The EU's premier foreign policy is enlargement

The EU's premier foreign policy is enlargement

Opinion piece (
09 February 2007

At the annual security conference, which opens in Munich on Friday, Javier Solana will be awarded a prize for his efforts in promoting peace as the EU's foreign policy chief. Set up in 1997, the EU's common foreign and joint security policy is a young one. Is the EU already a major peacemaking power in the world?

The EU, in a relatively short time, has come a very long distance in terms of a leap of the imagination in developing its security and defense framework. Not so very long ago, and particularly here in London, it was thought that the EU really had no role either as a regional pacifier, as in settling conflicts in its own backyard as in the Balkans, or as a global actor in any sense militarily. Today the EU is doing around 14 missions abroad involving either peacekeeping with military means or training of policemen abroad or border monitoring in flashpoint areas.

The missions are mostly small-scale. For the moment, the EU's priority - even though it's had well-publicized missions in Aceh and Congo - will be as a regional pacifier, to police its own backyard. But by European standards, let's be fair, that is actually an achievement.

Its security has developed and continues to develop. For instance, it is now very unlikely to anyone's mind that, should there be a serious problem in Europe's backyard, perhaps in Belarus or other places, that the EU will have no part to play. In fact, it could happen that the only security response will be from the EU. That's the road we're going down now. Like a lot of ideas, people think they are preposterous first and then they become just normal or even obvious. I do think the EU is making that transition.

It's often been said that Europe's foreign policy has been bedeviled by policy divisions. The most spectacular differences were over the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2002-03. Does the EU's failure to speak with a single voice weaken its clout?

When the EU doesn't speak with one voice, it has great challenges to make countries - like Russia, for instance - take it seriously. In terms of power, the EU is not more than the sum of its parts, which is what it was supposed to do in terms of foreign policy. I think in trade, the EU is probably more than the sum of its parts. It is convincing to say that I speak for 450 million European consumers. But it is not convincing to say to the Russians I speak for 450 million European citizens and 27 governments. They don't believe that. Neither do the Americans.

But at the same time, there are also examples of the Europeans working effectively together. The most obvious one is Iran, where Europeans' effective multilateralism is to achieve some kind of compromise and offer Iran the carrot of closer trade and cooperation. That process is yet to be judged a success or a failure.

The EU has increasingly mounted peacekeeping missions around the world. But how willing are EU members to support a collective foreign policy and back it up with hard military force as well as soft power?

I think as the EU missions become more sophisticated and enduring, people will become more accepting of a greater role for them. I do not think, however, that it will be a very centralized process. At the same time, there's a lot more space for integration of European military forces. Over time, as armies become more expensive to maintain, hopefully there will be increasing alignment of EU foreign policy positions, and it will be possible to deploy when necessary, where necessary, more easily and without as many equivocations.

I don't think the EU will ever be a great military power. The question is whether or not European countries can have clout in the world using the EU as a vehicle to organize and deploy their resources.

The EU in general will always exhaust its soft power policies first. Above all, the EU's premier foreign policy is enlargement, which at very little cost and to great advantage has transformed vast areas of Europe and even the European neighborhood. That will always be the priority issue.

Other examples of soft power include the Barcelona process, which is the EU's set of trade agreements and packages for visa arrangements and the like to help stabilize the northern African countries. That is a worthy process. Then you have not just countries that have just joined the EU, like Romania and Bulgaria, which have had questionable judicial systems and problems with organized crime. You also have countries in the Balkans, like Serbia for instance, that, despite being very belligerent, are making big changes to how their country works. It's the same with countries like Albania, Moldova. It doesn't matter if they don't become members of the EU. What matters is that very unstable, dangerous parts of the world are becoming safer places to live simply because they think they might become EU members someday.

What do you think is the EU's single biggest achievement on the foreign policy front?

Basically, the notion that Europeans should be sending troops together to various parts of the world and working as a single European unit to bring peace and to allow the conditions for democracy and rule of law to return - that's a significant achievement. It would be far worse if the Europeans had tried to do it and failed.

The peacekeeping missions may be small-scale. But I think this is only the beginning of the story. I think there will be many more to come, and the EU has basically entered a brave new world, where the Europeans are expected to act together and by the strength of that expectation will probably drive them forward on to more important and challenging things.

It's never going to be easy. If families are being sent home people in body bags from EU missions, it's going to become unpopular. But this is the challenge of the real world. And sometimes the EU prefers not to play a real world game. But its policy unit has done great work in developing common EU positions, they've developed rough ideas about how they want a European defense market to work, so that they can get more efficient returns. They've broken a lot of taboos in a short space of period - that is an achievement.

What are the biggest challenges facing the EU's foreign policy today?

They include both housekeeping issues and global issues. When it comes to housekeeping issues, priorities include strengthening the role of the high representative without the EU's constitution as well as aligning internal security priorities with foreign policy. In the EU, things like terrorism, organized crime, illegal immigration or the challenge of global migration are dealt with in legally separate ways. But they're clearly connected with foreign policy. So the point is to ensure coherence in EU policies in these issues, so that the member states' internal policies and the EU's foreign policy are working together rather than duplicating each other's efforts.

On a global level, the EU's most important challenge is Russia and the accompanying question of energy security. The latter is both an economic and security issue. The second most important thing is to repair the transatlantic relationship. I don't think that will happen under the current White House administration. The Europeans need to be ready to engage with whoever takes over the White House.

The Middle East, too, is a serious foreign policy challenge for the Europeans. They are only now starting to understand they may have to become more active, because America's authority in the region is weakened. Africa, too, is another huge priority, though progress there is going to be slower. The Europeans are already doing the right things by supporting multilateral African institutions that are modeled on the EU's own.

Though there are challenges everywhere, we have to remember that EU foreign policy was only born in the last few years. We shouldn't worry too much if it underperforms for a while.