THE EU as a world power is a phrase that is cropping up during the Lisbon treaty campaign.
Those on the no side make it sound like a plot to enslave nations while those in favour of the treaty can sound like out of touch idealists.
Two organisations launched attacks against the concept during the week. One of them, the Peace and Neutrality Alliance (PANA), is campaigning for voters to reject the treaty while the other, the British Taxpayers Alliance, would like to see Britain out of the EU altogether.
With great flourish a PANA press release said that the European Commission’s top executive, Dubliner Catherine Day, had “finally admitted the real reason why Irish people were being forced to vote again on the treaty is that its purpose is to transform the EU into a world power”.
The Taxpayers’ Alliance sees the EU’s embassies as challenging the British Foreign Office around the globe and says the treaty will take the process further.
Ms Day sees it differently, arguing that member states agreed decades ago to set up the external relations section and they have specified the policies they want carried out, including dealing with trade issues.
Foreign Minister Micheál Martin believes enhancing the EU’s role would help a small country like Ireland that cannot afford to have embassies everywhere.
The fact is that the Common Foreign and Security Policy has not worked as well as it should so far.
The major problem is that countries cannot always agree on a single policy because they have different national interests. So each country goes its own way.
Some of the biggest states have permanent seats on the UN Security Council and other global bodies and they are reluctant to share them.
The second problem is that the EU’s external relations system is fragmented and poorly organised. The Commission has the money and the personnel – over 130 delegations worldwide and a multi-billion euro budget – while the council representing the member states more directly has the High Representative Javier Solana, a small team and tiny budget.
The real issue for the Lisbon debate is whether the changes in the treaty would work. They propose a new high foreign affairs representative that would straddle the Council and the Commission. The hope is that the member states would see the person as representing them and be more inclined to have him or her represent them on the world stage and at the same time benefit from the commission’s staff and budget and ethos.
However with the treaty also proposing a president of the council to chair meetings and be a figurehead for the EU there is a danger of conflict between all the high-profile posts.
If member states cannot agree on policies and insist that their national interests come first and use their veto to defeat foreign policy decisions, then no number of chiefs or presidents will be able to pursue EU foreign policies.
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