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Is it possible to have a European Foreign Policy?

Russia, China, Turkey, USA, Belarus...

The speech given by Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, was striking in the quality of its determination and proposals. Digital, environmental and health issues should indeed be the subject of more common policies to achieve greater collective efficiency. On the other hand, the international aspect of her remarks was far too modest, ambiguous and timid. Once again it showed how divided Europeans are when it comes to taking a stand or taking action on the international stage.

Right now, the Baltics and Northern Europe want to punish the Belarusian dictator and the Russian Czar, while the Mediterranean countries want to stop the expansionist nationalism of Turkey. And both want to use their vetoes if their wishes are not met. This week the heads of State and government will have to decide between these competing demands.

Some argue that decisions in this area should be taken by majority vote. This may be justified on paper, but is unlikely to happen in reality. What State, no matter how big or small, will accept that its voice no longer counts?

To overcome these obstacles, we must remain true to the approach taken by Robert Schuman in 1950. The progressive Union of Europe, unthinkable at that time, was only possible through the pursuit of coalescent if not immediately shared interests.

In other words, there is no point in trying to take prerogatives away from the national States; they should be given something more through sharing or delegation. A decision, a treaty or a procedure that would have the effect of depriving them of some of their attributes will be impossible for a long time to come.

However, it is possible to imagine some ways of "deblocking" the Union's international initiatives. Could we not make these autonomous and detach them from the competences of the European Commission, which holds the funds for cooperation and humanitarian action, directs trade policy and, very concretely, ensures that the common diplomatic service and its staff remain under its supervision? It finds itself in competition with the States and, more often than not, in an autonomous framework with no precise foreign policy objectives.

Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is demonstrating that a strong European voice that refuses to fall back on Brussels' usual "langue de bois" has its rightful place in the international concert. An experienced politician, he has served as Foreign Minister for Spain, a country whose developments, suffering and achievements he has witnessed first-hand. At the service of the collective interest, this man of firm principles knows how to use his freedom, and if he were more independent of the Commission and had the material means at his disposal, he would be even more effective. His function as Vice-President of the Commission is not enough to free him from a European Parliament which is still very new to this field, from a naïve, legal approach to development aid and from a rationale enshrined in the Treaties which produces more half-hearted solutions than real positions.

A common foreign policy must serve those who too often prefer to remain silent or refrain from doing so for fear of incurring the wrath of more powerful third countries. It must support those who seek to promote and defend European interests by using the strengths and specificities of the Member States together.

Furthermore, should we not use the provisions of the existing treaties allowing one or more Member States to act on behalf of others? Isn't this already what is happening in the nuclear negotiations with Iran, where Germany and France represent Europe? Is this not the case in the Sahel, where France is prepared to risk the lives of its soldiers as it takes on the most dangerous share in the fight against terrorism? And in the Persian Gulf where a few too few European navies contribute, perhaps more effectively than others, to maritime security? Isn't Angela Merkel, who has just acted on behalf of the 27, the most credible European leader in trying to convince China to be a loyal trading partner at last?

The European Union can be glad of the European Commission, a supranational authority of limited but much better exercised competences, than if the individual Member States were acting alone. The internal market has become a coveted global success story. Other prerogatives could be entrusted to it to strengthen public action, for example in social or health matters. But this delegation cannot for the time being extend to the symbolic field of international affairs which have become so complex and sensitive, sometimes requiring positions of strength or the use of coercive means. Other avenues are possible. Let us hope that the Heads of State and Government will be able to follow these paths, for example this week, or one day, via the amendment of the treaties. This would certainly be the pace of desirable and expected European steps forward.