European Affairs

Still a Long Way to Go     Print Email
Reginald Dale

Reviewed by Reginald Dale
Shaping a Credible EU Foreign Policy
By Steven Everts
Centre for European Reform, London: 2002
66 pages


Steven Everts is a young Dutchman living in London who is fast acquiring a reputation for thoughtful writing about the policies of the European Union. His latest contribution, an analysis of the European Union's struggle to craft a common foreign and security policy (CFSP) is both knowledgeable and pleasingly unbiased.

Mr. Everts's theme - that the CFSP has come a long a way in 10 years but still has a long way to go - is a fairly safe one. But in examining the policy's past defects and its future potential, he manages to walk the line between heady Euroenthusiasm and the scorn heaped on the policy by some of its American detractors.

"Ten years ago," he writes, "the member states simply did not agree on what to do in the Middle East, for example. Now there is a common EU line. A decade ago, European countries fell out over how to handle Croatia and Bosnia. In 2001, they reached a rough consensus over Macedonia."

But while this may be creditable, it is far from being the whole story. EU governments have found it easier to reach common positions than actually to have an impact on the outside world. In 1998 alone, for instance, the EU adopted 163 foreign policy declarations - "usually a week or two after they could in§uence events," in the words of Chris Patten, the European Commissioner for External Relations.

While the EU has taken useful steps since September 11 in the campaign against terrorism - for instance by agreeing on measures to tackle terrorist financing, a common EU arrest warrant and a common definition of terrorist acts - the CFSP as such has been less impressive.

Despite its huge economic weight in the world - in some respects greater than that of the United States - and its ambitions to "project collective power," in the words of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the EU effort has so far been disappointing. As Mr. Everts puts it: "The challenge is clear - the European Union must do more to close the gap between expectation and delivery."

While the EU institutions may be unloved at home, the rest of the world wants the European Union to play a bigger role internationally, Mr. Everts writes. But listening to what non-Europeans make of the CFSP can be "a sobering experience."

These outside observers criticize the European Union's slow decision-making - which tends to emphasize internal agreement rather than external effectiveness - as well as the European Union's lack of priorities, coherence and effectiveness.

They argue that the European Union takes far too long to translate its promises of humanitarian and development aid into reality, and they complain about the gap between the European Union's stated policies and how it in fact spends its money.

They also say the rotating EU presidency, which puts a different country at the head of the EU every six months, leads to a lack of continuity and focus. On the whole, Mr. Everts concludes, these criticisms are justified, and matterscan only get worse after the European Union's forthcoming enlargement, which will probably bring in ten new members, with differing political and cultural backgrounds, in 2004.

Of course the CFSP is still a work in progress, but it clearly needs a jolt in the arm - and now is a good time. Mr. Everts has a set of proposals to make it more effective, starting with abolishing the rotating presidency's role in the CFSP and taking more foreign policy decisions by qualified majority voting.

The member states should also triple the CFSP budget and transfer more national diplomats to the Policy Unit that reports to Javier Solana, the High Representative for Foreign Policy. The Unit "should evolve into an embryonic European diplomatic service," Mr. Everts says.

Other suggestions include setting up a special Council of Foreign Ministers to conduct foreign policy, relieving the Foreign Ministers of much of the burden of running the internal EU agenda, and, later, merging the jobs of Mr. Patten and Mr. Solana.

On the world stage the EU should play to its strengths by championing international organizations and global rules - a recommendation likely to lead to increased confrontation with the Bush Administration in Washington, although Mr. Everts does not make this point.

The European Union should also set meaningful foreign policy priorities and stick to them, Mr. Everts says. "EU politicians should resist the temptation to dream up a policy on all issues, con§ict and regions in the world." It should think strategically and globally, but focus attention on its "near-abroad," the Balkans, Russia, Ukraine, the Middle East and North Africa.

Most of these are sound suggestions, although few of them are likely to be adopted in the near future. Maybe the CFSP will have to be plunged into crisis by enlargement before serious reforms are contemplated.

The European Union is still a long way to becoming a political superpower and national governments are still too jealous of their foreign policy prerogatives to cede them all to central control. But the CFSP will probably continue to evolve slowly in the kind of direction Mr. Everts suggests.

As Mr. Everts writes, while the EU's performance in foreign policy is still underwhelming, failure has also been coupled with a willingness to reform, a factor that is always underestimated by Euroskeptics. In foreign policy, as in other fields, the EU has by no means finished, or even started some of the necessary reforms.

Critics should note, however, that in the end the member states have always achieved their common policy objectives (if not always on time). Only a few years ago, many skeptics, particularly in the United States, refused to believe there would ever be a single European currency. Now the euro is here. Rome was not built in a day.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number III, Issue number II in the Spring of 2002.