EU Foreign Policy chief Javier Solana talks about EU’s role in the world, the Constitution, transatlantic relations and the role of the new Member States in this interview with EURACTIV.sk.
One of the changes that the Constitutional Treaty was to bring to the EU institutional structure was the creation of the EU Foreign Minister. That should enhance the role of the EU as an international actor. Yet, we should probably not expect the Constitutional Treaty to enter into force in the short time. Is there any possibility to have EU “speaking with one voice” in the international affairs also without the Treaty?
In the area of foreign and security policy we have steadily improved our performance. For decades we had been confronted by various crises on our doorsteps – but without the means to address them. Now, we have a substantive set of policies, agreed at 25 and backed up by a broad range of instruments. Our comprehensive approach – part civilian, part military – corresponds to today´s complex crises. Moreover, our presence on the ground in a crisis zone has increased our political leverage. But we need to do more. Our citizens expect an even stronger European role on the international stage. Around the world people call for our assistance, our presence and our action. It would surely be much easier to do that with the Constitution rather than without. I remain convinced that Europe badly needs the ideas contained in the Constitution for a more streamlined and effective EU. We need more consistency among political, economic and military instruments; a better link between the budget and the political decision-making and a more effective system of external representation. The world is not standing still and there is no time to lose. The Union has to respond quickly and gain legitimacy by action.
Attempts to strengthen the EU foreign policy capacities often raise the fears of the “loss of sovereignty” of the member states. Is it really a zero-sum game? Or does the EU membership enhance the capacity of Members to influence the international environment – and how?
The EU is becoming a global power; a force for good in the world. Member states realize that their influence is greater when they are united and act together. There is no a zero-sum game, in reality we have a win-win situation for everyone. The individual member states remain players on the international scene – some with regional, others with global ambitions. But one fact is clear. No individual country today is capable to cope successfully with the challenges that confront us. Our world is changing fast. It is becoming more uncertain and harder to manage. In this security environment, we must be alert and creative. And we need to be united. Together we can help to shape the global agenda. We have to focus on a broad spectrum of issues – energy security, terrorism, human rights, failed states, non-proliferation – among many others. We can go ahead in all these areas. But on one condition. That we tackle them jointly, as Europeans. If we do, we can get great results. Working together is the best way to advance our common as well as national interests.
Recent developments in the integration process lead to the revival of “core Europe” idea. Do you think that the stronger co-operation of a group of member countries can strengthen the role of the EU in international affairs (by strengthening its capacities to react quickly), or rather weaken it (by weakening the European solidarity between the “core” and “peripheral” members)?
The EU is not uniform. Every country is different, with different national interests, sensitivities, capabilities, and experiences. The biggest advantage of Europe is that member states pool their resources for a common good. We can not expect that all countries will contribute in the same proportion. The best way to advance our ambitions is to make effective use of national commitments. If you look to our crisis management operations – in the Balkans, Africa, Middle East, Aceh, Iraq, Georgia, Moldova – you see that countries back them with diverse inputs corresponding to their capacities and interests. And the results until now are excellent. In some years we have run several successful operations and there are more to come. With the establishment of the European Defence Agency we prepare ourselves better for the new missions. Another clear demonstration of our synergy, solidarity and determination is the Battle Group Concept in which the overwhelming majority of member states earmarked military resources that will allow us to tackle crises at short notice. What use the EU makes of that capacity is entirely up to the Council, acting unanimously. But the potential to act – in the name and under the flag of the EU – is considerable. This represents a turn in EU affairs.
EU sees the transatlantic relations as its strategic priority – both sides of Atlantic are bound by many economic, historical, political and cultural ties. However, what would you define as the biggest threat to these relations?
The EU-US relationship is developing extremely fast. During recent years some media and parts of the public were concentrating more on what divides us, rather than what unites us. We had a moment of difficulty over Iraq, but that is over. In reality there is much more common ground than disagreement. Our broad cooperation reflects dynamism of partnership based not just on economic power but also on common interests. With the United States we need to co-operate in addressing major threats – terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, failed states, organised crimes. We may bring somewhat different approaches to the table and use different language than our American friends. What is really important is to talk about problems before they develop into transatlantic disagreements. As long as our respective strategies reinforce each other – and they do – this pluralism in dealing with threats is a source of strength. The work together in Afghanistan, in the Balkans, in the Middle East shows that it is possible to narrow differences and to move forward.
What do you think is the future of this transatlantic relationship? Is it going to be stronger or weaker vis-à-vis the growing competition of other blocks (India, China)?
We are living in a globalised world. It offers many opportunities for millions to better their lives but it brings some dangers. New powers – China, India, South Africa, Brazil and others – are emerging fast. Not just as economic competitors but also as major actors on the geo-strategic landscape. We have to adapt to this world. And we need strong partners. We know that to address today’s challenges the chance for success is greatest when the EU and the US work together. The US-European partnership represents the world’s most important force for peace and security. The usefulness of that partnership remains beyond question and I am confident that it will continue to grow. The Balkans are a good case in point. Through our concerted efforts, with the US and NATO, we have ensured that the stability of the region is no longer threatened by the outbreak of a major conflict.
What role does the economic dimension play in the formation of the EU foreign policy? How important is it compared to other policy principles, as the human rights protection, or democratic standards?
In practice the European pursuit of foreign policy coordination did not get far during the Cold War. The EU remained primarily an economic organisation. We operated successfully together in the area of trade and development cooperation. But we were less successful in other areas because our external policies lacked political dimension. Nowadays, our common policies go far beyond trade and development. We promote our economic interests but we have much broader international ambitions. The values of democracy and human rights are in our collective DNA. And the EU is playing a leading role in the spread of democracy, security and prosperity. We believe that democratic change is most likely to succeed if people are prosperous and feel safe. But the EU knows that change does not happen overnight. This is why we make long term commitments supporting democratic institutions, civil society, free media, free and fair trade, sustainable development, eradication of poverty and protection of human rights. Trade and development cooperation are powerful tools to back EU policies, but we have more of them – a wide range of instruments including diplomacy, visa bans and civil and military crisis management.
Is there any specific input of the new Members to the creation of the EU foreign policy?
I am a strong supporter of enlargement. I see it both as a historic necessity and a historic achievement – for newcomers and old member states alike. I do not think there is another strategy more value-driven, more original in its methodology and more successful in terms of results. Through integration we are stronger, safer and more prosperous. Today, new member states are very dynamic countries and a firm part of the European family. They contribute to strengthening of the EU with their enthusiasm, energy, ideas and experiences. I cannot imagine EU foreign policy, staunch in its defence of the democratic aspirations of Ukraine; open and frank in our dialogue with Russia, committed in support to the Balkans, active in crisis management in many parts of the world, without the active support of new member states. Very quickly they reinforced our forces and have promoted many new initiatives. Furthermore, their historical experience gives them a sound role in assisting the candidate countries to prepare for EU membership, in carrying out our Neighbourhood Policy and spreading EU values. When we combine our forces – old and new member countries together – we are very successful in our common endeavours.