Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Ashton: We need to respond like Europeans!

Ralitsa Kovacheva, March 11, 2010

How far is the European Union ready to go in its foreign policy depends on its capability to overcome internal contradictions, as well as on being more united. This conclusion came up during the debates in the European parliament on the Annual assessment of EU activities in the area of foreign and security policy. This was the first assessment, adopted after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which gives more power to the EP in decision-making process in the Community - a fact, repeatedly emphasized by many MEPs. They adopted two reports about Common foreign and security policy. The first one, presented by Gabriele Albertini (EPP, Italy) says:

"The EU needs to be more determined if we want to successfully tackle several strategic priorities, to which the European Parliament can make essential contributions, such as a common European external energy policy, stability in the Western Balkans, the transatlantic partnership as the cornerstone of the EU's external actions, strengthening global stability and security and political and economic cooperation with the EU's neighbouring countries".

In the second report, Arnaud Danjean MEP (EPP, France), Chairman of the European Parliament's Sub-Committee on Security and Defence, recalled that we ягдква avoid considering the development of the CSDP as a risk of competition with NATO:

"The EU's autonomy in the area of security and defence is the ability of Europeans to act in times of crises where NATO cannot intervene (as in the case of Georgia), and it is the unique ability of Europeans to deploy civilian and military tools for crisis management, unparalleled with other international organisations", said Danjean. "We must never forget that the CSDP is a necessity, born from the dramatic European failure in the Balkans in the 90s. 500 million European citizens will not understand if the EU abandons its ambition to contribute to security and international stability"

There was big interest in “the first 100 days” report of EU's first diplomat Catherine Ashton. MEPs severely criticized Ashton`s performance at the hearing for the job, but the reactions after her speech yesterday were more favorable. Ashton summarized what had been done in her first 100 days and presented her views for the future European foreign policy. She pointed that European ambitions should take into account the lower political weight of the Union in the world today.

"Let me give you some figures to illustrate the point. Europe’s share of the world’s population is 7%, down from 25% a century ago. In the last 60 years, our share of global GDP has shrunk from 28% to 21%. The economies of China, India and others are racing ahead at 10% per year. Economic weight is translating into political clout and self-confidence. You feel it everywhere: from negotiations on climate change to Iran, to big energy deals in Africa or Central Asia. If we pull together we can safeguard our interests. If not, others will make decisions for us. It really is that simple. My preference is clear. We should respond, as Europeans."

Baroness Ashton drew particular attention to her work in creating the new European External Affairs Service. And hinted there was resistance from various sides in the process: the European Commission, the European Parliament and the member states. As euinside wrote, there were disagreements about the principles of recruitment and the power of the Service.

"Any time you create something new, there will be resistance. Some prefer to minimize perceived losses rather than maximize collective gains. I see it differently. And I hope this Parliament does too. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build something that finally brings together all the instruments of our engagement in support of a single political strategy."

Catherine Ashton stressed that a fair geographic and gender representation was the only acceptable way to appoint servants in the EEAS. Replying to Andrey Kovachev (ЕPP, Bulgaria) Ashton said, she would consider geographic diversity, but emphasized that this would consume a lot of time. She also recalled that without a legal foundation, nothing could be achieved. Bulgaria is among the countries that insists on the geographic principle when the new Service is established.

MEPs again called for an enhanced parliamentary control of the appointments of and the mandates of the special EU foreign policy representatives. That demand provoked disputes during Ashton's hearing in January. Than she said this would delay the Diplomatic Service launch. According to MEPs, EP has to be consulted before launching missions in the framework of the Common foreign and security policy. They raised concerns that insufficient funding of the Union's ability to have a "credible and proactive" foreign policy. And pointed the necessity of giving the EU the necessary funding to help it meet "unforeseen global challenges".

The Bulgarian MEP Nadezhda Neynsky called on Baroness Ashton to initiate a review and evaluation of past and current missions of the Union within CFSP to determine with greater precision the necessary budget.

MEPs supported the creation of a Defense Council under the auspices of the External Affairs Council and a permanent operational centre, led by EU's High Representative for foreign policy.

Whether the common spirit of understanding and support will last beyond the parliamentary debates, will become clear when the diplomatic service is ready. Catherine Ashton suggested that neither European institutions, nor the member states have to put their own interests above the common European interest.

"This is huge chance for Europe. We should not lower our ambitions but rather give ourselves the means to realise them. This is a moment to see the big picture, be creative and take collective responsibility."

Ultimately, the EU's ability to overcome external challenges, depends only on one thing: its ability to overcome itself as a sum of institutions and member states. To be able to respond to the world in a single voice.