Europe after Lisbon – Foreign Policy in a New Context

Photo: Xavier Häpe. wikimedia commonsPolicy change and political processes are not known for being of a speedy nature; rather, time and continuity are key elements to political achievement. Re-working the Treaties of Nice and Maastricht called for a great deal of political will, compromise, and pragmatism – not to mention hoards of bureaucrats, holed up in Brussels and in national capitals across the European Union. After failing miserably as a constitutional treaty in 2005, the Lisbon Treaty was finally ratified in December 2009.

In reality, what is commonly referred to as the Lisbon Treaty, in singular, consists of two treaties. The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (formerly the Treaty of Nice) covers matters concerning the structure and functioning of the European Union and the community, as well as judicial, police and home affairs, and is governed by the principle of co-decision, meaning a high level of involvement of the European Parliament in the legislative procedure. The Treaty on European Union covers areas deemed as sensitive and controversial, where the national governments are reluctant to delegate power, such as security and foreign affairs; under this Treaty, the European Parliament wields no power.

In spite of a traditional sentiment of ‘Ne touchez pas á notre politique étrangère’, the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty has in fact entailed several significant innovations in the areas of foreign and security policy. The creation of a High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, as the full title goes, means that the European Union now has a single, fixed function for heading the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Since the days of Henry Kissinger, who famously pondered whom in Europe he was to call in case of an emergency at three o’clock in the morning, there has been a somewhat self-conscious mist over the fragmented nature of foreign policy in the European Union – for while no national government has been distinctly willing to delegate sovereignty in matters of external relations and security, there has been an increased want and need for speaking with one voice. However, although it is too soon to draw any truly well-founded conclusions about the effectiveness of the High Representative, it may be debated whether the High Representative has the powers necessary to perform her tasks, whether the office itself needs to be reshaped, or whether the seeming tameness of the High Representative so far has more to do with the personal qualities of Baroness Ashton.

The European External Action Service, EEAS, is another novel item in the post-Lisbon European political scene. The EEAS is an entirely new department of the European Union, intended to function as a foreign ministry, complete with its own diplomatic corps scouted from the different member states. External affairs were previously under Commission competence, through the Directorate-General for External Relations, DG RELEX, which was merged into the new structure in 2010. Every reshuffling of power within the European Union leads to certain discontent: concerning the EEAS, the Commission had to accept losing some control over external affairs, and the national governments had to accept the notion that they would no longer be the sole providers of diplomatic assistance to their citizens. Unlike national embassies, EEAS embassies are required to aid any citizen of the European Union that so requests. Whether the EEAS will have a successful diplomatic presence in non-European Union countries remains to be seen, as does the matter of whether the EEAS will render national diplomatic corps superfluous.

The creation of solidarity clauses has been one of the most controversial aspects of the Lisbon Treaties. Article 222 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which tends to be what is usually referred to as ‘the solidarity clause’, states that all member states are obliged to assist other member states in case of terrorist attacks or man-made or natural disasters; what such assistance actually might entail is left to the imagination of the reader. Decisions are to be made amongst the member states within the European Council, while keeping the European Parliament informed. As such, Article 222 TFEU is less than informative. The less well-known Article 42.7 of the Treaty on European Union is often considered to be the ‘real’ solidarity clause amongst Eurocrats, as it specifically states that member states are required to assist other member states exposed to armed aggression on their territory, through all means in their power. Article 42.7 TEU also lays bare the presence of NATO within the European Union, as it states that operations under Article 42.7 must be in accordance with whatever NATO commitments the involved states may have.

It is safe to say that attempts have been made to redirect and strengthen a common European Union foreign and security policy. It is however not yet safe to say if these attempts will have the wanted effect.     


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