Sunday

19th Feb 2017

Solana calls for EU-level debate on missile shield

EU states should hold a joint debate on US plans to install a missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, the EU's top man on foreign policy, Javier Solana, told MEPs in Brussels on Thursday (29 March), in a lively meeting that opened the question of EU treaty limitations on national sovereignty in defence.

"The EU is not a defence alliance, we all know this, but it does have an external security policy and it can and should debate this subject," Mr Solana said in a prelude to a potential formal debate among EU heads of state or foreign ministers in future. "I think that's what most political leaders in the EU want," he added, noting the US plan could "affect" EU-Russia relations.

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  • Missile defence - a Cold War-era idea that has returned to haunt EU-US-Russia relations (Photo: wikipedia)

"We're not calling for people to take a decision on the subject, but it would be a mistake not to talk about it," he added, tiptoeing through Title V of the EU treaty on the limits of EU competency on security issues. "On security matters, the Treaty allocates sovereignty to member states. But that sovereignty has to be compatible with our general interests in security."

Article 17 of the treaty states the EU "shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy" of member states. But articles 11 and 16 also state that EU countries "shall refrain from any action which is contrary to the interests of the union or likely to impair its effectiveness as a cohesive force" as well as obliging members to "inform and consult" each other on defence plans.

Thursday's debate comes in the context of the Czech Republic the day earlier opening formal negotiations with the US on the details of the radar bases the country is to host. US president George Bush also spoke with Russia's Vladimir Putin by telephone on Wednesday to offer to hold detailed talks on the scheme, amid Russian complaints it has not been properly consulted so far.

Polish conservative MEP and the head of the parliament's foreign affairs committee, Jacek Saryusz-Wolksi, backed Mr Solana's idea, saying "we [the EU] do not have the competency to decide on missile defence, but we do have competency to discuss missile defence." He invited Mr Solana and NATO head Jaap de Hoop Scheffer to debate the issue in his committee on 7 May.

German conservative MEP and the former head of the foreign affairs committee, Elmar Brok, also supported Mr Solana's plan. "People clamour for solidarity in the energy sector. But we have to show solidarity in other areas as well and have a clear common position," he said.

Poles and Czechs bristle

Polish and Czech deputies who are also members of the two states' main ruling parties, Law and Justice and ODS, respectively, bristled at the idea they are putting EU security in danger, however.

The US, Polish and Czech line on the missile defence scheme is that it is far too small to affect Russia's nuclear deterrent, that it will protect the wider EU from any missiles fired by rogue states like Iran, and that it cements the EU-US alliance.

"The danger is that a number of EU states are adopting the Russian view...relying on false arguments to divide the European Union," Law and Justice deputy Konrad Szymanski said. "I'm surprised that former chancellor Schroeder's SPD party is parroting the arguments of Vladimir Putin. It would make more sense for it to follow the arguments of the United Kingdom and Poland."

The SPD reference is linked to German SPD foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has criticised the US plan. Mr Schroeder, an intimate friend of Putin who became an employee of Russian energy firm Gazprom, is a deeply disliked figure in Poland. Mr Steinmeier, the former cabinet chief of Mr Schroeder, is seen by Warsaw as a Schroeder proxy in Berlin's grand coalition government.

Other Polish MEPs were during Thursday's debate talking of anti-American "hysteria" and "demagoguery."

"We all know this is not against Russia and Russia knows this as well," Czech ODS member Jan Zahradil said. "The implementation of the missile shield will strengthen the trans-Atlantic alliance, and I hope this is not the [real] Russian concern. The EU does have its limits in terms of national security and this is one of those limits," he added.

Several conservative EPP-ED group members also expressed fears about the missile shield, but it was left to the European socialists, liberals and greens to really hammer against the Warsaw-Prague line. "How about a dialogue about not deploying these systems?" German socialist group leader Martin Schulz asked, calling for the $58 billion price tag to be spent on poverty eradication instead.

US could split EU

Romanian socialist Adrian Severin called for a political climate in which the US and Russia can work in a "global partnership" for peace, in ideas similar to Russian analyst Sergei Karaganov's concept of an "effective coalition of powerful and responsible nations" to act as world policemen alongside the UN. Lithuanian socialist Justas Paleckis urged an EU, NATO and Russia-wide debate.

"The message we are sending to the Russians is we are engaging in a new arms race," ALDE leader and British deputy Graham Watson said, with some MEPs turning the Polish argument on its head by accusing the US of trying to split Europe by promoting defence unilateralism in a conversation reminiscent of the 1980s when Europe saw itself caught in a tug-of-war between the then two superpowers.

"There is a big risk of us being exploited," Belgian liberal MEP Annemie Neyts said. "We might end up being split up by the two superpowers." French green group leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit added that "if this is supposed to be against Iran it's totally ridiculous. If Iran wanted to attack us, they have suicide attackers to do that with...once again the Americans are deciding unilaterally what a part of Europe needs."

Does EU have a foreign policy?

The debate reinforced the idea the EU has no common foreign policy today despite the limited "Common Foreign and Security Policy" provisions of the EU treaty. The notion that the lack of firm legal basis for foreign cooperation has been aggravated by 2004 enlargement was also fortified, amid classic political divisions of Russia-friendly EU states such as Germany, France and Italy and the pro-US, Russia-wary club of the UK, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Mr Solana tried to quash this line of thinking however, pointing to his own intervention in an Arab League summit in Riyadh on Wednesday, where he plied the EU line on Palestine and Lebanon.

The EU foreign policy chief also spoke on the critical issue of Iran nuclear enrichment, not only on behalf of Europe, but also on behalf of the five permanent members of the UN security council - the US, the UK, France, Russia and China - as well as Germany.

"I have just returned from Riyadh and I wish some of you had been there with me. When we are there in these meetings, we count, we really count," he said. "Never before in our common history has something like this taken place," he said on his job as an envoy for the five UN powers.

"Whatever is the fate of the constitutional treaty, you are our foreign minister," Poland's Mr Saryusz-Wolski remarked.

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