EU foreign policy expected to enter 'new era'
By Honor Mahony
The European Parliament is seeking to bolster its role in the bloc's common foreign and security policy (CFSP), with senior MEPs saying it is time for Europe to become a "player and not just a payer" on the world stage.
Polish centre-right MEP and head of the foreign affairs committee, Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, says that EU foreign is moving "from one era to another" with the new Lisbon Treaty, due to kick in next year.
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The proposed new EU foreign minister and diplomatic service as well as the possibility for a group of member states to move ahead in defence cooperation mean foreign policy is "one of the most innovative parts of the treaty."
The fact that Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, will for the first time be present at the MEPs' annual debate on CFSP on Wednesday (4 June) is in itself a "turning point," said the Pole at a briefing on Tuesday.
Euro-deputies will today debate a report that sets out principles for the EU's foreign policy - such as respect for human rights - calls for certain issues to be prioritised and says that the CFSP budget from now until 2013 is "insufficient."
"Either we have to beef up foreign policy financially, or we have to rethink whether we really want to be a global player," said Mr Saryusz-Wolski, who next week will travel to Paris to discuss the issue with the incoming French EU presidency.
"We ask why is nothing ready, prepared for the events that will happen if the treaty [comes into force], and we haven't had an answer," he said.
"We are asking this question also: do you have any hidden reserves? What's your view? How to finance the new set up? No answer."
The report also calls for parliament to be given greater democratic oversight over the area, which to date has remained firmly the domain of member states.
It suggests that the foreign minister "regularly" appear before MEPs and that the parliament be "fully consulted" on who the foreign minister should be, as well as what the diplomatic service should look like.
Deputies are also urging the future EU foreign minister to inform the parliament before any "common actions" are taken.
"If we start sending soldiers into danger, it is up to the parliament to give its blessing," says Mr Saryusz-Wolski.
The report also takes a more long-term view of the future of common foreign and security policy, with the head of the foreign affairs committee urging the bloc to stop acting like a "fire brigade" rushing to put out emergencies here and there and to think more of the "long-term strategic interests of the Union…20–30 years ahead."
Mr Saryusz-Wolski, who believes the union will gradually develop its own army, says it is no longer enough that the bloc exercises its traditional role as a soft power.
"Too often we spend money without any conditions being attached. I am against Europe being a payer and not a player," he said.
But he admits there is a "fear" in the parliament that the foreign minister and the new permanent president of the European Council may add to the trill of voices of on the EU stage all claiming to speak for Europe and may not turn Europe into a player.
The potential for overlap between the two posts – starting in January - and for rivalry with the European Commission president is high.
Debates on the posts are expected to start in earnest in autumn and be wrapped up by December.
In time-honoured EU fashion, balancing who wins the posts will have to involve the consideration of a series of factors, including nationality, whether a candidate comes from an old or new member state or a small or big member state, and the person's political hue.