Thursday

25th Aug 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."

Slovakia's Fico goes to Russia

The Slovak prime minister, whose country currently chairs the EU council, will meet the Russian leader ahead of upcoming EU talks on Russia policy.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFASpain is not a democratic state. EFA expresses its solidarity to Arnaldo Otegi and EH Bildu
  2. UNICEFBoko Haram Violence in Lake Chad Region Leaves Children Displaced and Trapped
  3. HuaweiMaking Cities Smarter and Safer
  4. GoogleHow Google Makes Connections More Secure For Users
  5. EGBAThe EU Court of Justice Confirms the Application of Proportionality in Assessing Gambling Laws
  6. World VisionThe EU and Member States Must Not Use Overseas Aid for Promoting EU Interests
  7. Dialogue PlatformInterview: "There is a witch hunt against the Gulen Movement in Turkey"
  8. ACCAACCA Calls for ‘Future Looking’ Integrated Reporting Culture With IIRC and IAAER
  9. EURidNominate Your Favourite .eu or .ею Website for the .EU Web Awards 2016 Today!
  10. Dialogue PlatformAn Interview on Gulen Movement & Recent Coup Attempt in Turkey
  11. GoogleA Little Bird Told us to Start Tweeting About Google’s Work Across Europe. Learn More @GoogleBrussels
  12. Counter BalanceThe Trans Adriatic Pipeline: An Opportunity or a Scam in the Making for Albania?

Latest News

  1. Italy earthquake is test for Renzi
  2. Let's fix EU copyright law, for innovation and creativity online
  3. French government tries to defuse burkini row
  4. EU to Turkey: Do you really want to join?
  5. US slams EU competition policies
  6. French diesel committee 'did not cover up for Renault'
  7. EU backs Greek ex-data chief over criminal charges
  8. EU must step up migrant relocation, say Italy and Greece