By Elsa Tulmets
Passage au crible n°16
After the failure of the Copenhagen climate conference in December 2009, the new president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, summoned the representatives of the member states of the EU (European Union) to a special summit on 11th February 2010, a summit devoted to boosting the economy. This was the first publicized event of an EU now governed by the Lisbon Treaty. However, despite some innovations, foreign policy did not attract attention. Hardly has it been enshrined in treaties than EU foreign policy seems destined to remain in the background.
Since the end of the Cold War, the EU has constantly had to redefine its role in a multi-polar world in which it shows itself to be incapable of responding to crises, including those in its immediate vicinity (the Balkans). In 2002, the European Convention, which was to simplify the treaties and bestow upon it the status of subject of international law, proposed advances concerning foreign policy. After the rejection of the constitutional treaty in 2005, a redrafted version – adopted in Lisbon, on 23rd December 2007 – finally came into force on 1st December 2009. However, this first European summit completely occulted international issues by choosing to focus on aid for Greece and the plan for boosting the economy for growth and employment – Europe 2010.
The act affirming a new authority – that of the President of the EU – implicitly reveals the weaknesses of EU soft power and the limits of its spill over.
1. Soft power. When he created this concept, Joseph Nye meant to characterize the power of attraction which the United States had abroad. With this term, he also wanted to designate their ability to influence their partners through means other than coercion. Based on the economy and social and cultural resources, it is defined in opposition to hard power which is military in nature.
For its part, to a great extent, the EU uses the projection of its more integrated policies (internal market) and the attraction exerted by the euro zone in order to impose itself on the international scene. The very term, soft power, has recently been used in EU political speeches to legitimize the strategy of expansion in the East. In this particular case, the ongoing negotiations for membership reiterate this approach which, moreover, has been adapted to the ENP (European Neighbourhood Policy) that, since 2004, has been intended for the countries South and East of the enlarged EU.
2. Spill over. This expression was conceptualized by David Mitrany and taken up by the theoreticians of European integration. It refers to the close cooperation existing in apparently non political sectors of shared interest, such as agriculture or transport. Then, secondly, it conveys the process of diffusion towards more openly political areas. Following this logic, the creation of a single currency – the euro – represents the states renouncing one of their exclusive prerogatives, the archetypal symbol of their sovereignty. The spill over of one sector into another also leads to better integration in the area of foreign policy. For example, the common trade policy was created through the integration of the domestic market. As for the means mobilized for the prevention of crises, they come, in part, from the Schengen zone. Certainly, the European summit of 11th February 2010 illustrated the close ties between the various actions of the EU; however, it also revealed a lack of coherence.
1. Protecting European soft power. In a period of crisis, the EU intends to preserve its international credibility and protect the essentials of its soft power, by exploiting its economic and institutional assets. The Lisbon Treaty provided the EU with a telephone number, taking up the famous challenge of the former American Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. By virtue of this same treaty, the president of the European Council – Herman Van Rompuy, the holder of this new post, created in addition to the revolving presidency – was able to organize this summit: “If international developments so require, the President of the European Council shall convene an extraordinary meeting of the European Council in order to define the strategic lines of the Union’s policy in the face of such developments.” (art. 26 of the consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union). However, although this agreement has endowed the EU with certain essential functions, for all that, it does not make provision for a functional distribution capable of improving its visibility. In this respect, the new president must come to terms with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – post occupied by Catherine Ashton, who is highly criticized abroad – whereas the diplomatic service, which has just been instituted, represents a structure which is not yet fully operational. Moreover, the heads of state and government retain significant power since “The European Council shall identify the Union’s strategic interests, determine the objectives of and define general guidelines for the common foreign and security policy” (art. 26).
The financial crisis, a global crisis since 2008, has otherwise revealed the flaws of EU economic soft power. The priority given to the euro zone and the labour market thus express the inability of the European states by themselves to confront the forces of a non regulated global market. If, however, the euro zone weakens, a negative spill over might destabilize the internal market and the capability of the EU for external action. Consequently, the EU must confront the challenges of its internal functioning before being able to express itself as a single actor.
2. France and Germany, the motor of European spill over no more. For a long time during the process of European construction, the Franco-German tandem provided the ultimate means of elaborating a political consensus. Nevertheless, the summit of 11th February underlined the fact that these two founding countries were no longer able to create European compromise. In the areas of growth and employment, for instance, the measures to be implemented did not obtain unanimous support from the twenty-seven member countries. Likewise, although France and Germany called for the creation of an economic government of the EU, the idea was not retained. Finally, the importance both countries gave to external action had little effect upon the European agenda.
From now on, Franco-German cooperation can be seen to be powerless to stimulate political integration in order to affirm the EU on the international scene. Undoubtedly, this arises from the dividing lines which have changed since the end of the Cold War and the expansion of the EU to the East. These lines have indeed moved and settled, not on the division between “old” and “new” Europe – as some American conservatives claim – but on political divisions. Today, one can note that to the dissensions about the institutional mechanism of European construction – the inter-state or federal dimension – one can also add profound disagreements on the relationships to be established between the economic and political areas.
Laïdi Zaki, La Norme sans la force: l’énigme de la puissance européenne, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po, 2005.
Mitrany David, A Working Peace System, London, Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1943.
Nye Joseph, “Soft Power and American Foreign Policy”, Political Science Quarterly, 119 (2), 2004, pp. 255-270.
Tulmets Elsa, “A ‘Soft Power’ with Civilian Means: Can the EU Bridge its Capability-Expectations Gap in the ENP?”, in : Delcour Laure, Tulmets Elsa (Eds.), Pioneer Europe? Testing European Foreign Policy in the Neighbourhood, Baden-Baden, Nomos, 2008, pp. 133-158.