Thursday, May 19, 2011

Five separate declarations over more than 12 hours: The E.U’s efforts to unify its foreign policy are not working well

…after Osama bin Laden was killed … the [European Union]’s senior figures put out no fewer than five separate declarations over more than 12 hours
reports Stephen Castle.
The last of these came from Catherine Ashton, who became the E.U.’s first foreign policy chief … 18 months ago.
The Belgian foreign minister, Steven Vanackere, criticized the slowness of her reaction, and his broader point was one that is increasingly little in dispute: The E.U’s efforts to unify its foreign policy are not working well, and this is not entirely the fault of Ms. Ashton.

… There are few better illustrations of those continuing turf wars than the reaction to the death of Bin Laden.

The first E.U. pronouncements were issued by Jerzy Buzek, president of the European Parliament, even though he has very few foreign policy powers. His two declarations were followed by a joint statement from José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council.

In their statement, Mr. Barroso and Mr. Van Rompuy asserted that the death had made “the world a safer place and shows that such crimes do not remain unpunished.” They described the operation as “a major achievement in our efforts to rid the world of terrorism.”

One E.U diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said, “Getting agreement on this was not easy, but the one thing they really did agree on was on doing this without Ashton.” Both men see themselves as being senior to Ms. Ashton because they operate on the level of world leaders, while her main counterparts are foreign ministers.

… It was not the only example of competition among E.U. institutions …

The confusion highlights a flaw in the Lisbon Treaty, which fudged the role of the key E.U. players, giving both Mr. Van Rompuy and Mr. Barroso some role in foreign policy.

In the world of Brussels power politics, officials seem reluctant to take a back seat, even if they know that doing so might be to the greater good of the Union. The result threatens to be a continuing proliferation of words — and less sign than ever that the rest of the world is paying attention.