Briton gets set to untangle the EU's foreign policy rules

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A BRITISH official has been given the task of untangling the new Maastricht rules for European foreign policy.

Brian Crowe, a veteran of European policy-making in the Foreign Office, will be in charge of the 50 officials who will run both the European Union's common foreign and security policy, introduced by the Maastricht treaty, and external economic affairs, one of the EU's traditional roles.

The post, as one of six director- generals in the secretariat of the Council of Ministers, is one of the top jobs in the Brussels bureaucracy. The secretariat has the job of preparing and assisting monthly meetings of foreign ministers but is likely to expand its influence, according to diplomats. It is likely to represent the EU in some meetings with foreign governments, initiate policy papers and develop a planning cell.

But the confused reporting lines, difficulties with sorting out financing, and problems in integrating the different parts of the bureaucracy will make his job a difficult one. Mr Crowe has not yet been formally appointed director-general, for instance, because of sensitivities over an official who already holds a similiar post but has yet to retire.

Mr Crowe will also have to confront difficulties in relationships between the Council of Ministers - the organisation that groups representatives of member states - with the European Commission and the European Parliament, both of which are jockeying for position. Difficulties in sorting out the financing of foreign policy have yet to be resolved and have caused a legal battle between the institutions, and will be discussed again next week.

The problems in putting foreign policy to work are only one of the many after-effects of the Maastricht treaty. It is proving far more complex in practice even than on paper, if that is possible. The document is widely regarded by officials in Brussels as unreadable, ambiguous in key areas, and littered with unworkable compromises.

There have been calls for the treaty to be reworked and simplified from within the bureaucracy. The top legal official in the Council Secretariat, Jean-Claude Piris, has suggested in a report that the structures are too complex, that the system is too difficult to understand for outsiders, and that reform is necessary.

As an indication of the difficulties, Mr Piris' own document is 50 pages long and indigestible.

Part of the problem is that the treaty established three separate ways of doing business for the EU's traditional economic and social policies, foreign policy and interior policy. The divisions between the three 'pillars' were supposed to keep foreign and interior policy under the thumb of national governments, with the Commission and the Parliament at arm's length. But interpreting the treaty has proved highly complex.

The official in charge of interior policy - which deals with immigration, asylum, drugs and crime - will be Charles Elsen from Luxembourg, formerly the senior official in the country's Justice Ministry. Interior policy has proved less difficult to implement as the new structures overlap less with existing ones, have fewer budgetary implications, and largely continues existing work.