Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Brussels will become the diplomatic capital of Europe"

So said Robert Cooper today at a conference organised by the University of Kent's Brussels offshoot the Brussels School of International Studies.

Cooper, is the Director General, General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union and author of the groundbreaking book, 'The Breaking of Nations'. He was discussing the role of the new EU Diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service (EEAS).

This body which though already extant in a fledgling form exists through the Lisbon Treaty cum Constitution via 13a-III:

In fulfilling his or her mandate, the High Representative shall be assisted by a European External Action Service. This service shall work in cooperation with the diplomatic services of the Member States and shall comprise officials from relevant departments of the General Secretariat of the Council and of the Commission as well as staff seconded from national diplomatic services of the Member States. The organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service shall be established by a decision of the Council. The Council shall act on a proposal from the High Representative after consulting the European Parliament and after obtaining the consent of the Commission.
His point was that the EEAS would provide a valuable function in the operation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (EFSP). Currently at the Council you have 27 countries with 27 sets of national interests. For there to be an effective foreign policy somebody has to take the lead, to make proposals. However under the current national based system one country will always discount another countries approach. "The European Commission would be unacceptable", he said, but with the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty, "The External Action Service will be the body that puts proposals onto the table. The result will be that Brussels will become trhe diplomatic capital of Europe."

In the Question and Answer session afterwards I picked this up as I was aware that Hans-Gert Pöttering had set up a mandated negotiation team made up of key federasts to discuss the subject, as reported by Bruno Waterfield in the Daily Telegraph. This team of Enrico Baron Crespo, Elmar Brok, Andrew Duff and Dagmar Roth-Berendt MEPs had been mandated by Poettering to demand that the Parliament shopuld have "proper hearings of the special representatives and ambassadorial nominees in the tradition of the US Congress for nominations of a clearly political nature" and to ensure that, "Any inter-governmentalism of policy areas under Community competence" should "be avaoided".

Was Cooper "happy with this idea", I asked "that the Parliament should hold hearings to make or break ambassadorial appointments for the EU?"

In a general sense he was, he thought that the quality of Congressional and Senate scrutiny was something that the European Parliament should aspire to "The Parliament still hasn't worked out what it is for", he said. Hearings could be something that they could do. But he added a worrying and in my view insurmountable caveat.

"Provided that it acts responsibly," by this he meant that hearings would be a good idea if they were on a bilateral basis. However, "If we end up with ambassadors who are solely picked on the basis of political policies then that would be the ruin for us".

Later over sandwiches I came back to him on this, pointing out that since the rejection of Rocco Butiglione on party political grounds and the growth of European Political Parties and the natural desire of those granted electoral success to want to take control of all aspects of governance then the EEAS was under his own terms guaranteed to be a "ruin". Well that relies on the qualities of the MEPs he went on to say.

You can see from the expression our faces what we thought of that idea. And it seems that he is fan of at least one of the mandated MEPs.

On other areas of policy he was equally revealing. On being asked about the rising power of Russia and Europe's policy towards Russia he put it like this,

"Does the UK currently have a policy towards Russia? The answer is it is 'very complicated'.

Does the EU have a policy towards Russia? The answer is that it is 'even more complicated than that'...

However, the EU needs an Energy Policy. If we have an energy policy we will therefore have a Russia policy"

Not very encouraging.


Five Demands said...

Five demands for a democratic Europe that is truly answerable to its citizens:

Central Scrutiniser said...

Isn't Brussels already the diplomatic capital of Europe? If it isn't then where is the diplomatic capital?

Imagine you have your passport stolen in a country that has no UK passport issuing authority, like Belgium for example. Now you can seek assistance from any other EU consulate or embassy.

Isn't that a good thing?

Gawain Towler AKA Elaib Harvey said...

CS, Tell that to the Quia D'Orsay. Currently we have a multi-polar existence.

What you are talking about is consular activities not diplomatic (as in Foreign Policy) issues.

Central Scrutiniser said...

Is consular co-operation not part of EU Foreign Policy then? I must confess I get a bit lost on EU Foreign Policy. It is something of an oxymoron to me - 26/27ths of the EU is Foreign. Isn't it?

Gawain Towler AKA Elaib Harvey said...

It is merely swarf on the great nut of foriegn policy.

Oddly wen travelling to India recently I filled in the scrapppy little piece of paper that was the immmigration form. Or make that I filled in the top half and handed it over to the assport control chappies. They looked at it and gave it back. Pointing out that I had to fill in the bottom half.

It was labelled 'Foriegners to fill in'. Obviously I had subjectively rejected the concept that I could possibly be foreign.

Central Scrutiniser said...

That must have been very unsettling. In India they speak English, play cricket, administer the nation according to British civil service norms, and eat the same food we do.

How can India be foreign for goodness sakes?

Gawain Towler AKA Elaib Harvey said...

My point exactly

The Aunt said...

What on earth has happened to your hair?

Central Scrutiniser said...

The EU Diplomatic Service is required to give substance to the EU Defence Force. The latter is necessary to assist the US and China in helping Africa to make best use of its mineral wealth - a burden that the UK and France could easily share.

But the real diplomacy will start when the EU partners discuss nuclear weapons - which only France and the UK have. Who will wield this ultimate mace, this EU nuclear trigger? UK nuclear triggers have never been in the hands of politicians or heads of state.

Royal Navy Trident submarine commanders carry this responsibility on behalf of the nation and this makes our doctrine of nuclear deterrence unique. Ours is a vengeance weapon designed, essentially, to be used AFTER the UK has been nuked out of existence.

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