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January 08, 2009

The EU on Hamas-Israel and Ukraine-Russia
Posted by James Lamond

Since 1999 The EU has been developing a unified foreign and security policy.  The policy has had some successes and some failure, running into many institutional roadblocks along the way.  Already in 2009 the European Union has had two major tests of its foreign policy mechanism.  Europe’s recent roles regarding the Israel-Hamas crisis and the Ukraine-Russia energy dispute are telling of the EU’s role and capabilities in high politics.

Three insights from the EU's role in these events:

1) The established structure for the ESDP and CFSP can be bypassed by member state leaders (i.e. Sarkozy).

As the LA Times, reported yesterday:

“a series of high-level official forays appears to have achieved little and once again laid the European Union open to criticism that it punches far below its weight in the diplomatic arena, if only because it can't seem to decide who does the punching and how hard.

"In the last few days, two separate European delegations descended on the Middle East. One was led by the Czech Republic, which assumed the rotating presidency of the EU last week, and the other by the man who reluctantly gave up that post, French President Nicolas Sarkozy.”

In the end it was Sarkozy, acting in his capacity as President of France, and not the EU that brokered a deal with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.  The rotating presidency, currently in Czech hands, was bypassed by the more internationally known and prestigious Sarkozy.

2) The European Union acts more efficiently as a unified body when there is a universal (or at least near universal) agreement on interests between member states.

Individual European countries responded differently to the events in Gaza, with the Czech government describing Israel's actions as defensive; Sweden blaming Israel for the violence; Gordon Brown calling for an immediate cease-fire; and Holland's Jan Peter Balkenende saying Israel was entitled to act militarily.

It is difficult for the EU to speak with one voice when the individual states cannot agree on what they want to say.  This was the case in the run up to the Iraq war, when the governments of France, Germany, and Belgium strongly opposed the US invasion, while most other governments in Europe supported it.

The EU has so far been more successful in dealing with the Ukraine-Russia energy dispute. One reason is that there is a universal consensus that a halt of gas shipments to Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Romania, Croatia, Serbia and Turkey and substantial drops to France, Germany, Austria, Poland and Hungary is obviously a bad thing and there is a consensus on what needs to be done. The agreement for the EU to place international monitors on the ground was brokered by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barrosso, not by an individual members state's leader.

3) The EU’s strongest leverage in international politics is the carrot of membership.

Another reason that the EU was more successful in dealing with Eastern Europe rather than the Middle East is that they hold more leverage as an organization with Ukraine than with Israel or Hamas.  The government in Ukraine wants to be a western oriented country, seeking NATO membership and eventually seeking EU membership.  Barroso "warned both countries — and particularly Ukraine — that failure to help restore supplies could have consequences for their relationships with the European Union."  Holding membership, and the ecnomic and political benefits that come with it, over the head of  countries seeking to enter the union is one of the EU's most powerful tools in international politics.  This was the case early on with Greece, Spain, Portugal, as well as the 1990s with the former Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe, and currently with Turkey, Bosnia, and Serbia.

This is not to say that the European Union is not capable of having a meaningful foreign policy outside of countries seeking membership- in fact there is great potential for the EU in high politics and it would be a valuable partner for the US in dealing with a growing number of international problems. However when Sarkozy overrides the rotating EU presidency and Europe is speaking with two voices, even if they are saying the same thing, it undermines the ability for the EU to be a force in international affairs.  Part of the problem is that the leadership position, and the EU's voice to the world, changes every six months- hardly enough time to foster relationships and develop a coherent foreign policy.  Should the EU ever adopt a Constitutional Treaty or some variation of the Lisbon Treaty, establishing a permanent presidency, this problem could be solved.  


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Where is Javier Solana in all this? Perhaps an important measure of the EU's increasing integration will be a more independent and visible representative for the CFSP, who could step up in moments of crisis such as these and articulate something close to a "European" position.

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