Calling Europe?

Assessing the European Common Foreign and Security Policy

Aimee Bateas
June 1, 2011

Recent events in North Africa, such as the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and the NATO action in Libya have raised questions about the ability of Europe to speak with one voice. The common foreign and security policy (CFSP) is the European Union's attempt to do just this. The most recent Lisbon Treaty made two significant changes, which were meant to strengthen the CFSP: the creation of a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR) and the European External Action Service (EEAS).


In 1978, US secretary of state Henry Kissinger posed a famous question, ‘If I want to call Europe, what phone number do I call?' Baroness Catherine Ashton, the HR, is supposed to be the answer. In addition, Ashton is the head of the EEAS and the vice president of the European Commission, alongside President Barroso.


The crises in North Africa have put the CFSP to the test. Take Libya for example. Much of the progress is being made outside the European Union's (EU) framework. The United Nations Security Council voted 15-0 to adopt Security Council Resolution 1970, proposed by the United States and three EU nations, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.  The resolution called for a referral to the International Criminal Court, an arms embargo, travel ban, asset freeze of members of Gadhafi's regime, and commitment to humanitarian assistance. 


To follow up, the Security Council voted in favor of Resolution 1973, which called for an immediate cease-fire between Libyan forces and the rebels, along with the establishment of a no-fly-zone, further asset freezes and travel ban provisions. The measure passed with 10 nations in favor (including permanent members France and the UK), zero against, and five abstentions (Brazil, China, Germany, India and the Russian Federation). This resolution not only demonstrates the lack of EU-level involvement, but also, with Germany's reluctance and subsequent abstention from the resolution, the inability of individual member states to agree.


In light of the uprisings, Ashton's inability to bring the 27-member-state bloc together has earned her the nickname, ‘the invisible woman.' Her slow approach and lack of a clear European voice for democracy in the early stages of the uprisings has led many to call her ‘powerless' during the crisis in Libya, as British prime minister David Cameron and French president Nicolas Sarkozy were the true leaders in the Security Council. To make matters worse for Ashton, the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, responded to news that Osama bin Laden had been killed before she did, beating her by a few hours.


President Giorgio Napolitano also got in on the action in his visit to Florence for the Festival d'Europa in early May. During the conference on the state of the union, Napolitano explained, ‘It might be worth underlining the state of the EU as a foreign policy actor. The events we are experiencing in the Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East prove the ineffectiveness of the foreign policy project and security .'


Recently, a group of journalists covering the Middle East and North Africa were in town for the New York University La Pietra Policy Dialogues. I had the opportunity to ask them what they thought of the EU's foreign policy in North Africa.


Bridget Kendall, a diplomatic correspondent for the BBC, explained that the EU was united after the fall of the Berlin Wall and spoke with one voice. She attributed this to the small size of the EU at the time. The goal, according to Kendall, was to embrace Eastern Europe and ‘provide them with the right carrots to eventually join the EU.' Today, with 27 member states, reaching consensus is a substantial hurdle because there are more ‘cooks in the kitchen.' Kendall also pointed out that countries like Egypt, Libya and Tunisia have no prospect for EU membership, a clear distinction from Eastern Europe. The EU had the right carrots for the former Soviet Union countries, but is unsure how to handle the Middle East and North Africa, without a prospect for membership.


Francesca Paci, special Middle East correspondent for La Stampa, echoed many of Kendall's comments, but added that EU member states do not have the same interests in the Mediterranean. Nations like Italy, Spain and Greece have a similar outlook because of their proximity, but Northern European countries have different priorities. She also cited the recent immigration problems between France and Italy as evidence for the lack of a common European foreign policy.

To make matters worse, the influx or of asylum applications to various EU member states has called for a re-evaluation of visa policy in the EU. Currently, 41 countries do not require a visa to travel in the EU. On May 24, the European Commission announced that visa-free countries could be temporarily suspended from the list if there is a sudden increase in asylum applicants or clandestine immigrants from that country. The so-called 'safeguard clause' would ‘make visa policy more efficient and allow us to react to unpredictable events,' EU home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said.


So, is there really a single phone number? Yes. But it has 27 extensions. When you call this phone number, you will hear the following recording: ‘For French foreign policy, press 1. For German foreign policy, press 2. For Italian foreign policy press 3 . . .'


Besides the lack of a single voice, the crises in the Maghreb have opened up a Pandora's box of policies that impact the EU as a whole and its member states.



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