Institut pro evropskou politiku EUROPEUM

Institut pro evropskou politiku EUROPEUM je think-tankem, který se zaměřuje na programovou, projektovou, publikační a vzdělávací činnost související s procesem evropské integrace.


Tomáš Weiss - Czech Business Weekly (25. března 2010)

Tomáš Weiss pro Czech Business Weekly An important EU struggle deserves wider attention.

An important EU struggle deserves wider attention

25. března 2010, Tomáš Weiss

For the past 10 years, the European Union has been struggling to redefine its institutional structure. In particular, the external representation of the EU needs to be redefined and streamlined.

As a result two new positions have been established; the first is high representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy and the second is permanent president of the European Council.

In addition, a new EU diplomatic service is being formed to support them. With the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty completed, the EU seemed to be ready to take up its rightful position among world powers and change the world. The reality, however, is proving much more complicated.

In fact we can expect the EU to focus on its internal structure in the months and maybe even years ahead. Catherine Ashton  has taken the high representative post and Herman Van Rompuy is permanent European Council president. They have been accused by many so far of having missed opportunities to fly the European flag high in Haiti or elsewhere. But these voices underestimate the changes currently taking place in Brussels and the fact that both Ashton and Van Rompuy must first define and consolidate their roles in the EU’s structure.

But doesn’t the Lisbon Treaty include the description of both these positions? The answer is that it does, but in such broad terms that they may be interpreted in many different ways. As a result, the holders of the new positions may become major players both in Brussels and on the world stage, but they could also end up as sidetracked bureaucrats with impressive titles. Everything will depend on their relations with the key players in Brussels.

Will High Representative Ashton, who is a commissioner and chairs sessions of foreign ministers in the European Council, be more loyal to the European Commission or to the member states? What will be her relation to other commissioners who deal with external issues and the commission’s president? How will she cooperate with the member state holding the rotating presidency in the European Council? Will Van Rompuy become the hub of European policy making? Or will he simply confine himself to giving the floor to prime ministers and presidents during European Council meetings? What will be his relation to the prime minister of the state holding presidency or the president of the European Commission? And finally, how will certain responsibilities be divided between Van Rompuy and Ashton?

Dividing up power

At the moment, there are no answers to any of these questions. But everybody is struggling for power. The turf wars are intense; European Council apparatus against the European Commission, member states against the commission and each other, and the European Parliament against everybody else. Currently, the main battlefield is the newly created EU diplomatic service, or the European External Action Service, as it is officially called.

The diplomatic service is only briefly mentioned in the Lisbon Treaty and its future shape will depend on a decision by member states which is expected at the end of March or in April. The service should support the high representative and is to be established as a new, independent institution alongside the Commission and the Council, drawing personnel from the latter two organs and diplomatic corps of the member states.

The potential impact of the service is vast; it is considered to be the most important change to the EU’s foreign policy-making processes in last decades. If influential enough, the service may help bring foreign policies of member states closer to each other and provide for unified external representation of EU positions. It is therefore quite understandable that all Brussels actors want to have their say in its creation.

The External Action Service may become a great asset or a huge problem, especially for the small and medium-size member states. New EU embassies (so far the only united EU foreign missions were European Commission delegations) may provide an excellent and cheap source of information from places where these countries do not have representation.

When discussing regions such as Africa or Southeast Asia for example, smaller member states are often mere observers in the Council because they lack expertise and first-hand information on the issues affecting those regions. Thus the service may help them participate on a more equal basis with larger states. Representatives of the smaller member states within the service could also form a useful channel to influence decisions from the very beginning.

At the same time, if the service fails to meet expectations or if the smaller member states are not represented properly in its structure, the presumed advantages may not materialize and the ability of the smaller states to influence European foreign policy could even diminish.

The European Union’s foreign policy structures are going through a very difficult and testing period and major challenges lie ahead before they become more active and effective. But the decisive struggle about their future shape and efficiency is taking place right now. Both politicians and the media should pay much more attention so that they are not taken by surprise by the outcome.

Tomáš Weiss is a fellow at the Europeum Institute for European Policy and a lecturer at the Faculty of Social Sciences at Charles University in Prague