Home > EU, Security > Ashton’s Foreign Policy: Introduction*

Ashton’s Foreign Policy: Introduction*

They call her ‘a person without experience’ and ‘the lowest common denominator’. But she is not. Catherine Ashton is a very ambitious professional politician. She is the hope of Europe for a stronger engagement with the world and more efficient European Foreign Policy. She is the one who ought to have vision for a new set up of EU’s external relations. But does ‘ought to’ mean ‘can’ in this case. Can she have such a vision, or will this be the one of 1-2 national capitals or a closed circle, which has been thinking of the new European External Action Service for years before the job was handed to Ashton in November 2009?

Last week Ashton submitted a draft proposal for the new European External Action Service (EEAS ) to the 27 Member States. First discussions will take place this Monday 23 March at the Foreign Ministers’ council in Brussels. Already a number of players have expressed considerable disagreement with the propositions. Some complain that the EEAS structure copies French diplomatic service. Others are displeased because of the strong influence Brits have in the steering group.

EU institutions also keenly debate the draft proposals. EC holds on to the management of the EU’s development budget. It also wants to curb the proposed autonomy of heads of EU delegations and to maintain control over countries within its neighborhood policy – all contrary to the Ashton papers so far. The European Parliament asks for more budgetary control and co-decision powers for appointing senior EU diplomats and EU SRs (Special Representatives).

The ambitions plan of Lady Ashton so far envisages creating an absolutely independent EEAS with its own budget. The new institution is to be in charge of the EC delegations abroad, as well as the Special Representatives . It should also include a unit that deals with civilian and military planning for the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), so far in the Council. In addition, the mighty structure may have competences in development, neighboring policy and foreign aid. This is hardly a humble role.

As Catherine Ashton says herself: ‘If you want results, you have to act.’ And since we have to act in an increasingly sophisticated and insecure international environment, this makes the bar really high. So challenging that I hope there will be a real fight for the new body. We need vigorous debate with maximum transparency and sufficient time because it seems to me that we are not critical enough to our achievements so far.

In her Parliamentary hearing earlier this month, while trying to underline the importance of the CSDP missions abroad, Ashton outlined partly her vision for the Security and Defense Policy of the Union. I crave for the moment when she will unfold on the next 5 years for CSDP and the necessary reforms. However, for the moment she has been repeating statements of the Council, that are doubted by many. In one such instance Ashton called the EU operation in Kosovo a success – burning cars in front of the EC HQ and having half of the envisaged staff 2 years after the launch? I would not call this a success. Not to mention that Kosovo is in reality partitioned and local security forces do not have access to the Serbian enclaves.

Ashton also praises the EU MM in Georgia and takes pride on behalf of the EU for brokering a truce and reacting immediately. And also for acting, i.e. monitoring with 300 people the borders between Georgia and two countries that none of the 27 states has recognized? Furthermore, it took quite a while before EU monitors were allowed to patrol freely even on Georgian territory. This is what a success is officially for the Council ?! Unarmed monitors under Russia’s nose! It is high time the Council and CSDP get critical about their achievements and take advice from the expert community (and from its own think tank in Paris).

In this train of thought another success would be the 300 deployed in the EUPOL Afghanistan nearly 3 years after its start (target being 400 at the time). EU’s role there is enormously important – it is the largest contributor to civilian policing in Afghanistan. It has also been asked to develop the anti-corruption strategy of the country. But with shortage of staff EU efforts around the globe can hardly fill strategic gaps, not to mention taking new challenges.

EU’s role in the world ought to be bigger. The 27 states ought to pull together their resources and use them for conflict prevention and state-building. Armies are not trained for this and they hate doing what they have not been trained for. UN is a far cry from being efficient in prevention and post-conflict resolution. These tasks are not feasible for individual countries even the size of the US.

This is why today we need not a military CSDP, but one centered around the comprehensive approach; joint training, detailed roosters and robust incentive programs to assign civilians to conflict prevention and state-building. As Ashton herself put it: ‘Europe should draw on all its instruments of power to meet its responsibilities. And it is striking to me how far we have come in the last 10 years… do crisis management in a European way – with a comprehensive approach.’

Agreed, but I am a little sceptical that the EEAS will hold on to these statements of a professional politicians. There are vested interests from member states and professional circles that have been around long before Ashton even entered the EC as Commissioner for Trade. And I can see them already playing a big role in the concept and future structure of the EEAS.

*Read ‘Ashton’s European Policy: Priorities and Institutions’ later this week.

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