Lisbon Treaty Reforms Europe's Bumbling Search for an International Voice

A Polish member of the EU's EUFOR mission in Chad is seen in this March 2009 photo: The European Union is looking for a larger presence on the international stage.
AFP

A Polish member of the EU's EUFOR mission in Chad is seen in this March 2009 photo: The European Union is looking for a larger presence on the international stage.

Part 2: An Annoying Rival


Other foreign-policy initiatives have also ended in humiliation. In 2008, the Mediterranean Union turned out to be a French ego trip, and when the EU launched its so-called Eastern Partnership in Prague in May of this year, most Western European leaders shunned the founding summit out of consideration for Russia. In view of the historical, political and cultural diversity of Europe, it can hardly be expected that 27 highly diverse countries would have the same opinion on issues such as the war in Afghanistan, peacekeeping troops for Africa or aid missions in the Balkans. However, a foreign minister armed with courage and skill would have an easier time forging compromises.

This is what the architects of the Lisbon Treaty had in mind. They want a strong and influential figure at the helm of Europe's foreign ministry. But the closer this new Brussels mega-bureaucracy has gotten to becoming a reality, the clearer it has become that this intention ultimately may not be reflected by the end product.

The dream of a European diplomatic offensive has started to crumble. Representing the EU to the outside world requires influence and prestige, yet the majority of Europe's leading politicians see the future foreign minister in Brussels as little more than an annoying rival. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown all want to see a figure who can be reined in whenever necessary.

Not surprisingly, the top candidates currently under discussion to become the EU's chief diplomat are all colorless types -- in addition to D'Alema, there is the current EU commissioner for enlargement, Finland's Olli Rehn and former Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Severin.

On a Short Leash

To make matters worse, strict limits will be placed on the future chief diplomat's autonomy, as outlined in a 10-page paper which was approved at the EU summit in October. During the EU's regular consultations with the leaders of Russia, China or the US, the Council and the Commission presidents will do the talking. The foreign minister merely plays a "supportive role," as they call it in Brussels.

In addition to being placed on a short leash at such summits, Europe's chief diplomat will also not be allowed to venture beyond strictly defined limits when dealing with day-to-day politics. The high representative may be allowed to speak with the Turkish government about its relations with Iraq, but he or she will be prohibited from discussing with Ankara the prerequisites for possible EU membership, such as freedom of the press and respecting human rights. In the future, the issue of Turkish membership will still be reserved for the Commission.

In the Balkans, the top EU diplomat can talk about everything under the sun -- but will be strictly forbidden from mentioning possible financial aid from Brussels. Everything that has to do with EU enlargement falls under the jurisdiction of the Commission. The top diplomat will also have to steer clear of key areas such as foreign aid and international trade.

The enormous flock of aides to the high representative could also create additional confusion. They are quite a mixed bunch. A few hundred experts from the European Council are to team up with 3,000 colleagues from the Commission. This group will be joined by as many as 2,000 additional diplomats and experts from all the member states. No one knows how the selection process will take place. Should the eurocrats submit a blanket application to the new institution or apply for specific jobs?

Coveted Jobs

The heads of state and government have decided that all candidates should be highly qualified. They also demand that a third of the workforce should be selected so that the staff adequately represents Europe's far-flung geography -- no country should be neglected. The regional distribution has to be balanced, along with the genders of staff members. What's more, plans call for them to be replaced every four years -- and regularly rotate jobs during their tour of duty.

This will almost inevitably lead to a high degree of frustration and low productivity among the staff. There will be no lack of applicants. These jobs are coveted, especially in Europe's less affluent regions. A top diplomat in Bulgaria earns at most about €800 ($1,200) a month back home. In Brussels he would receive 10 times that salary, even if he only had a peripheral job in the administration.

At the moment, the European Commission already maintains over 130 branch offices around the world -- from Morocco to Macedonia and from Brazil to Burkina Faso. Over 5,000 EU employees write reports there, bring money into the country, monitor the allocation of these funds and make politics. Brussels is even present in Fiji, where it has no less than 35 employees.

The EU staff faces a shake-up. They will now be carefully sorted, with some being integrated into the new foreign office, while others will be hired by the Commission to serve as aid workers. All representations, whether they are located on Samoa or Fiji, will be replenished with fresh recruits from Warsaw, Prague or Malta, at least at the management level. It goes without saying that additional chauffeurs, cooks and gardeners will also be hired.

Fears of a Monster

It is hoped that this new European foreign ministry will become a cohesive entity, but EU parliamentarian Inge Grässle fears that it could rapidly turn out to be a "bureaucratic monster" with "27 power structures in Brussels and their satellites in the branch offices." Grässle, a German budgetary expert with the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), says that the only thing that will ultimately matter is "who is reporting to whom and who is monitoring whom."

The new foreign office also qualifies as a legally independent institution, which belongs to neither the Council nor the Commission. This largely excludes the European Parliament from participating in foreign and security policy. It will even limit its control of financial matters, which is normally a prerogative of any parliament.

Many members of the European Parliament are not willing to simply accept this. "The diplomatic service will decide the future of the EU," says CDU MEP Elmar Brok, who is calling for resistance to the new developments. Even Martin Schulz, the chairman of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, would like to see "a step toward more integration or a step back toward a Europe of governments."

Uncertain Future

Meanwhile, workers at the European Commission in Brussels appear more concerned about their own interests. At a recent general assembly there, a crowd of several hundred employees thronged the hall. There was a palpable mood of uncertainty. Currently, some 6,000 Commission officials attend to Europe's relations with the rest of the world, and the services of only roughly half of them will be required in the new foreign office. "We are like the people at Opel," said one uncertain civil servant, referring to the troubled German carmaker. "We don't know what will happen to us."

The man doesn't have too much to worry about. Those experts in the foreign policy departments of the EU headquarters who will not be absorbed by the new foreign office won't have to fear for their well-paid jobs -- there is basically an employment guarantee in Brussels.

In a worst-case scenario, they will be transferred to a cushy position in one of the EU departments that already have a large number of personnel today -- and relatively little work to do.

Translated from the German by Paul Cohen

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