Interesting post on different approaches to foreign affairs between Commission and governments

The ‘Charlemagne’ blog from the Economist has an interesting post discussing what he learnt from his contacts as he wrote an article about the new EU representative for foreign affairs, who heads up the new External Action Service (EAS), and the issue of who should be in the driving seat, the Commission or EU governments:

One is the very deep cultural difference between the European Commission and the national governments, when it comes to foreign policy, or “external relations” in the Brussels jargon.

National diplomats tend to see the world, ultimately, in rather Hobbesian terms. Strip away the talk of co-operation and values, and at the end of the day they are paid to promote their countries’ national interests in a rough and at times wicked world.

The European Commission has a different culture. The commission has instruments that help it exercise soft power: it gives out money for projects and programmes, or makes proposals to ease visa rules for citizens of country X or Y. It signs trade deals, and reports on whether countries that want to join the EU are fit to do so.

These are all important things, but Kissinger it ain’t. In other words, the commission can only function in a rational world, and as long as a legitimate partner is sitting on the other side of the table, pen in hand, ready to sign an action plan, or agree to some new programme or partnership accord.

National diplomats, for all their smooth manners, have to be prepared to go a bit more off-road, if you know what I mean’

He also makes a second – quite controversial – suggestion:

‘A second big point kept coming up. I would put it to interviewees that I had heard anger from some national governments about, say, the way the European Parliament was flexing its muscles and trying to assert control over the new EAS.

Well what did they expect, the Lisbon Treaty gives them powers over the budget of the EAS, my interviewees would say. More than once, I heard the same despairing phrase, said of EU foreign ministers and heads of government: “the problem is, they signed the treaty without reading it”, or “they should have read the treaty, and worked out the consequences.”

I do not want to fuel the most outlandish Eurosceptic fantasies here: I am sure that such phrases have their share of hyperbole. Most European governments will have tried to work out if the Lisbon Treaty contained things that should worry them.

But there is something to the jibes though. I have no doubt that British ministers, for example, were probably briefed during the drafting of the EU constitution (the first version of the Lisbon Treaty), that it could cause problems to give more powers to the European Parliament. But they were so busy seeking opt-outs from things like immigration policy that they did not have time to focus on things like the powers of the parliament.

And the shorthand for that process is the phrase that several senior people used this week, when talking to me: “they should have read the treaty before they signed it.’



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