Lisbon to make EU ‘real entity on global stage’

Today’s entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty should help the European Union to become “a real entity on the global stage,” Elaine Cruikshanks, CEO of the Brussels arm of public affairs firm Hill & Knowlton, told EURACTIV in an interview.

The PA boss said “we can hopefully expect a more streamlined and more active European foreign policy” under Lisbon, the entry into force of which sees permanent EU President Herman van Rompuy and High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton assume their new posts. 

“One third-country ambassador indicated [to me] that he is looking forward to more continuity and consistency from the EU as a result of the innovation of a Council president,” Cruikshanks said. 

Ashton’s position is a “novelty” in that she is a vice-president of the European Commission and chairs meetings of EU foreign ministers, she explains. 

Lobbyists approaching her “will have to take into account the Commission’s position on a specific dossier as well as that of the majority of member states” as she represents both, she reflects. 

Moreover, as head of the External Action Service and the Commission representations in third countries, “she will have much wider competences than [outgoing foreign policy chief] Javier Solana ever had,” the PA boss predicts. 

Nevertheless, “the real effectiveness and power of the post will depend on what the incumbent makes of the job,” Cruikshanks warns. 

As for the relationship between Ashton and Van Rompuy, “the exact separation of duties between the two will largely depend on their personalities and the kind of common understanding they will develop of their respective functions”. 

Practically, the Hill & Knowlton chief expects Van Rompuy to represent the EU “only at international summits attended by heads of state and government,” with Ashton attending “external meetings at ministerial level”. 

The Lisbon-era EU will become “more vocal” on fundamental rights, and gain influence in the fields of justice and home affairs, environment, sustainable development and climate change, she predicts. 

Indeed, “with the Treaty of Lisbon, combating climate change on an international level becomes a specific objective of EU environmental policy,” Cruikshanks says, announcing her expectation that the Union will “act in a more coherent and proactive way to achieve binding environmental targets on the international scene”. 

The Lisbon Treaty gives the European Parliament powers over new policy areas under the co-decision procedure, and Cruikshanks believes lobbyists will have to adapt their message to their new audience. 

“Reaching out and discussing policy matters with MEPs is very different to speaking to Commission officials,” she said. “While your […] position might not change, you will have to ensure that institutional, committee, political, national and local agendas are taken into consideration”. 

As for the new blocking power national parliaments will have over EU legislative proposals, the PA boss expects that this will be employed “rather restrictively” as the Commission will work more closely with national governments when defining new policy measures to avoid its use. 

“In most member states, the political colours of the governments reflect the political majorities in the parliaments,” she says, meaning that national parliaments are only likely to try to block Commission proposals if the government opposes the legislation too. 

Despite her observations, Cruikshanks believes it will take time for the effects of Lisbon to be felt given that the incoming European Commission, EU president and High Representative will first have to put together their staff and settle into their new roles. 

Cruikshanks was speaking to Andrew Williams.

To read the interview in full, please click here

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