Speaking for Europe

“We urgently need a European Foreign Minister,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel before the European Parliament in mid-January. The German EU presidency is eager to revive the ratification process of the Constitutional Treaty on hold since France and the Netherlands rejected it in early 2005 – and along with it, the favorite political invention of the European foreign policy, the EU Foreign Minister.

The new position is a key component of the Constitutional Treaty that would centralize the foreign and defense policies of the Union presided over by one person: Javier Solana, currently High Representative of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and minister-in-waiting. The position he would cover might well exceed Henry Kissinger’s remark: In contacting Europe, he wondered, “Whom do I call?”

The Common Foreign and Security Policy, introduced with the Maastricht Treaty  in 1992, is a policy-in-the-making, where EU member states are reluctant to give up national responsibility for a common strategy. However, the 1990s wars in the Balkans and the Union’s inability to act put a clear focus on foreign affairs.

In creating the post of EU Foreign Minister, the 2003 Constitutional Treaty found a convincing solution and a powerful setup within the European institutions: a vice president of the European Commission, appointed by the heads of state and solely responsible for foreign affairs. This setup would combine the two positions replacing the current Commissioner for External Affairs.

Even if there is no consensus within the Commission, the EU Foreign Minister can go ahead and put forward legislative initiatives, at the same time, chairing the Foreign Affairs Council, the regular meetings of all EU Foreign Ministers. This is a key political body to reach consensus on Foreign Affairs.

This three-pronged accountability – the European Commission, the EU Foreign Ministers and their Head of States – is opportunity and weakness at the same time. The political positioning of the EU Foreign Minister seems to be perfectly tailored for Javier Solana, and the success or failure hinges largely on his personality and the trust the member states have in his abilities.

As Romano Prodi– then still President of the European Commission – put it pointedly in 2001: “Let us strive to make the Union appear a single entity to the outside world.”  The EU Foreign Minister is possibly the best way to go right now.

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