The Convention is failing to learn the lessons of the crisis in Iraq

Javier Solana (picture Aleph)
Federalist Letter to the European Constitutional Convention

Issue number 8, 11 June 2003


The hype about the draft constitution and what it means for the future of Europe is obstructing an important truth: the capacity for an effective European foreign policy is still missing.

Let’s look at the new proposals. Europe will have a new Foreign Minister (or whatever Peter Hain might agree the post can be called – he seems very attached to the names of things). The Council will vote by unanimity unless it agrees to vote by qualified majority. The Commission will be responsible for trade and aid issues; the Council for other kinds of foreign policy.

What has changed from the present system? The answer is almost nothing. The only real difference is that the High Representative for Foreign Policy will also sit as a member of the European Commission. The roles of Javier Solana and Chris Patten will be filled by the same person. Everything else – the voting methods, the intergovernmental approach, the division of responsibility – will remain as before.

Essentially the same compromise that was reached at Amsterdam has been reached again. It wasn’t good enough then and it certainly isn’t good enough now. This refusal to change might be understandable if everything was going fine, but it is not. In the past six months, both Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac have been humiliated.

The Blair strategy has been to bring Europe and America to work together as partners. Over Iraq, this failed utterly. The credible threat of military force which was, it was argued, required to force Saddam Hussein to comply with the UN resolutions had no European contribution. The job of putting pressure on Iraq was left to America and its satellites alone. Britain’s role in Europe meant nothing.

And Jacques Chirac failed, too. In the face of American determination to fight a war, his concern was to make the United Nations count for something. Hans Blix and the inspection regime were an attempt to strengthen a multilateral response. But this did not work: the war went ahead regardless. France’s role in the world meant nothing.

When the next crisis comes, the Americans will be able to treat French and British attempts at policy-making with the same contempt again. Unless, that is, the right lessons are learned. The countries of the European Union will not have an effective voice on the world stage until they decide that they need one. As yet, that decision has yet to be taken.

When it is taken, there are two main things to be done.

First, the European Commission should be recognised as the motor of European foreign policy. The proposed foreign minister will be very confused: sometimes in the Commission, sometimes out. That sounds more like a description of how to dance the hokey-cokey than a streamlined and effective means of making and implementing foreign policy.

The cooperation of the Commission will in any case be needed for any legislation or expenditure arising from European foreign policy. Economic sanctions and external treaties will also need the assent of the European Parliament, as will any aid commitments.

And the second thing to do is to adopt qualified majority voting in the Council of Ministers. That is the sign that the member states are serious about working together to achieve shared objectives. The single market did not take off until the veto was removed. Foreign policy is the same.

The record of the European Union shows that the successful policy areas are those which are subject to the Community method: the Commission proposes; the European Parliament and the Council jointly decide, the latter by majority voting. We do not think that this is coincidence.

The role of parliaments in foreign policy making is necessarily more limited than it is in other areas of policy; the role of national governments in making and implementing European foreign policy will necessarily remain quite large. But that should not obscure the basic point. The Community method works whereas the intergovernmental method does not.

Recent experience of European foreign policy making has been catastrophically bad. At the moment of the biggest crisis in recent times, the different member states were divided and the European Union was silent. Without better proposals from the Convention, the next crisis will see that experience repeated.

This “Federalist Letter” is issued by the Union of European Federalists as part of the “Campaign for a European Federal Constitution”. For further information and support:
UEF – Chaussée de Wavre 214 d B-1050 Brussels, Tel: + 32-2-508.30.30 – Fax : +32-2-626.95.01, E-mail: [email protected] – Website: With the financial support, but not representing the opinions, of the European Commission.

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