Friday

2nd Dec 2016

UK champions own diplomacy over EU 'action service'

  • Hague: 'The EU could not or should not act as if it were a nation state with a national foreign policy' (Photo: fco.gov.uk)

British foreign minister William Hague has in a landmark speech depicted the UK as a "global power" alongside a diminutive European Union useful chiefly in economic terms.

Citing a former leader from a period of British ascendancy, he told VIPs at a dinner in London on Wednesday (4 May): "In 1805 my political hero William Pitt addressed the Lord Mayor's banquet, two days after news had reached London of Nelson's victory over the combined French and Spanish fleets at Trafalgar ... [He said] 'Europe is not to be saved by any single man. England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example'."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

Placing the US first in a list of UK strategic priorities, the EU second, Brazil third and Turkey fourth, he emphasised British bilateral relations over its co-operation with the 27-member European bloc.

"I have never believed that the EU could or should act as if it were a nation state with a national foreign policy. Any attempt by EU institutions to do so would end in embarrassing failure," he said. "Over the last year we have placed a renewed emphasis on bilateral relations, alongside Britain's role in multilateral institutions."

The speech reflects traditional Conservative Party policy and Britain's eurosceptic culture. But it comes at a testing time for the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, a member of the Tories' rival Labour Party.

Ashton has over the past year tried to forge a single EU foreign policy on divisive issues such as the Middle East peace process and the Arab spring. But the UK and France have taken the lead on big ticket items, leaving her to play catch-up.

In a bad day for the EU's high representative, Belgian foreign minister Steven Vanackere also on Wednesday told Belgian daily Le Soir that Ashton has left a vacuum at the centre of EU policy-making.

"If there is silence and this silence is 'occupied' by France, Germany etc., Belgium will search for partners in other countries [instead of the EU]," he said.

Hague framed his London speech in grandiloquent terms of "historic" events in the Arab world.

"The eruption of democracy movements across the Middle East and north Africa is, even in its early stages, the most important development of the early 21st century, with potential long term consequences greater than either 9/11 or the global financial crisis in 2008," he noted.

Following the Franco-British-led military strikes on Libya, he said the EU's role will be to help build open markets in the region, pointing to the European Commission's economic and trade portfolios rather than Ashton's European External Action Service (EEAS).

"The EU should offer [Arab spring countries] broad and deep economic integration, leading to a free-trade area and eventually a customs union, progressively covering goods, agriculture and services, as well as the improvement of conditions for investment."

With Ashton battling to get EU countries to agree a 5 percent budget increase for the EEAS next year, Hague said he will invest in British diplomacy instead.

"We have increased the number of ministers in the Foreign Office ... Next week, I will set out in parliament our plans to strengthen Britain's global diplomatic network, including the opening of some new embassies and the building up of our diplomatic presence in the emerging economies."

Commission won't call Castro a dictator

The EU executive says that a statement decribing the former Cuban leader as a "hero for many" is balanced and suggests that the use of the word dictator by a commissioner doesn't reflect its position.

News in Brief

  1. Talks on wholesale roaming rules to start
  2. Lead MEP Dieselgate committee: Italy and Slovakia will cooperate
  3. Transparency NGO sues EU commission on Turkey deal
  4. Pro-EU liberal wins UK by-election
  5. Finnish support for Nato drops, Russia-scepticism grows
  6. Cyprus talks to resume in January
  7. Documents from German NSA inquiry released
  8. Transport commissioner 'not aware' of legal action on emissions

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Gaming & Betting AssociationContinues to Grow its Membership and Welcomes its Newest Member Association
  2. ACCASupports the Women of Europe Awards, Celebrating the Women who are Building Europe
  3. European Heart NetworkWhat About our Kids? Protect Children From Unhealthy Food and Drink Marketing
  4. ECR GroupRestoring Trust and Confidence in the European Parliament
  5. UNICEFChild Rights Agencies Call on EU to put Refugee and Migrant Children First
  6. MIRAIA New Vision on Clean Tech: Balancing Energy Efficiency, Climate Change and Costs
  7. World VisionChildren Cannot Wait! 7 Priority Actions to Protect all Refugee and Migrant Children
  8. ANCI LazioRegio-Mob Project Delivers Analysis of Trasport and Mobility in Rome
  9. SDG Watch EuropeCivil Society Disappointed by the Commission's Plans for Sustainable Development Goals
  10. PLATO15 Fully-Funded PhD Positions Open – The Post-Crisis Legitimacy of the EU (PLATO)
  11. Access NowTell the EU Council: Protect our Rights to Privacy and Security
  12. ACCAThe Future of Audit Means Adaption to Today’s Global and Digital World