Baghdad will give fresh impetus to the CFSP

Article published on April 9, 2003
community published
Article published on April 9, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Why, from the ashes of the Iraqi crisis, a strengthened Europe can arise: the role of the Convention.

The aclarity of the Iraqi crisis and the explosion of war have shown the CFSP up for what it really is: inconsistent in international crises when the political positions of the various member states diverge strongly. People have said and repeated ad nauseum that the Union should speak with one voice. The internal divisions within the EU, divided over the war launched by the US that almost all public opinion contests, weaken Europe. It is difficult to think of one European country or one European leader who will emerge victorious from this crisis, not even the Frenchman Chirac who, thanks to his pacifist line, has achieved 75% internal approval something that even de Gaulle did not manage in the 1960s. But Chirac has been forced, powerless, to watch the explosion of a war that he was not able to avoid.

The emerging picture is certainly discouraging. Nevertheless, there are reasons not to be too pessimistic about the CFSP. The media and European diplomatic corps have focused on the Iraqi crisis and for some time they seem to have neglected the Convention. The Assembly, entrusted with agreeing on a draft EU constitutional Treaty, that will be voted on by members at the Intergovernmental Conference, will discuss in May questions concerning the CFSP. The articles to be discussed will be presented by the Presidium at the end of April. The President of the Convention, Valerie Giscard dEstaing, wanted particularly to refer to two of the themes over which differences during the Convention will be most marked: the institutional structure of the Union, and the CFSP. In the case of the CFSP, moreover, there is always hope that by the end of April and May military operations in Iraq will have ended and European governments will once again be able to concentrate on reform of the Union, possibly with more courage than before.

In fact, as Alain Lamassoure, one of the French European Parliament representatives at the Convention, underlined, Working Group VII on External Action has only produced modest results. The proposals emerging from such a group are considered merely as innovation for the sake of appearances, such as, for example, the much debated fusion of the roles of the High Representative of the CFSP and the Commissioner for External Relations. According to Lamassoure, it has certainly not been the dualism of these roles that has impeded the Union from holding a clear and coherent line on Iraq and the Middle East, or from having a single position within the Security Council. Lamassoure goes as far as to affirm that instead the Union needs to establish debate and proposals on weightier issues such as the role of France and Great Britains nuclear strength and relations between Europe and America.

There is no doubt that Lamassoures reflections are excessive in many ways. The ability of institutional reforms to influence political choices cannot be denied. The proposed fusion of the roles of Solana and Patten will not automatically mean the birth of an effective CFSP. However, it can be hoped that it will create a greater sense of co-ordination of external EU action.

On the other hand, Lamassoures reflections do contain one element of truth: the emerging proposals within the working group on EU external action are not very advanced or innovative.

Throughout the reform process from the Nizza statement to the Convention, reform of Union foreign policy has not acquired much importance. The statement on the Future of the Union, drafted by Nizza in December 2000, did not mention the CFSP among its principle themes from which the basis for debate on the future of the Union will be taken. One year later, in December 2001, the European Council in Laeken decided to establish a Convention in order to ensure transparency and create a wide base for the preparation of the Intergovernmental Conference that will be entrusted to reform the Institutions of the Union in view of enlargement after the disappointing outcome of the Nizza statement. Also, when this statement was made, as Hans-Georg Ehrhart notes, references to problems with the CFSP and the ESDP were scarce.

However, recently issues regarding European foreign policy have acquired more weight. It seems, therefore, that the European Convention will come to a crossroads in April and May. Either short-term institutional modifications will be re-proposed and thus the substance of the CFSDP will either remain the same or, at most, only change slightly. Or, the Presidium will propose more courageous and innovative articles to the Convention. This could be the road that Giscard dEstaing will choose to take. He has leaked, during the course of recent interviews, the possibility of introducing significant changes to the CFSP. One of these could concern the insertion of a clause that obliges European states to find a common position at international meetings beginning with the UN Security Council. Non-respect of such a clause would carry legal consequences for the transgressor state. One could hypothesise, for example, intervention by the Court of Justice.

However, everything in the end will depend on the member states themselves who will have to demonstrate notable political courage and at the same time wisdom. It seems, however, that a group of countries, among them France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, will choose to move forward in a decisive manner. The important thing is that such forward movement also embraces other countries in order not to isolate them, not even the UK that has lately seemed more decided than ever that it does not want serious reform of the CFSP. Nevertheless, the role of Great Britain in the construction of a common European foreign and security policy is unavoidable.

Creating a credible European foreign policy after the recent grave failures is, for the reasons outline above, possible. The role that the convention plays could be extremely important. It would not be the first time that European construction has been re-launched with vengeance following an acute failure.