Tuesday

22nd Aug 2017

Ministers call for stronger EU foreign policy chief

  • German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle (l) created the group seven months ago (Photo: msz.gov.pl)

A brainstorming group of 11 foreign ministers has called for a more powerful EU foreign policy chief and less power in general for EU countries.

The group - containing ministers from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain - published its communique on the "Future of Europe" on Tuesday (18 September) after a meeting in Warsaw.

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It said the EU should make a "substantial revision" of the European External Action Service (EEAS), putting the EEAS chief in charge of neighbourhood and development policy as well as a new-model defence policy designed to create a "European army."

The current EEAS chief, Catherine Ashton, is flanked by neighbourhood commissioner Stefan Fuele and development commissioner Andris Piebalgs, who control the vast bulk of EU money spent in the Western Balkans, the Middle East and Africa.

The new-model EEAS chief would instead control two "junior" neighbourhood and aid commissioners.

The report also called for more meetings of EU foreign ministers and more majority-based decisions on foreign and defence policy in order to "prevent one single member state from being able to obstruct initiatives."

The idea of less power for EU capitals was the main theme of the paper.

It said changes to EU treaties should in future be adopted "by a super-qualified majority of the EU member states and their population" instead of by unanimity.

It endorsed existing legal proposals to give the European Commission and the European Central Bank more control over national economies: the so-called "two-pack" law on budgetary discipline and a single EU bank supervisor.

It floated the idea of a single EU President who runs the commission and the EU Council and who is directly elected by voters in a pan-EU vote "on the same day in all member states."

It also proposed that EU external borders should be manned by a "European Border Police."

The communique noted several times that "not all participating ministers agree with all proposals," creating a get-out clause for anybody who might face a eurosceptic backlash at home.

The text included other caveats.

It said that majority-made EU treaty changes "would [only] be binding for those member states that have ratified them" and that "the responsibility of the member states for the composition of their budgets has to be fully respected."

It also spoke of greater democratic "legitimacy" and "visibility."

At one point, it said the European Parliament should be able to initiate EU law instead of just amending or blocking commission proposals.

But for the most part the "visibility" boiled down to extra "consultative" powers for MEPs and the creation of a new joint committee for MEPs and national MPs to talk to each other.

The text also highlighted a new EU term - the "pre-in."

The "pre-in" is an EU country which aims to join the euro one day and which wants to be able to go to eurozone meetings already to find out where the single currency is going.

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Perceptions of the EU have increased significantly in France, and Europeans generally feel more optimistic about the future of the bloc since last autumn - despite Brexit and a surge in populism.

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