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Three pillars for CFSP

01 October 2003

Three paradoxes characterise the Union's attitude to the rest of the world. The first is typical of post-Cold War realities: with very few exceptions, it is now much easier for the Europeans to agree a view on external crises than on American policy. Terrorism provides a classic example of this. After 11 September the Fifteen had to adapt simultaneously and as rapidly as possible to the new terrorist threat and the new America that was recovering from the shock of the attacks. The threat of terrorism produced a leap forward in European integration in a number of fields, including the introduction of a common arrest warrant, financial and police cooperation, the Commission's early warning system, and extending to consensus within the European Convention on inclusion in the future treaty of a clause on mutual assistance in the event of terrorist attack against any member state. Conversely, once the initial reflex of solidarity with the victims of the 11 September attacks had passed, the requirement to adapt to the new US strategic priorities - the axis of evil, pre-emption and US exceptionalism - greatly perturbed, and in the end divided, the Europeans, culminating in the Iraq crisis and the division of Europeans into two camps quickly labelled `war' or `peace'.
The second paradox is more traditional: while the Europeans find it fairly easy to agree on a more or less common view of the world, they are divided on the Union's role in managing the world's crises. Since that role is broadly a function of the type of relationship that each member country wants to build with America, bilateral or within NATO, the Europeans have never managed to agree on the actual purpose of their diplomatic and military cooperation. The recurring debates on the virtues or vices of multipolarity or unipolarity, like the discussions on the possible degree of European autonomy on defence matters, are the most caricatural illustration of this latent division among Europeans on the Union's role as international actor.
The last paradox is possibly a permanent one: agreed, American policy is divisive, but each time there is a risk of a crisis or even divorce from America, the Europeans manage to reconcile differences on new bases. Before Iraq, raising the question of a European strategic concept amounted to either heresy or utopianism: among the Fifteen a combination of indifference, deference towards the United States and national preference jeopardised the very idea of the EU having its own security concept. Since Iraq, all members of the enlarged Union of 25 are enthusiastically involved in drawing up a common vision of the world and also a shared strategy on the Union's actions in it. To bring about this spectacular slide from an inexistent Union to one with a strategic vision it needed the shock and anguish caused by the possibility of a radical split between Europe and America, and among the Europeans themselves. The Iraq crisis showed that it could have taken very little for this scenario to become the only possible outcome.
These paradoxes indicate quite clearly the conditions governing the creation of an EU foreign policy, which can only exist on the basis of consensus in three areas: states must agree on a crisis, US policy towards that crisis and action to be taken by Europe itself. Not that agreement on those three elements would be impossible. Kosovo, for example, produced consensus in Europe: on the unacceptability of genocide, the need for American intervention, the Union's obligation to support Washington and above all the necessity to correct Europe's lack of military capability. After Iraq, the pessimists will conclude that Kosovo was a happy exception. The realists, on the other hand, will stress the coincidence of three issues within the EU, the completion of which is essential if the Union is to enhance its capability to engage in common external actions.
The security concept, the transatlantic relationship and the IGC are three issues that concern the various levels at which consensus is necessary for the implementation of a European foreign policy: the world, America and the Union's institutions. Although there is no formal relationship between these three questions, they depend on each other to a considerable degree: a constitutional treaty cannot of itself produce policy, and even less a common foreign policy; a security concept cannot be implemented without effective institutions; and a transatlantic partnership presupposes a European partner whose functioning and strategic vision are serious and dependable. The sooner the Union manages to consolidate these three vital pillars of external action - an effective treaty, a common strategic concept and a shared view of America - the sooner its role in the world will be established.