N. 3 May 1998 | Six years after Maastricht, the European Union still has no foreign and security policy

The time has come to face the issue of sovereignty in a radical way. For a long time now the European States have been unable to make their citizens feel like playing a leading role in the world stage, whereas this isn't yet possible as the Union isn't a foreign policy player.

Six years on from the signing of the Maastricht Treaty, it must be stated, quite clearly, that the part of the agreement dealing with Common Foreign and Security Policy has proved to be totally ineffective.

An examination of the role played by the Union in the crisis spots closest to home, i.e., the former Yugoslavia, Israel and Iraq, soon reveals that it has, in all these cases, done nothing other than present a front of disunity – a spectacle of impotence and irresponsibility.

In the former Yugoslavia, the European states were short-sighted enough to dust off the old logic of power politics, trying to establish their own spheres of influence within the region, and by doing this, actively encouraging (depending on the case in question) the secessionist tendencies of the Croats and Slovenians, or the nationalism of the Serbs. The states of Europe thus had a hand in accelerating the disintegration of the federation, and helped to trigger the vicious and downward spiral of civil war and ethnic cleansing: a spiral which they then proved unable to halt, and which only American intervention was able, albeit in a fragile and provisional manner, to contain.

Then, had it only been equipped with a measure of influence and enough capacity to act, the European Union could have played a decisive role in the Middle Eastern peace process. Shimon Peres had, in his time, expressed the idea of a community embracing Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbours, organised along the lines of the European Community. This would have been the only way of overcoming the extreme tensions which later culminated in the assassination of Rabin and in the death of the hopes raised by the Oslo agreements. Here again, Europe, despite having spent a considerable amount on helping to consolidate the Palestinian Authority, was totally incapable of formulating and pursuing a political design which would have been in its own vital interest. So, the initiative was left entirely in the hands of the United States, and the consequences of this are there for all to see.

In the context of the Iraqi crisis, the states of the Union once again presented a divided front. Those which failed to support the aggressive line adopted by the United States did not have any alternative policy to propose and thus did nothing more than help to leave totally unresolved a serious problem which still exists, and which is destined to flare up again in the future. These nations sought to depict as an example of successful negotiation and as an active choice for peace the removal of a problem which they,in the hope that it might be resolved either by others, or by the passing of time, had lacked the strength and the courage to tackle.

The plain truth is that the European Union quite simply does not have a foreign policy, and this absence of Europe on the international stage will, unless there is a radical change in direction, jeopardise the whole process of unification. What is at stake here is the very basis of the European citizens’ support for the Union. The feeling of belonging to a political community depends, more than on anything else, on the sense among its members that they are part of a great plan destined to change the future of the world. While, on the one hand, the states of Europe have, for a long time, lacked the capacity to formulate such a plan, the European Union, on the other, is not yet in a position to do it, simply because it does not exist as an actor in world politics in its own right. Thus, Europeans no longer identify with the national states, and do not yet identify with the Union – a situation which results in a gap of consensus which is a threat to the very existence of democracy.

The European Union thus finds itself in a dead-end situation and institutional devices such as those contained in the Treaty of Amsterdam do not provide a way out of it. The changes in the decision-making process within the field of foreign and security policy introduced by this treaty do not, in fact, alter in the slightest the power situation which is the very cause of its lack of effectiveness: indeed, it is quite foreseeable that the bodies of the Union will, in the future, continue to fail to represent the common European interest, inertly reflecting a juxtaposition of more or less divergent, or even opposing, national interests. Furthermore, this conflict of interests is central to the foreign policies of the governments of the member states.

The time has come to tackle the problem at its roots. And the first step is recognising that at the heart of the problem lies the question of sovereignty, because it is only by pooling the national sovereignties that a new European subject can be generated – a subject able to act on the world stage, able to give voice to a new and a vast people, culturally diverse, but united in its recognition of the values of freedom, democracy and solidarity. A subject able to guarantee this people security and a future and one which has the capacity to support its desire for peace, international democracy and justice among the nations of the world.

All this will come about only if there are, within the present European political class, individuals with the vision and the stature needed to appreciate the sheer depth of the historical choice which faces Europe, and to shoulder the burden of responsibility involved.


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