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EU: Foreign Ministers Again Unable To Agree On Policies

Munich, 7 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Meeting this weekend in the Austrian city of Salzburg, European Union foreign ministers demonstrated once again their inability to agree on a joint foreign and security policy.

The meeting was to highlight Austria's six-month's presidency of the European Union. But analysts say that it failed to do so.

The EU foreign ministers are criticized for failing to take a stronger stand on many issues, particularly on the Russian crisis. They warned Russia against a return to a command economy and said the EU was ready to assist the Russian economy, but there were few suggestions on what form this help could take.

German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel told German correspondents that the EU was ready to help wherever it could but it was "important to restore the lost confidence in Russia" itself before taking major action.

In concrete terms, the EU agreed to send a number of high officials from several EU countries to Moscow this week and to despatch the foreign ministers of Austria, Germany and Britain once the Duma approves a prime minister.

A German TV commentator said: "it is doubtful what the despatch of foreign ministers and civil servants can do in practical terms to help the Russian recovery. It does demonstrate to the Russians that other countries are concerned but little more"

The EU foreign ministers also discussed aid for the Kosovo refugees and other victims of the crisis. France and Germany proposed a program to assist refugees in returning to their home villages. At least one German TV commentator noted that many Kosovo refugees feared persecution if they returned home in the present situation.

German foreign minister Klaus Kinkel suggested that Europe should follow the American example and send a special envoy to Kosovo. Kinkel told reporters that he believed Europe "can and must show the flag much more in Kosovo." He said it was "not right" to leave the field only to the U.S. The German foreign minister told reporters that Europe had made "tremendous efforts," both military and financial, to bring peace to Bosnia and its commitment to peace and stability there should not be placed in doubt by anyone." But in the end, the foreign ministers again could not agree on what should be done and finally announced that a decision would be made later.

Several German commentators on the Salzburg meeting criticized the foreign ministers for once again failing to overcome the internal jealousies delaying the appointment of a so-called "High representative", who will have the right to speak for all of Europe on foreign policy and security issues. A statement merely said the situation would "clarified" by November and a decision should be taken at the EU summit in Vienna in December.

The decision to appoint a High Representative (or EU General Secretary as he is sometimes called) was made by the EU more than a year ago. Partly it was a response to U.S. complaints that when an international crisis developed there was no single person whom the U.S. could contact to discuss Europe's position. Instead the U.S. State Department has to contact all 15 members of the European Union individually.

A German newspaper, the "Sueddeutsche Zeitung" published in Munich, said today the discussions had fallen to the low level of internal quarrels over whether the proposed High Representative should have 20 or 30 assistants.