While first attempts to collaborate in foreign policy matters had already been made in the 1970s – through cooperation between national foreign ministries – the implementation of a European Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) did not occur until the 1990s. With the end of the Cold War and the imminence of German reunification in 1990, the member states of the European Union (EU) were nearly unanimous in their notions to reform its forerunner, the European Political Cooperation (EPC).
The CFSP was then created as the second of the three pillars of the EU as part of the Maastricht Treaty in 1992. Albeit having succeeded in establishing common positions in a number of foreign policy related areas, including those on economic relations with Libya, Sudan, Haiti, and former Yugoslavia (Gordon 1997, 74), the pursuit of a CFSP has not always been successful. In fact, there have been serious failures on behalf of the member states of the EU to cooperate in foreign policy matters in the past.
These can be attributed to a number of shortcomings in the CFSP, as well as to structural features of the EU itself. In this essay, I will attempt to highlight some of the problems of a CFSP in terms of the utterly different perspectives of EU member countries. Furthermore, I will point out some of the lapses within the current CFSP constellation, as well as touching upon the inherent predicaments for a CFSP in prospect of EU enlargement. Henry Kissinger once famously remarked that “when I want to speak to Europe, who do I call? . This question is still valid today, as the foreign policy of European countries is largely determined by self-perception and identity. Finding a ‘common ground’ among EU member states has proven to be incredibly difficult in foreign policy issues due to dissimilar historical backgrounds, as well as national interests. CFSP suffers from an inherent contradiction: “the determination to preserve national foreign policy is ultimately at the odds with the ambition to create a European foreign policy” (Allen 1998, 42).
Furthermore, for a CFSP to work, the agreement of the major powers is required. The problem is, however, that a system’s most powerful members also tend to be each other’s most serious rivals and competitors. (De Vree 1987, 10). Unfortunately, this is true for the EU as well, particularly for Germany, France and Great Britain, as the conflict of foreign policy interests over the use of military force in Iraq underscored recently. It was notably during the war in former Yugoslavia, that the inherent shortcomings of CFSP became evident.
Although the European public largely agreed that “something had to be done” in the light of Serb ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Bosnia, the EU faced deep division among its member states. Although general sympathies were with Croatia and Bosnia, both being victims of Serb aggression, Greece sympathized with Serbia, “with which it had close cultural and religious ties” (Dinan 1999, 519) and blocked the EU recognition of the neighboring Macedonia and imposed sanctions on it.
After further disputes over EU recognition of Slovenia and Croatia, in which German unilateralism complicated the matter immensely, more EU sponsored diplomatic conferences followed – the London Conference in 1992 and the Geneva talk, which ended in 1993. Throughout this time, a peaceful settlement of the conflict could not be reached through EU mediation and the failure of Europe’s CFSP became evident in 1994, when a ‘Contact Group’ was established, with three EU member states, but without any formal EU representation (Dinan 1999, 520).
NATO bombardment of Serbian positions finally took place in 1995, followed by an US-led diplomatic effort leading to the peace conference in Dayton, Ohio. Although the peace accord was signed in Paris it could not disguise the “predominantly US stamp on the peace process” (Dinan 1999, 520) and the failure of the EU’s CFSP to end the fighting in Yugoslavia during the preceding four years.
Following the Yugoslav debacle, the members of the EU were painfully aware of the weaknesses of the CFSP and with the 1996-1997 intergovernmental conference (IGC) had an opportunity to make procedural and institutional reforms. From this IGC emerged the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty, which incorporated two new decision-making formulae for CFSP. However, these reformed decision-making procedures “are more complicated than the original ones without necessarily being an improvement on them” (Dinan 1999, 523).
Namely, they are the principles of constructive abstention and the so-called ’emergency brake’. Constructive abstention is likely to reduce, rather than enhance the CFSP’s effectiveness, since it allows member states to abstain from a decision taken unanimously by the other states (as long as they do not constitute more than one-third of the weighted votes in the Council). The key is that the abstaining states, while having to accept that the decision is binding on the EU, need not apply the decision themselves.
Similarly, the ’emergency brake’ implies an obstacle for efficient decision-making, as states may “for important and stated reasons of national policy” declare their opposition to a vote being taken by qualified majority voting (QMV) and opt for the matter to be referred to the European Council (EC), where it can be decided unanimously (Dinan 1999, 523). Furthermore, there have always been unilateral temptations leading to EU member states abandoning a CFSP or simply not consulting with other members of the union.
Even countries supposedly “most enthusiastic about developing a united EU capacity for action, such as France, have been unwilling to abandon their own freedom of maneuver in areas of national importance” (Gordon 1997, 74). This has lead for example to a unilateral French intervention in Rwanda in 1994, and a decision later in the same year to conduct a series of nuclear tests, even though they were condemned at the United Nations by eleven of the sixteen EU member states at the time.
Other events of unilateral actions of EU members include “Greece’s 1994-95 economic embargo on the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Britain’s isolated support for U. S. air strikes on Iraq in September 1996, and France and Germany’s unwillingness to agree to an April 1997 EU resolution critical of China’s human rights record (lest it imperil their economic contracts with Beijing)” (Gordon 1997, 74). As these examples show, the CFSP is in its present form simply not able to constrain continued national foreign policy behavior.
Another factor which might very well be responsible for some of the problems encountered by EU member states in pursuit of a CFSP is its absence from important aspects of European foreign and security policy. For this matter “intelligence collection and analysis is still a national responsibility, and common EU representation in international bodies such as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is not even considered” (Gordon 1997, 74).
At the same time, however, the Amsterdam Treaty calls for “coordinated action in international organizations” (Article J. 9). In order to coordinate their foreign policy efforts effectively, the member states of the EU should strive to pursue cooperation of crucial aspects of a CFSP, such as an EU seat in the UNSC. However, due to the determination of the UN veto powers France and Britain to maintain sovereign control over their national foreign policy in the UN, a common EU representation in the UNSC cannot be envisioned in the near future.
Finally, the prospect of enlargement to Central and Eastern Europe presents the CFSP with a number of challenges. The sheer size of numbers, given the accession of ten new members will make developing a cohesive foreign policy far more complicated. Each new member state brings in new and different historical experiences and new foreign policy perspectives. Furthermore, with different foreign policy interests also come new neighbors and different relations with third states (Sjursen 1999, 43).
During the time of the Cold War with two opposing military blocs, it was relatively unproblematic for the member states of the EU to share a “western” identity. With the enlargement towards the East, however, this sense of identity is no longer relevant – the perennial issue of “what is Europe” needs to be redefined. In addition, the institution of Presidency is likely to become more inefficient with a larger number of small member states, as “it is difficult to ensure consistency in the EU’s external representation when leadership rotates every six months” (Sjursen 1999, 45).
At the same time, some of the larger EU countries, particularly the founding members, have reservations about subordinating their national foreign policy to the leadership of smaller Eastern member states. Hence, we can see that in the light of the recent decision to grant EU membership to ten additional countries, “the basis for a common identity will be further diluted” (Sjursen 1999, 47). In conclusion, identifying shared interests and reconciling different national foreign policy traditions remains a challenge for the members of the EU, as the above examples illustrate.
However, it should be noted that not all efforts made to construct a CFSP have been in vain – quite on the contrary. Foreign policy today, unlike in the past, takes place in the context of European consultation and “officials and Ministers who sit together on planes and round tables in Brussels and in each others’ capitals begin to judge ‘rationality’ from within a different framework” (Hill 1996, 12).
An example for this is the so-called ‘coordination reflex’ (Sjursen 1999, 38) – the notion of foreign policy directors to consult with each other. As the economic union of the EU grows ever stronger, it is very likely that it might have a spillover effect on foreign policy, as foreign interests have converged for the past forty years and are likely to keep converging (Gordon 1997, 74).