The always readable Timothy Garton Ash has another good column in today’s Guardian discussing how Europe’s inability to speak with one voice on the international stage weakens its impact. As he points out, the sheer number of people waiting to meet with President Bush this week help to show what the problem is:
Who knows what is Europe’s agenda for the world? The question always attributed to Henry Kissinger – “You say Europe, but which number should I call?” – remains posed. The baffling multiplicity of people the American president had to meet in Brussels, including heads of large-minded small countries and small-minded large countries, as well as those of competing institutional parts of the EU, not to mention Nato just up the road, shows how far we still are from an answer.
However, the situation isn’t quite as bad as that might make it seem. On some issues, there is unity and focus of action:
Yet despite, or perhaps even because of, the enlargement of the EU, we are moving in the right direction – both in theory and in practice. In Ukraine, the EU’s designated foreign minister, Javier Solana, worked with the Polish and Lithuanian presidents, in an ad hoc trio, to help secure a peaceful outcome to the orange revolution. In relations with Iran, three countries – France, Germany and Britain – are taking the lead, in close cooperation with Solana. There will surely be more of these improvised intra-European coalitions of the willing.
And the Extase of the title? That’s the fledgling European External Action Service a diplomatic corps with a name diplomatically chosen not to cause offense. (And hands up everyone who thinks Extase will quietly over time be replaced by EAS) The example of Ukraine is probably the most pertinent right now as it showed how the EU is capable of agreeing on a position and then deploying the diplomatic strength necessary to push that position forward. Solana had the authority of the whole EU behind him and was able to represent that common position.
Obviously, the future development of the EAS and the position of EU Foreign Minister depends in the short term on the approval of the Constiution and the formal creation of the role. In the medium to long term, however, it’ll also be a question of individuals and how they use the powers that are given to them. Solana, of course, has a good stock of personal credibility, not just from his work in Ukraine, but all the groundwork he did before that to build his reputation. The question is whether he and his potential successors as Foreign Minister/High Representative can build on this and establish an EAS that national governments will be happy to turn to when its required.
And finally, Garton Ash may have reported on a very rare event – a memorable quotation from a Prime Minister of Luxembourg:
“If ridicule could kill, there would be bodies piling up in the streets in Brussels”