From May to December 2019, the transition was long in Brussels, and it is fortunate that it took place with no major international crisis coming to disrupt it. Trump, still busy negotiating his trade agreement with China, had not yet started "dealing" with Europe. Erdogan has not yet carried out his threat of opening the migration floodgates to Europe. The biggest storm was in fact the one provoked by the French President in his interview with The Economist – with the desire, precisely, to awaken Europe before the real crises would hit and break it.
Since December 1, Charles Michel, Ursula von der Leyen and Josep Borrell have been at the forefront of a scheme claimed to bring Europe back into the era of geopolitics and to operate a shift from Europe enduring one crisis after another to Europe taking the initiative to anticipate them. Six weeks later, events in Iran and Libya are not reassuring about the EU's ability to deal with the major crises awaiting in the months and years ahead of us.
Too many cooks spoil the broth
The first concern is the difficulty that the new trio has had to clearly define clear roles for themselves, and objectives for all – starting with the ranking of priorities. The Iranian crisis is certainly an additional humiliation for European diplomacy, of which the JCPOA was probably the only major achievement of the last ten years. Iran's response to the assassination of Soleimani by further withdrawing from the nuclear deal is also a cruel metaphor for a world where Europe takes the blow for others, akin to the weak child in the playground on whom it is convenient to take revenge.
But it also shows a Europe that does not know who is doing what, or why. Between Charles Michel's reaction on Twitter a few hours after Soleimani's death and the Commission President staging her own communication on the Iranian crisis, what role is left for the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell?Ursula von der Leyen's claim to preside over a Commission that would be geopolitical in its entirety paradoxically is leading to the weakening of the person whose role it is to embody this international dimension. Borrell has first paid the price of a new political architecture giving pride of place to European parties’ leaders by sacrificing his role as Vice-President of the European Commission. What is more, Ursula von der Leyen's first trip abroad, appropriately devoted to the African continent, strangely took place in the absence of the man one might have hoped would have been the guarantor of a new EU Africa strategy.
How many Libyan scenarios?
Yet it is in Africa that Europe's destiny is being decided in the short and medium term, and the quick deterioration of the situation on the ground in Libya and in the Sahel illustrates the urgent need for a coherent Europe-wide strategy. More than Iran, Libya should be the strongest warning signal for European players, given the rapid and profound changes that took place at their expense.