/A Union with cuffed hands

A Union with cuffed hands

Recent conflicts in Syria and Gaza raise questions among public opinion about why the EU keeps using soft power instead of acting to put an end to the killing of innocents. The union seems to have the means and capacity to do so; however, launching field operations entails more than deploying a few thousand troops. Not only must the 26 member states have to agree, but also the UN Security Council has to give its approval to.

Having a chair in two key institutions, Council of Ministers and Commission, the HR/VP, held now by Catherine Ashton, has been created with the aim of giving a more coherent and consistent approach to foreign and security policies. Picture by europa.eu

Since the European Council approved the European Security Strategy on December 2003, the EU has created a series of institutions, post and policies for the development of its Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). In less than ten years, Brussels has launched 28 operations deploying more than 70.000 staff.

The Union has now, among other foreign affairs institutions, its own diplomatic corps also known as the European External Action, its own Crisis Management & Planning Directorate (CMPD) and its own Military Staff. All these institutions are headed by the High Representative for Foreign and Security affairs who, since 2010, also holds the most important of the seven Vice Presidencies of the Commission.

“It is undisputed that there is something moving now” says the Deputy Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Council, Bernd Siebert. But according to his article, published in the European Security & Defence magazine last September, “national egoism is the main reason for the lack of willingness for cooperation”. The author pointed to the “different strategic cultures” and “the fear of being cheated by a cooperation partner” as the two major causes of that egoism.

A positive side?

According to Fernando Moreno, Senior Strategic Planner in the CMPD who works in the field elaborating plans for intervention, the most difficult task when launching field actions is to reach consensus among the 26 member states –Denmark opted out from the Common Foreign and Security Policy-. Even so, Mr. Moreno can see the positive side of it. “The need for consensus might be our weakness, but it can also be seen as our strength. When we have an action plan approved by the 26, we know that the political willingness is total and therefore we can push towards more and more engagement”. For the moment, the member states have only agreed to recognize the new Syrian Political opposition and to keep sending humanitarian aid (Last Council of Foreign Affairs, 19th of November).

On the other hand “the EU won’t act against a UN Security Council resolution” Mr. Moreno explains, “European Security Strategy has been linked to UN objectives since its beginning and therefore, it won’t contradict the Security Council”. Thus, even if the 26 member states agreed to deploy in Syria, there will never be such an operation because China and Russia, who are permanent members of the UN Security Council together with the United States, Great Britain and France, will block any actions in Syria.

Susan E. Penksa is a senior associate researcher at the institute for European studies. Picture: provided by the author

An American point of view

Susan E. Penksa, an American author who presented her book The European Union on Global Security in Brussels in the week of November the 5th, agrees on that more could be done. “The EU member states are very relevant security providers, but they keep working separately”. Nevertheless, the author, who has studied the CSDP for more than 4 years and has interviewed more than 100 European and member states officials, also warns about that “many commentators take a too simplistic approach when talking about CSDP”.

According to Ms. Penksa, the decision-making model for foreign affairs and security policy is a complicate flow of inputs and outputs (see the graph below), so that “no specific case can explain how decisions are taken in Brussels”. Notwithstanding, “the EU has succeeded in launching effective operations such as the ones in the Horn of Africa, Georgia or Kosovo”, and therefore, she concludes that “the union has become a niche international security provider”. However the EU cannot rest on its laurels as the CSDP remains “a work in progress, partly finished, partly effective, and yet interesting to a world that has always expected more of the Union than it has been willing to give”.

EU Decision-Making for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Graph provided by the author during the presentation of her book.