European integration has been a story in which sprints of intense activity have been followed by prolonged periods of inertia, followed by renewed optimism, followed again by disappointments. In 2010 the EU found itself in another depression. The outbreak of integration in 1990s achieved some progress towards a common foreign and security policy but left three important issues unresolved: delivering a workable political support system for foreign policy integration; the inability to fund the venture, stemming in part from taking in twelve underdeveloped new members states without fundamentally changing the redistribution system, and, the lack of a EU raison d’etat to inform policy (Toje, 2010).
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The focus of the discussion in this paper is on the pattern of activity of the 27-state collective in the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The analysis places a particular focus on the period after 2003. That year was chosen as a marker because it represented the beginning of the European Defence and Security Policy (ESDP) in an operational sense, and the Iraq war signalled that the post-Cold era was coming to an end. The conflict plunged EU into a deep crisis by revealing that the creation of institutional frameworks and the pooling of forces had not been coupled with a firm consensus on the purpose of European power.
The EU as a Power
In order to understand the EU’s in the international system the concept of power is inescapable. Over the past decades European leaders have returned to the question of whether the EU should strive to become a power in the international system. Power is, as Leslie Gelb (2009) begins the book Power Rules, “the heart of foreign policy”. The attempts at placing the EU in the power spectrum rely on the contemporary debate about the existence, nature and consequences of EU foreign policy. Firstly, EU is an accidental and inconsistent power. Its role in the international system is the result of an incremental process where the sum of many foreign policy initiatives amounts to something bigger. Secondly, power in international relations is linked to the force of arms. The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP, former ESDP) is therefore seen as a “test” of the EU as a power. Thirdly, The CFSP/CSDP nexus is therefore to be placed within the broad limits of neoclassical realist tradition. As Henry Kissinger (1957) has observed, “No serious realist should claim that power is its own justification”.
The Anatomy of EU Security
The symbolic importance of the CSDP goes beyond its actual and potential real-world impact; it is the vanguard of the EU’s international presence. No initiative symbolises more clearly the ambition to develop a political union than the CSDP. Anne Deighton (2002) described it as breaking “glass ceiling of Europe’s self-denying ordinance on EU access to military competencies”. Javier Solana, former High Representative for the CFSP, stated that the Common Security and Defence Policy is seen to be the “teeth” of the Common Foreign and Security Policy – “with the CSDP we are giving ourselves the tools to deliver”. Therefore, the currency of hard power (i.e., coercive power – both military and economic) has changed little over the centuries. The ability to conduct foreign policies and maintain independent relations with other powers depends in the end on the ability to raise and command armies. For this reason, the CSDP is the best indicator of whether a new power is indeed rising in Europe. This is mainly because the CFSP is not only a unique form of international cooperation; it is also a unique form of EU cooperation.
The Initial Problems Associated with CFSP
Following the end of the Cold War, the introduction of the CFSP (by the Maastricht Treaty on European Union in 1992) represented an attempt to provide overall strategic direction for external policy. To date, however, achievement of strategic direction has proved elusive (Bretherton and Vogler, 2006).
Differences in Member State foreign policy priorities reflect a variety of factors, including pre-exciting bilateral ties (or antipathies), geographical location and the extent of support for a policy stance distinct from that of the United States. Successive enlargements of the EU have tended to exacerbate these differences. Divisions have also long persisted over approaches to decision-making, with large Member States preferring intergovernmental methods and smaller Member States advocating a more “Community” approach. Here, a still unresolved central issue has been the extent to which the European Commission, with its responsibility for the economic instruments of policy, should be actively involved in decision-making.
Problems of inconsistency were, of course, revealed by the Member States divisions over the 2003 invasion of Iraq. During that period, highly public disputes over important EU external policy areas (including CFSP/ESDP), and the resulting failure to decide, inevitably fell against the Union’s presence in foreign policy. Despite its title, the CFSP cannot be regarded as a “common” policy in the sense indicated in the Maastricht Treaty on European Union (TEU); rather it is a highly institutionalized and complex mechanism of coordination and cooperation between Member States governments. The Member States pursue their parallel national foreign policies and maintain control over the fiscal and diplomatic resources that can be called upon by the EU. This restrains the EU from interacting on a consistent and deliberate manner with other international actors.
Moreover, in the CFSP context, problems of coherence were also frequent. Regarded as a specialized political policy area (“high politics”), the foreign and security policy has traditionally been considered as entirely distinct from the ordinary “low politics” of external economic relations. The evident overlap between the economic and political dimensions of external policy has not been reflected in the creation of institutions that facilitate their coordination, but rather that hinder it (the Commission and the Council Secretariat are two separate, externally and potentially competing bureaucracies).
In addition, the tensions between the national and European interests is not to be underestimated. Neither is the fact that when they clash, the latter most often loses out. There is a pattern where even when a government has a strong mandate, its scope of foreign policy divergence can be narrow; for instance, the persistent unwillingness of British governments to challenge the “special relationship” with United States, most recently demonstrated by their mutual support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq; the French patronage towards the francophone states or Germany shielding Russia from EU critique.
Different countries handle security challenges differently. The threat of terrorism, or political violence are to be filtered through a long list of factors. All these contribute to demarcate the common ground among the 27 member countries. This is the reason why the CFSP/ESDP has not been given an effective decision-making mechanism, which more than anything give the EU foreign policy its distinct flair. Decisions are generally made by consensus, which certainly limits the policy output.
However, for all its shortcomings, the CFSP has brought about a turnaround in practice of foreign policy. This is due to the fact that the voluntary security procedure, combined with the ineffective decision-making mechanism, has proven fertile ground for bureaucratic politics, where the High Representative, the Council and the Commission staff play essential roles in formulating EU foreign and security policy.
What Lisbon Changed
The Lisbon Treaty introduces four notable changes in relation to general provisions of the CFSP (Laursen, 2010):
The CFSP will be based on “the achievement of an ever-increasing degree of convergence of member states’ actions”. The Treaty charges the European Council with determining “the strategic innovations and objectives of the Union” for all the EU’s external action.
The Member States are encouraged to “comply with the Union’s action” in the area of the CFSP.
The objective of consultation among Member States is listed to be that of a “common approach”.
Each Member State is asked to consult the other within the European Council to ensure, through the convergence of their actions, that the Union is able to assert its interests and values on the international scene.
Moreover, the inclusion of a mutual defence clause within the Treaty of Lisbon can also be considered as a major development in common European defence initiatives. Member States, in case of armed aggression on their territory, will be provided “aid and assistance by all means in their power”.
The Treaty of Lisbon also introduces some innovations aimed to streamline the EU’s institutional architecture (Wessels and Bopp, 2008). The most noticeable difference was a change of acronym from ESDP to CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy). What the Lisbon Treaty does not change is that the European Council retains the sole responsibility to define the principles and general guidelines for the CFSP/CSDP.
Although the new provisions introduce a number of institutional changes that will require further compromises and elaboration, the new Treaty does not challenge the essential intergovernmental nature of foreign and security decision-making.
CFSP – more “successful” in recent years?
The EU’s foreign and security dimension has undergone radical change from 2003 to 2010. The EU’s presence in international affairs had changed in emphasis and intensity. For the first time in six decades the centre of the gravity of the European security order is now shifting towards Europe. While NATO has lost some of its strength, the EU has grown in stature.
Since the 2003 Iraq crisis, the EU has gradually expanded the scope of its missions to also cover security challenges that go beyond the narrow understanding of humanitarian rescue missions and peacekeeping. Missions display a variety of means and ends: monitoring and surveillance (Balkans, Indonesia, Georgia), border posts (Rafah – Palestine, Moldova – Ukraine), police training and reinforcement (Afghanistan, Bosnia, Congo, Lebanon), reform and security forces (Congo, Guinea) and rule of law (Iraq and Kosovo).
Overall, the EU missions have been favourably reviewed. Yet, there are also grounds for apprehension, particular with regard to the CFSP. The main problem with the missions undertaken has for the most part been their lack of ambition. The Darfur/Chad crisis represents the very core tasks that the CSDP was called into being to address. The EU was unable to make up its mind to act forcibly over Darfur. The Chad operation is of particular importance because it illustrates a key pint, namely that the EU operates in the same strategic space as its Member States. The EU carried out an operation where France is militarily involved as a national actor. When the EU finally did intervene it was not to change the situation on the ground, only to monitor and prevent it from further declining. Hence, the lessons from the Darfur/Chad missions seem to validate viewing the EU as a small power.
In spite of the above, it suffices to say that the EU is a more active, inter-wired, and more central actor than it was in 2003. It is equally clear that the EU in 2010 had a military capacity it did not have in 2003. From 2003 to 2009, the EU engaged in twenty-two crisis-management operations. The operations are noteworthy not only for their complexity and range, but also for the manner in which they were carried out by combining civilian and military assets. The recent mission in Kosovo illustrates that the EU has filled a niche in regional and global security.
The EU’s foreign policy from the time the CSDP was declared operational in 2003 to the Lisbon treaty coming into force in 2009 could perhaps best be summarized under the heading “consensus – expectations gap”. The limited ability of the Europeans to speak with a single voice in foreign-policy matters has become an established tradition. One should have no illusions about this: while member-state decision-makers do take the Union seriously in matters of trade and economy, they have some way to go when it comes to recognizing the EU as their own manifestation on the international stage. The limited autonomy granted to the EU by its Member States weakens the EU as a strategic actor by encouraging reactive policy-making. Despite the efforts of the Lisbon Treaty, EU foreign policy remains highly compartmentalized.