EU parliamentarians are enthusing. It's instructive to note that these same politicians have also long indicated that they wouldn't be opposed to Britain leaving the EU - with the sentiment seeming to be, "Have at it…".

Juncker's nomination represents the first time in the EU's history that an important decision was made despite explicit opposition from one of its "big" members. Is that intended to set a precedent? Or was an example made of the British "only" because David Cameron's government has long stepped on toes in Brussels?

Assured of peace

Europeans are also entering new ground on foreign policy, and here, too, there are big risks. The free trade and partnership agreement with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova burdens the EU with a big responsibility. It hardens the political front against Russia, even if everyone in Brussels denies that. It suffices that Moscow sees the agreement as an affront and is taking up the diplomatic gauntlet. If Russia uses the accord as a reason to put economic pressure on the three countries, then the EU will find itself with financial obligations toward the governments in Kyiv, Tbilisi and Chisinau.

The summit began in the West Flanders city of Ypres with a ceremony commemorating the outbreak of the First World War 100 years ago. The heads of state and government bowed before the dead, laid wreaths and draped national flags on a memorial bench - visibly moved by their assurance that war is no longer possible between European partners today.

As such, the burden of history also has a libratory element - paradoxical though that may sound. Maybe that's why they're carrying out the geopolitical acid test presented by Russia's neo-imperialist affectations. That may also be why EU leaders are taking the risk of rebalancing the structure of their club - with all the risks and unforeseeable side effects that this entails.

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