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

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.

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.

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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