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

By in Brussels

With the Lisbon Treaty soon to become reality, the European Union is struggling to find a president and a foreign minister. The dream of an EU diplomatic service is within grasp, but will it make a difference? Members of the European Parliament are already warning of a "bureaucratic monster."

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. Zoom
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.

It should have been a triumphant week of fireworks and celebratory fanfare. The new Lisbon Treaty has been ratified, and the EU is about to embark on a new era, which will finally give Europe an entirely new ability to shape its political future.

Only two leading figures are still being sought to add new luster and generate new momentum for the community: a permanent European Council president, who will endeavor to unite the often quarrelsome European club, and a foreign minister, who will represent the Continent on the global stage and act as the voice of the 27 EU member countries.

But it will be a difficult week for Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt -- and for Europe. This week, the EU risks getting egg on its face once again -- and Europe will lay the cornerstone for a new mega-bureaucracy.

Now it is up to Reinfeldt -- who currently holds the six-month rotating EU presidency -- to avert the EU's next scandal. The only problem is that some of his colleagues have no desire to allow things to proceed smoothly.

Bickering with the Neighbors

The search for the two top politicians on the Continent has degenerated into petty squabbling. Forget the spirit of European unity: Eastern Europe is at odds with Western Europe, small countries are bickering with their larger neighbors, and nationalists are locking horns with utopians who dream of a United States of Europe. And the usual alliances are once again being forged in the backrooms of Brussels.

Reinfeldt has negotiated with all 26 of his counterparts, but perhaps he lacked skill or was too naïve or inexperienced. In any case, he has failed in his attempts to gain a majority for one candidate or the other. Now all hopes are being pinned on a Brussels "working dinner" this coming Thursday.

It could end up being a "very long dinner," warned the Swede, who is threatening, if necessary, to have the matter decided by a majority vote, instead of unanimously.

That would be a magnificent false start for the new Europe. It would, of course, be an embarrassment for the European Council president if part of the Continent voted against him. But it would also make life extremely difficult for the EU's new foreign-policy representative -- the person who, due to pressure from the British, will not be allowed to call him- or herself the "EU Foreign Minister," but merely the "High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy."

Massimo D'Alema, Italy's former prime minister and former foreign minister, currently has the best chances of getting the job. At first glance, it looks like D'Alema would assume a powerful position. He would become Javier Solana's heir as secretary-general of the Council and, at the same time, take over the portfolio of the EU foreign commissioner and serve as the vice president of the European Commission. No one has ever held a seat in both institutions, the Council and the Commission.

The EU's military and police agencies will be placed under the command of the future foreign policy head. He or she will also be responsible for coordinating security and defense policies, and will serve as the prominent head of the EU at political events in other parts of the world.

Dreams of an Equal Footing

To achieve this mission, a powerful administration will be placed at the foreign minister's disposal, something which promises to be both expensive and enormous. The new "European External Action Service" could end up with a staff of 6,000 to 7,000 eurocrats. The EU would acquire yet another bloated bureaucracy -- without eliminating a single permanent position in the foreign ministries of the 27 member states.

For decades, dedicated Europeans have dreamt of a unified foreign policy. They yearn to be on an equal footing with the superpowers -- always available, always capable of action. They finally want to speak with one voice and avoid fiascos, such as during the Iraq war, when the EU was deeply divided in its position on the US-led invasion.

Hopefully, the days will be over when Solana, the EU's top diplomat, railed against electoral fraud in Kenya while, at the same time, the EU development commissioner transferred millions of euros to the bank accounts of those who had rigged the elections. The EU also wants to put an end to embarrassing missions, such as during the Russian-Georgian war in 2008, when French President Nicolas Sarkozy unilaterally negotiated a cease-fire with the Kremlin that most Europeans found unsatisfactory.

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Graphic: The EU's new institutions Zoom
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Graphic: The EU's new institutions



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