Yeltsin puts EU foreign policy to the test : EURO FILE

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The Independent Online
Russia is shaping up as a test case for EU foreign policy. The decision not to apply pressure on Moscow over Chechnya taken at the EU foreign ministers' meeting on Monday was a victory for France, Britain and Germany and a defeat for the European Commission, which wanted tougher measures. But policy towards Moscow from Brussels is haphazard and sketchy at the moment.

Russia will be the main focus of a weekend meeting which ministers plan in March in Carcassonne. Britain and France, among other states, want a carefully considered, long-term policy put in place. They are also to consider the deeper questions of how theEU should use the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) introduced by the Maastricht treaty.

How the EU turns economic influence into political weight - and, indeed, whether that is the goal - will be the subject of a heated discussion this year. Britain wants EU foreign policy to be "more effective", with more considered, better prepared discussions. That means more staff to service the Council of ministers, the meetings of government ministers. France has similar ideas. There are also likely to be proposals to lengthen the period during which countries hold the chairman's role in the EU, now set at six months, and to change the rotation so that there is always a big country on hand.

These proposals are likely to get fleshed out later this year. But they amount to little more than tinkering with the machinery. Other countries - and the European Commission - want more involvement for the supranational institutions (the Commission and the European Parliament). They are highly critical of CFSP, which they believe only functions at the lowest common denominator. They also want a reduction in national vetoes.