FEPS Fresh Thinking

Invited yesterday to speak at a conference of the S&D Group in the European Parliament I raised the crucial question of the European Common Foreign and Defence Policy of the sharing of sovereignty.

Looking on the current state of the CFSP one has to admit that there is some “movement”. It seems also that many of the experts are excited.
– Excited that the December 2013 Council discussed this long awaited issue.
– Excited that at least in June 2015 the Council will discuss it again and
– Excited that as a consequence in some of the member states – especially in Germany – there is also movement.

Nevertheless the question remains whether this “movement” will culminate in a substantial, forward-looking, revised European approach. In saying this, I mean a substantial common approach to strengthen further the already on-going CFSP. Catherine Ashton was right to argue in her last speech to the European Parliament that Europe has to do MORE together and to do it MORE effectively. The current annual budget of €200 billion is no small amount of money.

But if the CFSP is to become the driving force of a coherent European approach of security policy a lot remains to be done. There is still the behaviour of the Europe’s “big players” – France and Britain. We are all aware that their foreign and security policy is far removed from a truly European approach. Of course there are historical reasons for this but it also has plenty to do with the overall construction of the European Union. At present, this is not a federal Union but one based on sovereign states and intergovernmentalism. In foreign and security policy, sharing sovereignty is still one of the most sensitive issues, especially when it comes to decisions on sending troops.

There is still the issue of the role of Germany in the set-up. The Security Conference in Munich last month was “promising”. The German foreign minister made some substantial proposals on a new German approach and the Defence minister – in her own way – went immediately to Western Africa to promise more active involvement of the Bundeswehr in Mali and other conflicts on the African continent.

And there is still the question of NATO, its policy and finally its existence. This was an organisation founded in the context of the Cold War to protect Western interests in a bipolar order. With the accession to the European Union of states once on the East of the Iron Curtain it is unclear what particular function NATO serves in the overall European geopolitical landscape. It is also clear that the bipolar world is not existing any more since more than 20 years!

Within the European Parliament, there is even a tendency for some MEPs to behave as if they are in the NATO General Assembly. Is it not time for EU member states’ security interests to be decided within our own internal constructs and procedures, and not one that is a relic of a much more conflict-prone world. I recognise that, as long as NATO is the coordinator of activities in Afghanistan, it is perhaps unrealistic to advocate its demobilisation. However, once it becomes more feasible, should we not make our foreign policy concerns genuinely European and not bound to the Atlanticist reflexes of the past.

Nevertheless, there has been some progress, not only during Brussels talks but also in concrete issues. The role of Europe and of the High Representative in the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear capabilities proved to be a particular high point. However, when you look at Central Africa or Ukraine it is evident that there are limits to the optimism we can hold. Indeed the Neighbourhood represents a significant opportunity for a proactive common approach if only we could harness. The establishment of the European Endowment for Democracy has provided a good example of how EU “soft power” can be used to help the growth of democracy among our neighbours but there is still much more we can do.

Furthermore, it is difficult to understand why it took such a long time to bring the famous “Solana-paper” to the table. This paper was future-oriented, promising and forward-looking.

Solana raises the question of potentially uniting European CFSP. Here lies the key question. Are member states willing to adopt a reflex that is “automatically” European? Again I come back to the Munich security conference. More or less everybody on the European level welcomed the German “move”. German Chancellor talked this week with the French President on an important involvement of Germany in Central Africa. My question on this is a simple one: Why was there not the simple reflex of Germany to discuss this “move” first with its European partners here in Brussels? Why is there still the thinking that Foreign and Security policy is first and foremost a question of national sovereignty and not one of shared sovereignty? A lot has been argued that the next step of European integration should be a common CFSP.
It is evident, in the context of European elections that our politicians will not go to marketplaces, on television and to knock on doors to talk to citizens about Foreign and Security Policy. As such, it is not a priority right now. Nonetheless, we should not forget that in this issue we possess something that could represent a significant advance in European integration.

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