Whichever protocol team was to blame – the European Commission’s, the European Council’s or the Turkish Presidency’s – the image of Ursula von der Leyen standing awkwardly before the enthroned Charles Michel and Recep Tayyip Erdogan will remain chiseled into our collective memory as proof of the European Union’s dysfunction and its inability to project the power that it undoubtedly has.
The humiliation of the chief of the EU’s executive branch in the court of the autocratic leader of a third country comes after the delays in handling the pandemic, contributing to the feeling that Europe is seriously lacking in leadership.
Because this is the age of the image, there is a danger that the unfortunate incident at Ankara’s White Palace will further undermine the EU’s policies and influence. That is why the Union has to overcome the bad impression through actions and policies, it needs to show greater self-confidence and determination in its diplomacy and make its positions clear.
That is what it tried to do after another humiliating foray abroad, adopting new sanctions against Russia after its foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, suffered the insult of Moscow expelling EU diplomats while he was on an official visit in February. At the time, it was noted that his mission had been doomed from the start because of member-states’ disagreeing on how to deal with Russia.
The European Union is a grand, unique vision of unity and prosperity for hundreds of millions of people which is being implemented by a bureaucracy that depends on the short-term political calculations of the governments of 27 member states.
The need for consensus and compromise hinders bold policies; overcautious Eurocrats cause delays and grumbling, and, occasionally, mockery. When citizens are not inspired by the EU, the forces (domestic and foreign) which would like to see its dissolution are emboldened.
That is why, whatever the immediate cause of von der Leyen’s humiliation, in her person the whole Union and each of its citizens was insulted. If this sorry image does not wake Europe’s leaders to the fact that the age demands not only decisiveness but also the image of power and unity, then they are condemning the Union to failure. And their own people to instability and insecurity.