The questions on the functioning and success of EU Foreign Policy are back at the forefront of the debate. Three years after the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon leading to the establishment the European External Action Service (EEAS), the excellent ECFR and CEPS, two leading think tanks on European politics, have both published insightful reports on the state of the EU foreign policy.
The ECFR partnering with the Center on Europe and the U.S. at the Brookings Institute published its annual “European Foreign Policy Scorecard.” It is a very empirical and practical report looking at the different domains of EU foreign policy and grading them. The second report published by CEPS is a more academic type of report, “The New EU Foreign Policy Architecture. Reviewing the First two years of the EEAS,” but a must read in order to understand the complex institutional and cultural problems at the higher spheres of European politics.
Despite considerable differences both reports should be read altogether: The CEPS offers the institutional background of the EEAS and its latest developments, while the ECFR’s puts European foreign policy in practice. No need to underline that the European Union is a unique political entity, best described by Jacques Delors as a UPO – Unidentified Political Object. Its institutional complexity must be understood first in order to explain why in some instances the EU can be active or in other absent from the international arena.
As an institution, it took over eight years for the creation of the EEAS. The discussion started back in 2002 and ended with the council’s decision in 2010. Each actor – commission, parliament, member states – took a shot at the compromise on the development of a EU foreign minister, named the EEAS. For many, the EEAS remains a very obscure institution as it is neither a supranational not intergovernmental by nature. “The EEAS has to navigate,” argue Helwig et al., “between the ‘community’ and the intergovernmental decision-making methods with the mission to support the EU member states, while maintaining complex relations with the Commission and the European Parliament.” This combination of community and intergovernmental powers makes the EEAS unique and complex. Its structure is multifaceted and is divided into severalpolicy areas and geographical divisions.
Furthermore, the CEPS report looks at the development of the EU architecture in foreign policy by focusing on four types of relationship: EEAS and member states; EEAS and commission; EEAS and the parliament; EEAS and the delegations. Each relationship is clearly developed and offers a simple understanding of the bureaucratic tension between each institution. The chapter, “The interplay between the EEAS and the European Commission,” is fascinating in demonstrating the complexity of the relationship between the two institutions despite their shared link embodied by Catherine Ashton, the High Representative and Vice President of the Commission. It is not only an institutional fight, but as well an ideological one between “power” and “community,” meaning the Member States versus the EU.
The second report by ECFR/Brookings grades the successes and failures of EU foreign policy in five regional relationship – China, Russia, the U.S., wider Europe and MENA – as well in the sector of multilateral and crisis management issues – such as peacekeeping, climate change, international organizations, humanitarian and so on. The beauty of this report is that we – researchers – can now compare the evolution of EU foreign policy as it is the third year in the row that the scoreboard has been published. Here are four charts summarizing the results of the 2013 report:
These charts are fascinating to dissect. My biggest surprise concerns the Security Sector Reform (figure 3). Several experts including myself have written extensively on the topic of SSR. The fact that the EU does not perform well in this sector is worrisome as the EU is supposed to be the leader in this area. This area demonstrates the gap between expectation and reality of the EU in the realm of security.
Reflections on Foreign policy
Since the financial crisis, foreign policy has been one of the main victims in Europe and the US. Foreign policy debates are barely tackled in public, and when it is the case it has become very polarized. Despite fast changing regional and international systems with many cross-cutting issues necessitating multilateral cooperation, EU Member States and European citizens do not see foreign policy as a priority.
Considering the role of the High Representative, the EU foreign minister, both reports do put more light over this unique position of HR/VP. Certainly, voices have been very critical over the lack of knowledge of Lady Ashton on foreign policy matters; for such reasons, she has been compared to “accidental diplomat.” Many have compared her with her predecessor Javier Solana, a savvy politician and excellent foreign policy leader. Such academic exercise of comparison of Solana with Ashton should not be made – an error that I have often made. The position of HR prior the Treaty of Lisbon was very different to the current one. Solana is undeniably a true politician, whom skills were facilitated thanks to the looseness of the HR position post-Lisbon. Today, Lady Ashton’s role is much more of a bureaucrat/administrator, with a double-hatted position of HR and VP of the Commission, than a politician. She has completed the first part of her mission, designing and creating the EEAS. Now HR Ashton has been working on increasing the EU voice internationally, which has oftentimes been stolen by either the President of the Commission, President of the European Council, or even the Member State holding the presidency. These last couple years, EU foreign policy and the EEAS have been sidelined on important matters like: Libya, Mali (in the early round of the French intervention) and others.
Both reports produced by the CEPS and the ECFR with the Brookings have offered fascinating analyses on the topic of EU foreign policy. The CEPS report is a fantastic tool in order to understand the EEAS and realize the complexity of the task. Kissinger was right when asking “what is the telephone number of Europe?” Such question has become the baseline for any skeptics of the foreign policy experiment of the EU. Overall both reports argue that the EU is not bad in foreign policy. Helwig et al. wrote that “‘teething problems’ should not come as a surprise to anyone, given the complexity of setting up a new institution of this kind.” The teething problem is also linked to the young age of the EEAS.
2013 will not only be a year of review of the EEAS and EU foreign policy, but it should as well be a year of reflection on the global role of the EU. The 2003 European Security Strategy was published a decade ago under Solana. Since the appointment of Ashton, the EU has not produced any global strategy. HR/VP Ashton has had a lot on her plate, but the EU cannot afford to keep advancing in the dark without a clear global strategy. The institution of EEAS exists and functions, now it is time to give it a vision. This vision may come with the deliverance on the European Global Strategy in May 2013.