Members tussle over EU foreign policy supremo

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The Independent Online
A debate is hotting up in France and Germany over how to forge a common European Union foreign policy, and whether to appoint a "Mr Europe" to represent the EU to the rest of the world. France is keen to create the post of a high representative for foreign affairs, but Germany's ruling Christian Democrats (CDU) rejected the proposal in a position paper issued last Monday.

Despite having established a common foreign and security policy under the Maastricht treaty, the EU's 15 member states frequently fail to speak with one voice. Thus the EU was unable to agree a common position on recent United States attacks on Iraq, since Germany and Britain supported the action, while France was more critical.

President Jacques Chirac of France annoyed Italy, when it held the EU presidency earlier this year, by sending his foreign minister on a Middle East peace mission without an EU mandate. When one country breaks ranks, the effect is to diminish the authority of the "troika", the three foreign ministers who represent the EU on foreign affairs, bringing together the past, present and future EU presidents.

Disunity among governments is matched by what many regard as the inefficiency of the European Commission, which spreads responsibility for foreign affairs among four Commissioners - one for Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, one for North America and the Far East, one for North Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and South-east Asia, and one for Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific.

To improve procedures, the French are suggesting there should be one commissioner for foreign affairs, who would join a new high representative for foreign affairs and the foreign minister of the country holding the EU presidency.

The CDU paper dismisses the idea of having a high representative, saying it would complicate the already cumbersome EU decision-making process. However, in other respects the CDU's ideas are close to those of the French government.

The CDU says the new "troika" should group a commissioner for foreign affairs, the foreign minister of the country holding the EU presidency, and the secretary-general responsible for foreign affairs at the European council of foreign ministers. Two of these appear identical to those of the French.

However, the CDU seems to be keener than the French on expanding the commission's foreign-policy role. Elmar Brok, a CDU foreign-policy adviser to Chancellor Helmut Kohl, said greater commission involvement would reduce the ability of national governments to pursue their own interests at the expense of the EU as a whole.

The commission's role and the issue of whether to have a "Mr Europe" continue to divide EU member states, but there is broad agreement among the 15 to set up a planning and co- ordination unit for foreign policy. This body would be unlikely to have real powers, but it could help the EU identify its interests when in a crisis.