The European Union has more influence on the world stage when it speaks with a single voice in international affairs such as trade negotiations. To help achieve this, and to raise the EU’s international profile, in 2009 the European Council acquired a permanent President and the first High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy was appointed.
Setting up a european diplomatic service
The common foreign and security policy (CFSP) and the European security and defence policy (ESDP), define the EU’s main foreign policy tasks. These policies were introduced by the Treaties of Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1997) and Nice (2001). They formed the EU’s ‘second pillar’ – a policy area in which action is decided by intergovernmental agreement and in which the Commission and the Parliament play only a minor role. Decisions in this area are taken by consensus, although individual states can abstain. Although the Treaty of Lisbon did away with ‘pillars’ in the EU’s structure, it did not change the way in which security and defence matters are decided. However, it changed the policy’s name from ESDP to CSDP – the common security and defence policy.
The aim of EU foreign policy is, essentially, to ensure security, stability, democracy and respect for human rights – not only in its immediate neighbourhood but also in other hot spots around the world, such as in Africa, the Middle East and the Caucasus. Its main tool is ‘soft power’, which covers things like election observation missions, humanitarian aid and development assistance. In 2009, the EU donated humanitarian aid worth €900 million to 30 countries, mostly in Africa. The EU provides 60% of the world’s development assistance and helps the world’s most needy countries to fight poverty, feed their people, avoid natural disasters, access drinking water and fight disease. At the same time, the EU actively encourages these countries to respect the rule of law and to open up their markets to international trade. The Commission and the European Parliament are careful to ensure that the aid is provided in an accountable manner and is properly managed and used.
Is the EU able and willing to go further than this ‘soft power’ diplomacy? That is the main challenge for the years ahead. All too often, the European Council’s joint statements and common positions on major international issues (the Middle East peace process, Iraq, terrorism, relations with Russia, Iran, Cuba, etc.) express nothing but the lowest common denominator. Meanwhile, the large member states continue to play their own individual diplomatic roles. Yet it is when the European Union speaks with one voice that it is seen as a global player. If its credibility and influence are to grow, the EU must combine its economic might and trading power with the steady implementation of its common security and defence policy.
Tangible achievements of the common security and defence policy (cSdP)
Since 2003, the European Union has had the capacity to carry out crisis management operations, as the member states voluntarily make some of their own forces available to the EU for performing such operations. Responsibility for running the operations lies with a set of politico-military bodies: the Political and Security Committee (PSC), the EU Military Committee (EUMC), the Committee for Civilian Aspects of Crisis Management (Civcom) and the European Union Military Staff (EUMS). This set of tools is what gives substance to the common security and defence policy. It enables the EU to carry out the tasks it has set itself – humanitarian and peacemaking or peacekeeping missions. These missions must avoid duplicating what NATO is doing, and this is guaranteed by the ‘Berlin plus’ arrangements agreed between NATO and the EU. They give the European Union access to NATO’s logistical resources.
Since 2003, the European Union has launched 22 military operations and civilian missions. These missions and operations, under the European flag, are being or have been deployed on three continents.
As military technology becomes ever more sophisticated and expensive, EU governments are finding it increasingly necessary to work together on arms manufacture – especially now that they are striving to reduce public spending to help them weather the financial crisis. Moreover, if their armed forces are to carry out joint missions outside Europe, their systems must be interoperable and their equipment sufficiently standardised. This is why the Thessaloniki European Council in June 2003 decided to set up a European Defence Agency (EDA) to help develop the EU’s military capabilities.
A Trade Policy that is open to the world
Its importance as a trading power gives the European Union considerable international influence. The EU supports the rules-based system of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), which has 153 member countries. This system provides a degree of legal certainty and transparency in the conduct of international trade. The WTO sets conditions under which its members can defend themselves against unfair practices like dumping (selling below cost) through which exporters compete against their rivals. It also provides a procedure for settling disputes that arise between two or more trading partners.
Since 2001, through the ‘Doha round’ of trade talks, the EU has been seeking to open up world trade. These are difficult negotiations but the EU remains convinced that, in the wake of the financial and economic crisis, a contraction in world trade would turn the recession into a full-blown depression.
The EU’s trade policy is closely linked to its development policy. Under its ‘general system of preferences’ (GSP), the EU has granted duty-free or cut-rate preferential access to its market for most of the imports from developing countries and economies in transition. It goes even further for the world’s 49 poorest countries. All of their exports, with the sole exception of arms, enjoy duty-free entry to the EU market.
The EU does not, however, have specific trade agreements with its major trading partners among the developed countries like the United States and Japan. Here, trade relations are handled through the WTO mechanisms. The United States and the European Union are seeking to develop relations founded on equality and partnership. Following the election of Barack Obama as US President, EU leaders have been calling for closer trans-Atlantic ties. At the G-20 meeting in London in April 2009, the EU and US agreed on the need for better regulation of the global financial system. The European Union is increasing its trade with the emerging powers in other parts of the world, from China and India to Central and South America. Trade agreements with these countries also involve technical and cultural cooperation. China has become the EU’s second most important trading partner (after the United States) and its biggest supplier of imports. (In 2009, more than 17% of the EU’s imports came from China).
The European Union is Russia’s main trading partner and its biggest source of foreign investment. Apart from trade, the main issues in EU-Russia relations concern cross-border matters such as the security of energy supplies, in particular gas.
Relations between Europe and sub-Saharan Africa go back a long way. Under the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the then colonies and overseas territories of member states became associates of the Community. Decolonisation, which began in the early 1960s, turned this link into a different kind of association, one between sovereign countries.
The Cotonou Agreement, signed in 2000 in Cotonou, the capital of Benin, marked a new stage in the EU’s development policy. This agreement between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries is the most ambitious and far-reaching trade and aid agreement ever concluded between developed and developing countries. It followed on from the Lomé Convention, which was signed in 1975 in Lomé, the capital of Togo, and subsequently updated at regular intervals. This agreement goes significantly further than earlier ones, since it has moved from trade relations based on market access to trade relations in a wider sense. It also introduces new procedures for dealing with human rights abuses.
The European Union has granted special trading concessions to the least developed countries, 39 of which are signatories to the Cotonou Agreement. Since 2005, they have been able to export practically any type of product to the EU, duty free. In 2009, the EU agreed to provide the 77 ACP countries with €2.7 billion of aid in the fields of health, water, climate change and peacekeeping.