How to build a better EU foreign policy

How to build a better EU foreign policy

Bulletin article
Charles Grant , Mark Leonard
03 April 2006

With its constitutional treaty moribund, the EU needs to find new projects that show its relevance to the citizens of Europe. One priority should be a plan for a more coherent Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Opinion polls show that a majority of Europeans would support a stronger EU foreign policy. When its member-states disagree, as over Iraq, the EU cannot hope to be credible. But even when the governments do agree on what to do, the EU’s ramshackle foreign policy machinery often prevents it from delivering in an effective and timely manner.

Countries beyond the EU are fed up with having to deal with the rotating presidency, which puts a new member-state in the driving seat every six months. They also complain about the lack of co-ordination between the many parts of the EU machine, and slow decision-making. Unless European leaders can find ways of joining up the aid, trade, military and diplomatic policies run by various parts of the EU, they will continue to punch below their weight when dealing with other countries.

The need for reform is apparent at two levels. First, in Brussels: the European Commission and Council of Ministers waste time and energy in fighting each other for primacy in the CFSP (and in particular over who pays for and controls the dozen overseas missions that deploy peacekeepers, policemen, customs officers or legal experts). The second level is on the ground where the similar tensions may emerge. In Bosnia, for example, three entities report to Javier Solana in the Council of Ministers: the office of the high representative, the EUFOR peacekeepers and the police mission, and there is also a Commission office. Last year, when EUFOR attempted to tackle networks of organised crime, the other EU units were unwilling to help, regarding organised crime as beyond their mission.

The barriers to change are formidable. Some countries fear being accused of implementing parts of the constitutional treaty ‘by the back door’. Several smaller member-states dislike that treaty’s provisions for creating an EU foreign minister and scrapping the rotating presidency, while several foreign ministries fear that its plan for an EU diplomatic service could undermine their authority. Thus many are reluctant to support reforms that would bring such ideas closer to reality. The legal services of the Commission and the Council argue that, without treaty change, their respective organisations cannot work together more closely. And the poor personal relationship between Javier Solana, the high representative in the Council, and Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the commissioner for external relations, makes co-operation between the two institutions difficult.

Yet the need for reform is urgent. The European Council should issue a declaration, calling on the various EU bodies involved in foreign policy to take practical steps towards boosting Solana’s authority and resources, and ensuring better teamwork between the Council and the Commission. If prime ministers put their political weight behind this initiative, they could overcome the bureaucratic obstacles. Such a declaration should propose:

★ Integrating the Council’s and Commission’s foreign policy departments in a single building. Legally, an EU diplomatic service cannot happen without treaty change, but in practice staff from the two institutions should work together – alongside seconded national officials – to produce common papers and analysis. This integration should extend to overseas delegations, so that for example Solana would second staff to the Commission office in Washington. Commission delegations should send their reports to the Council as well as the Commission, and support Solana on his travels.

★ Reducing the role of the rotating presidency in foreign policy. Each presidency should ask Solana to lead the discussion when the foreign ministers meet in the Council, and to chair informal sessions and lunches. When it comes to the EU’s external representation, the ‘troika’ (Solana, Ferrero- Waldner and the presidency) should play a smaller role. Instead, depending on the subject, either Solana or Ferrero-Waldner should take the lead, accompanied by more junior officials from the other institutions.

★ Moving towards ‘double-hatting’ the heads of Commission delegations with Solana’s special representatives. This already happens in Macedonia, helping two sides of the EU to work together smoothly. None of these modest proposals would require treaty change. Taken together, however, they could boost the EU’s effectiveness in global politics. There are encouraging signs that the Germany intends to promote similar ideas during its EU presidency next year. If other governments are serious about making the CFSP effective, they should support the Germans.

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