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25th Aug 2019

Future EU foreign policy dependent on personal chemistry

  • A recent picture of a series of people responsible for EU foreign policy, including Ms Benita Ferrero-Waldner (Photo: EU Council)

The future of EU foreign policy under the new Lisbon Treaty will depend on the personal chemistry between its main players, says Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU commissioner currently in charge of external relations.

Speaking at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation on Monday evening (19 October) on the challenges for foreign policy under the new institutional rules, the Austrian diplomat noted that the European Commission president as well as the proposed new foreign minister and president of the European Council will all be "very visible."

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"It is very important that the right personalities be nominated. Let us hope that we can have the right balance and that all three have the right chemistry with one another. This is important for the future working of the European Union."

The commissioner speaks from experience, having for the past five years been part of an external relations balancing act along with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. While Ms Ferrero-Waldner sits in the commission and holds the purse strings for external relations, Mr Solana, answerable to member states, is in charge of diplomacy.

The delicate set-up, with each figure supported by a separate administration, sees them operate in the same countries but not always with the same message. The fact that the overlapping functions have not led to more frequent policy clashes is largely seen as a result of their more discreet personalities.

While the Lisbon Treaty tidies up this situation by merging the posts of High Representative and External Relations commissioner - effectively creating a "Ferrero-Solana" - it creates new uncertainties on the future possibility of reaching a cohesive foreign policy together with the post of council president.

At present it is not clear exactly where the boundaries between the two posts will lie and what sort of role the president should have - purely organisational or something with more international clout.

Ms Ferrero-Waldner would not be drawn on which she thought would be the better set up for the EU. But she suggested the foreign minister post would be strong by virtue of being an "agenda-setting" job. The foreign minister will be both vice-president of the commission and chair the monthly meetings of EU foreign ministers, while being backed up by a new diplomatic service.

Speaking about the diplomatic service, the commissioner said she believed it would take "five years" to establish it properly. She pointed to the difficulties of trying to find places for the different experts from the commission, council and national diplomatic services, who often have overlapping areas of expertise.

Referring to the high-level experts on the Middle East in both the commission and the council secretariat, she asked: "What do you do with these people? Suddenly they are not good enough when the member state diplomats come in?"

With the future of the EU's common foreign policy still in flux, the commissioner warned against large member states trying to run it for themselves.

"We have to be careful that we don't go for a directoire [management board]," she said, noting that this would cause smaller member states to "revolt."

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