Global political capability necessitates a will to reform

, by Gesine Weber, Translated by Sophie Ell

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

Global political capability necessitates a will to reform
EU High Representative Federica Mogherini with the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in Kuwait in February 2018. Photo: Flickr / European External Action Service / Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Pro-Europeans agree: Europe must become more active on the global political stage. A way there could be the introduction of a qualified majority for decisions.

Terrorism, climate change, migration: It is no secret that the great challenges of the 21st century do not stop at national borders. By autumn 2015 at the latest, Europeans must have become aware that world politics directly affect them, when several hundred thousand people fled to Europe from war and violence in Syria, and the terrorist attacks in Paris happened. As great as the desire for an effective and truly European foreign and security policy may be, this political necessity has reached the limits of the European treaties: the Lisbon Treaty stipulates that decisions that fall under the Common Foreign and Security Policy may only be taken unanimously.

28 national votes instead of a common one

Richard Kühnel, the representative of the European Commission in Germany, underlined this difficulty also during the civil dialogue of the non-partisan Europa Union Germany in Falkensee (Brandenburg): “Our biggest burden at the moment is that we do not take decisions. Given the current rifts in the EU, this is not surprising. On the one hand, the committed European Emmanuel Macron governs France and Jean-Claude Juncker, in a recent speech on the state of the Union, enthusiastically spoke of Europe’s possible role in the world; and on the other hand, populists like Viktor Orbán are making life difficult for European foreign policy. Even if 27 member states vote for new steps in foreign policy, the veto of a single state can prevent the EU from actually speaking with one voice. In its human rights policy, this regulation has caused the EU some embarrassment in recent years: When a joint statement, which all Member States must agree to, was made in the United Nations Human Rights Council to criticise China’s human rights policy, Hungary refused to agree.”

In other foreign policy areas, the EU is much more successful: "60 percent of global development cooperation funds come from Europe – but nobody knows”. Here, Kühnel describes a fundamental problem of the EU: It fails to sell its successes or to bundle its capacities on the global level, where it would be highly visible to the public. It goes without saying that the embassies of the Member States work together with the European External Action Service on day-to-day business and technical issues: they jointly implement European development projects, coordinate communication with difficult partners, and support each other in consular matters. In practice, European foreign policy already works – but only behind the scenes.

In front of the scenes, this joint appearance is more difficult. Kühnel said during the citizens’ dialogue, “The question is: Where do you act as Europe and where do you act as a nation state? The EU doesn’t want to adopt everything, but it has to do more on the important issues”. Foreign policy is the policy area that was deliberately excluded from the ordinary legislative procedure, which would give a role to the European Parliament, during the negotiations on the Lisbon Treaty where the Member States wanted to keep the last word. Such an attitude is understandable from a purely state-centred perspective: foreign and security policy is a vital policy area. A common foreign policy would mean that states could no longer veto decisions that they reject – such as UN resolutions, negotiations on international treaties or military operations. Foreign and security policy is the field where the transfer of sovereignty to the EU is most evident and has the most serious consequences.

Qualified majority for more global political capability

Nevertheless, it is precisely the states that are more important in world politics which are explicitly in favour of strengthening the common foreign and security policy. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD), for example, proposed that decisions on foreign and security policy should in future be taken by a qualified majority in the Council. This is already the case for policy areas that fall under the ordinary legislative procedure: a decision is adopted if at least 55 percent of the states representing at least 65 percent of the pan-European population agree with it. Many of these policy areas affect – at least indirectly – European external relations, such as certain questions of migration and asylum policy.

Especially after Brexit, the introduction of qualified majority voting for decisions in foreign and security policy would be a promising option. With the UK on their side, the most populous countries can currently easily reach a qualified majority. Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Italy together account for more than half of the total European population and with the support of some smaller states it has been relatively easy for these countries to impose their positions on the others. Brexit will change majority relations and give more weight to small states, making negotiations more complex. Thus, the qualified majority in foreign and security policy will continue to mean compromises and concessions, but at the same time political blockades can be resolved more easily.

The challenges that will require European action in the future are immense. Above all, the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran is making the EU responsible for world peace: three years after the conclusion of the nuclear agreement, according to independent experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Tehran is as far away from building an atomic bomb as it was 30 years ago. If other contracting states also terminate the treaty and isolate Iran again, a nuclear arms race is imminent in the Middle East because there would no longer be any incentive for Iran to comply with the treaty.

Silvia-Yvonne Kaufmann, Member of the European Parliament, underlined this the context of the EUD citizen dialogue in Falkensee as follows: “The example of the Iran agreement shows that the EU is not necessarily a toothless tiger”. In fact, immediately after the US termination of the agreement, Iran appealed to the EU to stand up for its preservation. The shoulders of European decision-makers are thus burdened with an important responsibility for global disarmament. Now it is up to the EU to prove that it can live up to this responsibility. This requires a coherent foreign and security policy and an EU that is actually capable of action with efficient modes of coordination.

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