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  In search of the European Union powers

Violeta Podagelytë
2011 03 28

The role of the European Union in the field of international policy is still a topic for discussions. Some depict the EU as “an economic giant but political dwarf”, “with its own telephone number”, the others attribute other names: civilian power (F. Duchene), soft power (J. S. Nye), model power (D. Miliband), smart power (B. Ferrero-Waldner). The first consider the EU as a shy and inactive political actor which is not only unable to influence centres of global power but is also unable to control its local matters. In fact, Europe which then started developing the framework for a common foreign and security policy suffered huge humiliation because of the fiasco in the Yugoslav wars.

However, we shouldn’t underestimate the EU ‘s actions even during the Yugoslav crisis. Each crisis consists of two phases: separation of conflict parties, termination of war actions and stabilization and post-conflict actions. The EU played a huge role during the second phase of this crisis: presence of the EU special representative, EUROFOR and EUPM in Bosnia and Herzegovina is till a guarantee of stability and peace.

The EU can also be proud of its successful democracy development policy. By giving membership promises for economic and political reforms the EU was a significant stimulus for the consolidation of democracy in Eastern and Central Europe. The ones declaring that the EU is a power based on civil provisions and human values, have strong arguments: for them Europe is a soft power matching the needs of its citizens as a contrast to the power based on tough military measures.

So Euro-enthusiasts seem to be divided into two camps: the ones who suffer from the EU inferiority crisis even in absence of substantial reasons, and the ones who try to convince themselves that everything is okay even when the reality demonstrates the opposite.

However, the gap between “expectations and capacities” for a more powerful role of the EU in the global policy is increasing rapidly. This gap could decrease by either reducing expectations or increasing capacities (or doing both simultaneously). But it seems that this logic has lost somewhere when drafting the Lisbon Treaty.

The Lisbon Treaty stipulates quite ambitious EU foreign policy objectives, however these are only rhetoric wordings increasing expectations but not anticipating procedural and institutional measures for their realization. Certainly we cannot deny that establishment of the European External Action Office and nomination of the EU high representative for foreign affairs and security policy provides a possibility to develop a more efficient EU foreign policy. However, it is too early to speak about its successful realization. Enhancement of separate EU institutions might lead to the situation when tension between them might block political interests. So the question whether the new institutional structures will be able to work harmoniously, especially when their expertise and operational spheres overlap, remains unanswered.

In any case, today is clear that the Lisbon Treaty does not transfer the European foreign and security policy to supranational dimension. Transnational negotiations are still the main EU’s decision-making instrument in the sphere of foreign policy, where national interests are expressed and decisions are based not on majority of votes but on a unanimous consensus. In the exceptional cases, when there is a possibility to make decisions by qualified majority voting they still can be protested by a motivated statement of one Member State.

Even if the EU will be able to develop a more consistent foreign policy, it doesn’t mean that this policy will have clear priorities and provisions. Different national strategic cultures and geopolitical interests will hardly counteract in the common foreign policy. Henry Kissinger, while asking “Who do I call is I want to call Europe?”, expected to hear a partner with whom he could speak here and now, but not the rhetoric slogans of a secretary. Thus, to become a global power it is not enough to have one telephone number or a voice answering the call. This voice should also convey the message.

The Lisbon Treaty does not provide much hope for both, the ones who want to see the EU as a global power and the ones who consider the EU a “soft power” based on values.  The EU’s weak and delayed response to the democratic revolutions in the Arab world is the latest example of this. The first group got disappointed in the EU which has been cautiously observing the events from distance, and the United States left the indecisive and confused EU behind. While the EU is considering the situation in Libya, Gaddafi is fighting back the lands controlled by the rebels. The unity of the EU became apparent when French President Nicolas Sarkozy has unilaterally decided to recognize the rebels as legitimate representatives of Libya, although this caused confusion in the quiet skies of Brussels. The second group should have noticed that the content of the EU’s quiet political signals sent across the Mediterranean was not inspired by democracy or values of human rights; it was rather a reflection of the interest to retain stability in the region.

Criticism toward the EU by international non-governmental organizations defending human rights is also very painful. Although European commission president José Manuel Barosso has been condemned for agreeing to meet the authoritarian Uzbek president Islam Karimov in Brussels, they signed an energy memorandum.

Thus, even in cases when common interests lead to the development of common foreign policy, the actual EU policy is not based exceptionally on democratic values and protection of human rights. Quite often energy and security interests overshadow publicly declared moral values.

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