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EU: Brussels Pursuing Steps To Patch Its Tattered Common Foreign Policy

The fragility of the European Union's common foreign and security policy has been demonstrated by the split among EU members over the war in Iraq. Some of the members did not even fulfill their obligation to consult with their EU partners before taking up sharply opposing positions. The common-policy project now lies in tatters. The Europeans are, however, moving to heal the wounds, although everyone knows that it will be a slow process. One idea seen as helping reanimate European integration in the long term is a proposal to create EU embassies around the world.

Prague, 2 April 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Forging one clear message from a babel of voices is no easy matter. Yet that is just what the European Union is trying to do. It is seeking to speak with one voice in foreign policy and security matters, a task that many would think of as almost impossible given the historical preoccupation with national diplomacy among the European nation-states.

Certainly, the skeptics have the upper hand at present. The bitter wrangling among members over Iraq -- most notably among France, Germany, Spain, and Britain -- has split the EU and virtually halted development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) after several promising years.

Some say the CFSP is gone forever. The idea was never practical anyway, they say, because the EU states, with their widely differing backgrounds and interests, were never likely to agree on all major foreign-policy issues, no matter how intensely they consulted. The skeptics note that the accession next year of 10 new member states, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, will immensely complicate the job of speaking with one voice.

But then, say the supporters of integration, look how well economic cooperation has developed in the EU in the past five decades. The EU, with its integrated market, is now one of the world's great economic powers.

Recognizing the time taken to get so far in economic matters, integrationists are seeking to lay the groundwork for a similarly slow accretion of so-called Europeanness in foreign-policy matters.

One move in this direction is the proposal to create full embassies for the European Union around the world and also to create a European diplomatic academy. The proposal is from a working group of the Convention on the Future of Europe, which is now preparing the first constitution for the EU.

Brussels-based analyst Dana Spinant sees merit in the proposal, saying that a future European diplomatic culture needs to focus on union politics, not on national politics.

Spinant, who is deputy editor of the weekly "European Voice," said that without genuine EU embassies and diplomats, it will be difficult to forge a unified perception of international affairs and thus also to form an effective common foreign policy. "They [the diplomats] all see the world through national eyes, and we need to achieve convergence of political visions in order to get to a European perception of the outside world," Spinant said.

The EU's commissioner for institutional reform, Michel Barnier, supports this view. He said tools and time are needed to create what he called a "European reflex." And he said the first of these tools should be "a common diplomatic culture."

Spinant said that in order to foster this, the EU needs to change its image. "The European Union should stop being perceived as a bureaucracy, where civil servants manage some obscure programs. If instead it can be seen as an attraction for diplomats, it could move into [what you might call] the privileged circle, attracting the best diplomatic minds of the member states," Spinant said.

Another analyst, Kirsty Hughes of the Centre for European Policy Studies in Brussels, finds the prospect of a European diplomacy academy positive. "At the moment, in trying to build the CFSP, you are bringing together diplomats from all the different national services. Now, [it's true that] some of these diplomats are these days permanently based in Brussels, but that [move] is only [now getting under way]. Whereas if what you had across the world was many hundreds, even thousands, of people who are 'European' diplomats, this would create a large corps of people who were thinking in a more 'European' mentality," Hughes said.

The new EU embassies would not be meant to replace the embassies of the individual member states. However, Spinant said the smaller countries, including the Eastern newcomers, might in future choose to be represented by the EU embassy in some third countries rather than to have the expense of keeping open their own diplomatic missions there.

The infrastructure for a chain of EU embassies already exists. The European Commission has representative offices in all major world capitals. These offices deal strictly with commission business. They do not function as embassies.

Spinant finds the embassies proposal an important one, saying: "It is not only good but essential for European integration, because I think we have reached a level of economic integration after which we have to match it with political integration, otherwise the EU will stagnate and will risk being a very well-regulated free-trade area."