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Debate: EU Common Foreign and Security Policy

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Should EU nations adopt a common foreign policy?

Background and context

After the much awaited agreement on the new EU Treaty in June, 2007, which sought to revive elements of the rejected EU Constitution, the EU has agreed, amongst other things, to streamline its Foreign and Security Policy under one post: the High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security.
Initially called the EU Foreign Minister under the rejected EU Constitutional Treaty, the post combines the Council’s High Commissioner post (currently held by Javier Solana) in charge of all EU diplomatic efforts as agreed by the Council, with the role of the Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy (currently held by Benita Ferrero-Waldner) in charge of international aid and relations between an enlarged Europe and its neighbours to the East and South. The holder of this post, which is to come into effect in 2009, will only be able to act based on unanimous agreement between all the EU foreign ministers, yet will be able to steer the EU foreign policy agenda and represent the EU as a united front at international functions. With this post – as well as the now full-time post for the European Council President – the EU will have partially answered the US’s repeated question: if we want to talk to Europe, who do we call?

The creation of the post is a culmination of a number of different efforts to turn the initial project for a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) – adopted under the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 – into a workable, better integrated policy that is able to respond to international crises quicker and present a united front to EU Foreign Policy. It is a direct response to both internal and external criticisms that the EU has had to face over the last 15 years, particularly with regards to the disastrously managed situation caused by the breakdown of former Yugoslavia and more recently, the ‘New Europe-Old Europe’ split diplomatic position on the ‘war on terror.’ With bigger budgetary and diplomatic powers, the new post may set the pace for the creation of an increasingly stronger political union along more practical rather than discursive lines. The two sides in this debate will disagree about whether a common foreign policy is actually achievable, as well as about its desirability as an aspect of increasingly closer union.


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Problem: Does the EU lack a common foreign policy; is this a problem?

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Yes

  • The EU lacks a common foreign policy and it's a problem. MEP Toomas Hendrik Ilves, vice chairman of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said in 2006, "We should have a coordinated foreign policy; now we don’t have a common foreign policy on any matter."[1]


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No

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EU Foreign Minister: Is this new position a move toward a common policy?

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Yes

  • New EU Foreign Minister marks commitment to a common foreign policy. The recent agreement on the EU reform treaty and the creation of a post for an ‘EU Foreign Minister’ marks an important change in the decision making process at the EU level with regards to foreign policy. Agreement on the post shows a clear commitment to the pursuit of a common EU foreign policy and to developing a unique cooperative model for foreign policy decision making that goes beyond the nation state. Member states should now deliver on that commitment by seeking as much common ground as possible to ensure that the High Representative’s role is truly significant. The goal of a common foreign and security policy should thus be supported not only as a mechanism to streamline EU’s position and role in world politics, but also to reinforce notions of cooperation and consultation essential for maintaining a stable international system.


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No

  • The EU Foreign Minister position was controversial and is powerless. While seemingly groundbreaking, the current agreement on the EU reform treaty was nothing but a lame attempt to salvage a much bolder initiative: an EU Constitution. The rejection of the EU Constitution in the Dutch and French referendums, as well as the extreme difficulty in getting even its tamed down version – the reform treaty – to pass, shows, if anything, the extent to which the member states of the EU are not yet ready to think and act in unison. The significance of the ‘EU Foreign Minister’ post has already been jeopardized by a hesitation to name it as such – it was instead named the EU High Representative – as well as by a clear reluctance by EU members such as the UK to support it. The UK representatives successfully insisted that the language of the reform treaty clearly state that major foreign policy decisions will continue to be taken at the state level.


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Momentum: Is momentum moving in the direction of a common foreign policy?

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Yes

  • "EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy" was a major move forward. While the new ‘EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy’ marks only a bold first step towards a more unified voice for the EU, the decisions are indeed still based on a state by state consultation mechanism – hence the name representative. This should however not to be downplayed as a less significant change in how the EU approaches its foreign policy. The consultation aspect is in fact essential to reaching agreement and the importance of not only presenting a united front to the rest of the world, but also creating a united front through collaboration and debate. One should thus see this not only as a means to an end, but rather as an important mechanism in itself, whereby new identities are slowly created along with a deeper sense of commitment to a common set of values.


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No

  • Moves toward a common foreign policy have been only nominal. This language is not much different from what we have heard with every attempt the EU has made to push for further political integration. The role of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), as agreed upon back in 1993 during the Maastricht Treaty, was in fact presented very much along similar lines. Fifteen years later however, that united front has not been created. If anything, the EU’s political union, and certain any attempts towards a common foreign policy, have completely disintegrated when faced with the War in Iraq and the larger war on terror. Consultation, collaboration and the attempted creation of a common set of values has not worked and is not likely to work in a climate where the ‘New Europe’ in particular is claiming its own identity and interests.


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Yes

The High Representative will not only act as a spokesman for EU nations when they agree on foreign policies, but will act as a catalyst around which external policy will increasingly become coordinated. By chairing meetings of EU foreign ministers, he or she will be able to shape the agenda and influence the outcomes of meetings, encouraging member states increasingly to think in terms of common foreign policy positions. They will have added authority from their ability to speak for the EU in the UN Security Council. The High Representative will also direct the EU’s new External Action Service, which brings together policy specialists from both the Council and Commission in a unique manner. With representatives all over the world the EU will develop a foreign service capable of creating and articulating policy positions in a manner that few national governments can match. Over time this will promote the evolution of a true EU foreign and security policy, and will contribute significantly to increased European consciousness among EU citizens and further moves to political unity.

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No

The position of High Representative will be largely powerless, because the member states have such divergent interests that agreement will be rare, and that attempts to devise a common foreign policy for the EU are doomed. And because control of foreign policy is such a key aspect of sovereignty, it would be wrong for national governments to give this power away to the EU, which is less democratically accountable. If the EU and its High Representative do try to pressure states into common positions this may well backfire, creating strong anti-EU feeling in both national governments and public opinion. Pushing too hard for a common foreign policy and giving too much power to an unelected High Representative may instead begin to tear Europe apart.

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Yes

Creating a common EU foreign and security policy will in fact be easier than many people suppose, because many of the 21st century’s most important issues in external relations are already European competencies. Most are issues on which any one member state, even one as significant as Britain, France or Germany, cannot hope to make a real global impact alone – only by coordinating policy at EU level will the interests of member states be advanced at all. Policies in areas such as climate change, energy policy, development aid, trade negotiations and human rights promotion are already decided at EU level. Having a High Representative to coordinate and promote this work outside the EU makes sense and actually gives all member states a greater international effectiveness – the true measure of sovereignty.


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No

Creating a position of EU High Representative is not objectionable in itself. At present the EU is in the ludicrous situation of having two foreign affairs spokesmen, one from the Council and the other from the Commission. Rivalry and duplication of efforts, staffs and resources results, and so focusing all the EU’s external affairs work around one person makes some sense. What it does not mean is that the High Representative should lead a drive for a stronger common foreign policy position. Only when member states agree (which may not be often) will he or she have a role. In fact, by removing a foreign affairs role from the Commission, this development may actually limit the pretensions of Brussels to develop its own agenda and dictate foreign policy to the member states.

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Yes

One should not forget that a uniting Europe in itself has been a very bold undertaking that has taken several centuries to develop, and is certainly far from being a finished product. It would be unfair to argue that the EU has made no progress in its collaboration on foreign policy since the initial establishment of the CFSP, or that the past fifteen years have seen more decay than progress on further political integration. The mixed EU reaction to the war in Iraq has long been a point of contention and criticism, yet it represents only a small and exceptional failure, in a much larger common EU foreign policy. The Accession Process has been by far one of the most successful elements of EU foreign policy, along with many other success stories with aid to third parties and management of international conflicts, for example the EU’s role in Kosovo.

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No

The War in Iraq, along with previous notable failures to deal with the breakup of former Yugoslavia, has been an excellent test for the extent to which the EU can claim to have a common approach to world politics and foreign policy in particular. It has clearly pointed out a whole range of diverse and often opposed national interests, and national publics that were unwilling to make compromises along EU lines of commitment. It has also showed that the economic power of the EU is not enough to turn it into a major player on the international scene: the lack in military power and presence speaks for itself. The EU still lies very much under the umbrella of NATO and US military power and as long as this military dependency continues, the EU will not be able to have its own independent voice in world politics.

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Yes

The EU has slowly been building up its own common military framework, with the UK and France leading the effort to create a common EU military force for humanitarian and peacekeeping operation, with the creation of several new institutional bodies such as the Political and Security Committee, a Military Committee and military staff. The EU has military envoys in Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and has committed itself to the European Security and Defence Policy with 60,000 troops ready to deploy at a month’s notice (see Rockwell Schnabel’s article listed below). While incremental, these are steps not to be ignored. It is also important to note that the EU has also been building its military based on a notion of peacekeeping as opposed to military aggression. The EU does not seek to dominate through military power but rather to provide a sense of wellbeing and security through its very presence.

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No

The very creation of a common military framework has been fraught with disagreements. The UK and France have been willing to follow the USA’s example of military force and shown support for the idea of an EU army. Other nations have clearly rejected this approach on the basis of pacifist arguments and because they are reluctant to commit to the high level of military spending this would imply. While the EU does like to see itself as the diplomat of the world and flaunt its achievements with the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), it still ponders the possibility of a middle-of-the-road strategy of militarization and securitization. In the meanwhile, it continues to reside comfortably within the US sphere of military protection while acting as an enfant terrible who rebels against and yet continues to accept parental protection. It is a contradiction to argue that the EU is both attempting to build up its military force as well as providing an alternative sense of security that does not rely on military power.

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Yes

The EU is indeed under NATO’s and US’s military umbrella, and while terrorist attacks on EU’s territory have certainly heightened levels of anxiety, its ‘foreign policy’ is still based on an inclusive approach: bring threatening nations under your economic and political umbrella and provide them with incentives to collaborate. People such as Allen David and Michael Smith have argued that EU’s ‘foreign policy’ seeks to go beyond the nation state and thus treats what lies outside its borders not necessarily as ‘foreign’ and ‘threatening’ but rather as a different system (see Helene Sjursen’s paper listed below). The EU provides a subsystem of international relations within a larger global system, in which threats and fears subside as a result of economic and military integration. The most pressing challenge is to learn how to extend this system beyond the current borders of the EU, keeping in mind that the accession process is a mechanism not to be abused.

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No

While the process of European integration has indeed proven quite successful in maintaining stability in the region, the EU model is hardly replicable everywhere else in the world, nor can it be extended to include the entire international system. The model has taken large amounts of time and significant financial and political efforts to create and maintain, and is still struggling to deal with new and potential accessions to the EU. There has been little recent progress in the Western Balkans and Turkey’s membership negotiations have stalled so badly that the EU has lost any ability to influence the Turkish government in the direction of domestic reform and external cooperation. Freedom of movement within the EU continues to pose significant problems, particularly with regards to increased Eastern migration towards the West, and discrimination remains quite prevalent despite attempts to create a common European identity. In conclusion, the EU model seems to be more of a consequence of a particular set of historical circumstances in the post-World War 2 era, one will not necessarily remain stable in the future, and one that can hardly be extended to the rest of the world.


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Pro/con resources

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See also

External links and resources

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