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IS EUROPE SERIOUS ABOUT HAVING A VIGOROUS FOREIGN POLICY?

The Daily Star - October 10, 2007 by Martti Ahtisaari, Joschka Fischer and Mabel Van Oranje Barring a last-minute change of heart, European heads of government will sign off this month on a new agreement to beef up the European Union's foreign policy machinery by strengthening the role of the EU high representative. This change is long overdue. Currently, the high representative's budget is less than what the European Commission spends on cleaners for its Brussels offices. With just 500 staff and only a handful of overseas representatives, a foreign policy apparatus meant to embody the collective will of 27 EU governments is outspent and outstaffed by most small African countries. This should change when a new foreign policy chief is appointed to oversee the EU's external trade, defense, and aid policies. But this welcome institutional innovation will not answer a more fundamental question: Is Europe serious about having a coherent and vigorous foreign policy? Too often, European leaders duck that question and provide a running commentary on the shortcomings of American foreign policy instead of developing strategies of their own. On issue after issue - from Iraq to Israel-Palestine to Afghanistan - European policy has been defined only in relation to what America is or is not doing. But next year, America elects a new president, and Europeans will no longer have the luxury of blaming the world's woes on George W. Bush. That is good news, because Europe has a lot to offer. Unlike other great powers in history, it doesn't project power by threatening to invade other countries. The EU's population of 500 million is the third largest in the world, after China and India. Its 27 member states account for a quarter of the world's economic output, represent the biggest single buyer of goods from the world's developing countries, and are by far the biggest donor of aid. With this comes real geopolitical heft. The EU's enlargement into Eastern Europe was the biggest process of peaceful regime change in history. The creation of the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol showed Europe successfully pushing for more multilateral governance. European involvement made a real difference to the peace process in Indonesia's Aceh Province and Congo's recent presidential elections. But too often Europe's latent power has been squandered by introversion and division. Even on Iran's nuclear program, a successful policy course has been neutered by a divided Europe's inability to back its diplomacy with hard-hitting sanctions. Unless Europeans are willing to pay an economic price, they will have little credibility in persuading the United States not to resort to military strikes. On Russia, the EU persistently underestimates its own strength and overestimates the power of President Vladimir Putin, allowing Russia to become increasingly bellicose. Some member states see Russia as a threat to be "softly contained." Others favor a process of "creeping integration" to bind Russia into European ways. This confusion has allowed Russia to pick off individual member states by signing long-term energy deals while undermining the EU on issues from the future of Kosovo to nuclear proliferation. EU leaders like to talk about "effective multilateralism," but they are not very effective at defending their values or interests in multilateral institutions like the United Nations. On Kosovo, Darfur, and Iran, if European countries do not unite and hold their ground, they risk being out-maneuvered when they should be leading the way. After all, the EU has five seats on the Security Council and pays 40 percent of the UN budget. But when it comes to voting on issues like human rights, too many developing countries forget about this and side with China in opposition to the EU. Although the EU's main failings are strategic, there are also some institutional barriers to European influence in the world. For example, defense priorities are still overwhelmingly national - focused on pet projects rather than projecting European power. As Chris Patten, the former European commissioner for foreign relations, is fond of saying, we will know Europe is serious about defense when we don't have to lease transport planes from Ukraine. Unlike the failure to adopt a European Constitution, Europe's leaders cannot blame their lack of foreign policy cooperation on hostile public opinion. A recent survey by the German Marshall Fund found that 88 percent of European respondents want the EU to take greater responsibility for dealing with global threats. With the prospect of agreement on a new foreign policy machinery, it is high time for the EU to forge a common European foreign policy that uses all the levers of Europe's power to promote its values and interests in the world. Martti Ahtisaari, Joschka Fischer, and Mabel van Oranje are co-chairs of the newly established European Council on Foreign Relations (www.ecfr.eu), a think tank created to promote and help create a common EU foreign policy. Mark Leonard is executive director of the ECFR.





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