Reading the news that was send over by Jackie today, I observed a huge contrast between the retired High Representative and the active High Representative of the EU. The current is weak, looks tired and is most probably on her way out. The retired is old, looks energetic and seems to be in control of things. If the retired replaces the current for the last 3.5 years of her term, you will find me flat on my face before the Lord for a few days. And with the WEU shutting down soon and only needs to give the torch over to the beast, this scene is getting pretty interesting!
CURRENT HIGH REP
The EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is a “hostage to the major decisions taken by the big member states” and the External Action Service she leads is heading for an “existential crisis” – MEPs have told her today.
The comments, made during a question and answer session in the European Parliament, come just days after the Belgian foreign minister Steven Vanackere criticised Ashton for poor management and lacking a long-term strategy.
Today Dr Charles Tannock MEP – speaking for the Conservatives and Reformists grouping – suggested that there was no rationale for the existence of the institution.
“The problem that Baroness Ashton has is that her role seems to be very similar to her pre-Lisbon treaty predecessor,” he said. “If she is only fulfilling the role as a mouthpiece for EU governments when they agree on a common response then it begs the question why we need an expensive action service at all. The External Action Service must prove that it can bring added value or it will wither on the vine.”
He continued: “The EEAS needs to step up to its envisaged role at least by providing meaningful foreign policy analysis and coordination which adds value to EU member states’ ability to take foreign policy positions. As things stand, we are heading for an existential crisis for the EEAS.”
Lothar Bisky, a member of the GUE/NGL group, said: “In many areas the EU’s foreign policy has failed: in the Arab world, in Afghanistan, in dealing with the Palestinian problem and the conflicts in our eastern neighbourhood.”
He criticised the “double standards” of EU policy. “This house cheered when the UN Security Council decided to take military action in Libya,” he said, “but what do we do for the civilian population in Gaza, Darfur? How do we protect the right to a life in dignity for the 1.4 billion people living on one dollar a day?”
Bisky’s colleague Takis Hadjigeorgiou told Ashton that she was “hostage to the major decisions taken by the big member states”. He called for a “demilitarised foreign policy,” saying: “We in Europe are bombing some of these states in Africa while selling them the weapons they are using against their own people.
She was criticised for not going to Haiti and for not being decisive enough over uprisings in North Africa, with Britain, France and Germany releasing a statement on Egypt before any word from Ashton. David Miliband and Carl Bildt felt the need to pen a letter trying to get Member States to back her, Germany’s foreign minister has tried to defend her while the Belgian foreign minister has attacked her, and in the meantime turf wars rage over the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS).
It is an open secret in Brussels that it takes weeks for basic administrative decisions to be taken at the top of the EEAS. Meanwhile the change of government last year in the UK further isolated Ashton, a Labour politician with a Conservative counterpart – William Hague – in King Charles Street.
I first queried the sustainability of Ashton’s continuation in the post in January this year in light of her poor response to developments in Egypt, and more academic analysis has followed. This discontent has reached a new height this week with German Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer tweeting that European People’s Party (EPP, centre right) MEPs are plotting to oust her, and openly voicing his own critique of Ashton, and his judgment that she is in “real danger”.
The problem is that Ashton is damned if she stays, but replacing her is probably even more fraught with dangers. Bütikofer and his European Parliament colleagues have very blunt formal powers – to censure the whole European Commission of which Ashton is a member. Some statement from the political groups in the Parliament, indicating a lack of confidence in Ashton, might be a softer way forward, but the Socialists & Democrats (S&D group) might not put their heads above the parapet.
Then for the Commission and the Member States the issue is no less complex – would Ashton be willing to go on her own accord, leaving the UK to nominate someone new? Would the UK manage to maintain the same portfolio, or would there be a push for another Member State to get the Foreign Affairs brief? How about party political balance, with the coalition in the UK the nominator of a successor?
The European Union must liberalize its visa regime with Turkey before the country’s accession to the bloc, because Turkey’s membership will take a long time to achieve, a former top EU diplomat has said.
“I don’t know [whether visa liberalization will occur before or after membership], but since the accession process will be long, I hope that it will happen before,” prominent European diplomat Javier Solana told the Hürriyet Daily News on Tuesday.
Solana, a former EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy, spoke to the paper after a press meeting where a Council of Europe report on diversity was launched.
“It is not going to be done in 24 hours. This is a long, long process. Turkey is a very important country, it is a very big country that has a very fast-growing economy,” he said. “[The EU] is not bringing in a small country. It is an important country with a foreign policy, with 70 million people, with an economy that is growing faster than the European average.”
Solana also said Turkey’s EU membership would benefit all parties.
“I think that we need each other. [Turkey] need Europe, and Europe needs [Turkey],” he said.
The European diplomat also commented on statements made Monday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said his country would resume nuclear talks with Western powers based on an exchange of letters between Tehran and European officials. “I don’t think it is a question of writing letters, it is a question of solving problems,” Solana said. “[This should] not to go to another ledger or another document.
Solana said Iran had to clearly show political will and the objectives of its nuclear program. Regarding Ahmadinejad’s claims that the previous talks had not been held on just grounds, he said: “I heard that so long ago. If we are still saying these things, we are not going to move [forward].”
COMMENT BY WICKUS:
Now who seems to be the most in control? Mmmmm….