European Union struggles to speak with one voice
Sat, 27 February 2010
By Alvise Armellini - The European Union's Lisbon Treaty was meant to put to rest almost 10 years of agonising institutional navel gazing, giving the EU a more streamlined, clearly defined leadership. But since it came into force in December, the treaty seems to have deepened Europe's discord, rather than bringing new harmony. The EU post-Lisbon has acquired both a prime minister and a foreign minister of sorts, former Belgian premier Herman Van Rompuy and Britain's Catherine Ashton respectively.
Both were relatively unknown internationally before their appointment in November, fuelling doubts over their capacity to represent the EU's interests in the world. But while Van Rompuy has partly silenced his critics, proving to be at least an efficient co-ordinator between EU governments, bigger questions hang over Ashton.
"Van Rompuy is becoming quite a respected figure ... That's not the case for Ashton," the director of Warsaw-based think tank DemosEuropa, Pawel Swieboda, told dpa. In public, the foreign policy chief was lambasted by France for not going to Haiti to showcase the EU's aid efforts and by Sweden for appointing an EU ambassador to Washington without consultation.
In private, diplomats say doubts over Ashton's inexperience were aggravated by her choice to stick with advisers she had in her previous job as EU trade commissioner, lacking diplomatic contacts. This, they stress, does not bode well for her ability to formulate EU policy on major international issues such as Iran or Afghanistan, nor for the creation of the EU's diplomatic service, a huge task facing her over the next five years. The new treaty has also blurred command structures, keeping former power players in place but adding new ones on top of them.
Lisbon has also given more powers to the European Parliament, thereby letting another EU actor have a say on international matters related to trade, agriculture and anti-terrorism cooperation. The parliament's February 11 decision to reject a key anti- terrorism agreement with the US on privacy grounds, Swieboda warned, "is a sign of things to come".
On Monday for example, Spanish foreign minister Miguel Angel Moratinos broke news to the media of a declaration on the forged EU passports used by a hit squad to kill a top Hamas official in Dubai, even though it was up to Ashton to formally announce it. "It was to be expected ... we can safely assume that the entire year will be full of confusion," Swieboda commented.
But the rest of the world does not seem ready to wait. United States President Barack Obama decided in January to skip an EU-US summit planned by Spain for May, creating resentment. "Obama ignored us. Unless we start putting quality people with political weight that our external partners feel truly represent us and are worth talking to, let's not be surprised if it happens again," one top EU diplomat said.
Swieboda was more positive, arguing that the "competitive system" introduced by Lisbon, with different EU institutions feuding with each other, could be "a source of new energies and new ideas".
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