. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

France Seeks to Pare EU's 'Troika'

PARIS -- France, seeking to build a more coherent common European foreign and security policy, has proposed streamlining the ungainly "troika" that represents the European Union in world affairs, senior French officials say.


The aim is to give the EU's embryonic foreign policy more consistency and come closer to giving foreign countries a single European interlocutor with a telephone number in Brussels.


At present, the 15-nation union is represented in foreign affairs by the so-called troika of the present, past and future holders of its six-month rotating presidency -- currently Ireland, Italy and the Netherlands.


The French idea, floated by European Affairs Minister Michel Barnier in EU reform negotiations last week, is for an improved troika comprising the presidency, the European Commission's external relations commissioner, and a "high representative" to coordinate and personify a common foreign and security policy.


EU members broadly agree that the current Intergovernmental Conference on institutional reform should give birth to a foreign policy coordinator, whom Paris dubs "Monsieur PESC" after the French acronym for Common Foreign and Security Policy.


But while France seeks a high-profile political figure reporting to the European Council -- the summit of EU leaders -- Germany would prefer a lower-key secretary-general for foreign and security policy, and Britain wants a faceless civil servant.


The French idea would give the troika greater permanence, since the foreign affairs commissioner and Monsieur PESC would each serve a four-year term. Only the presidency would change every six months.


One condition would be that the European Commission had a single commissioner responsible for external affairs, instead of the four who currently share different aspects of the portfolio.


Senior French officials say the EU looks ridiculous when it deals with issues such as Cyprus because of the multiplicity of special envoys and individual initiatives by member states.


France's partners say Paris has contributed mightily to that confusion by sending its own foreign minister without an EU mandate to mediate between Israel and Lebanon in April, and by distancing itself from U.S. strikes on Iraq in contrast to most EU states.


The French respond that a common EU foreign policy does not yet exist, and that even when it does, it will never be a "single European foreign policy" excluding national initiatives.


French officials say initial response to Barnier's troika idea was favorable. However, some EU diplomats said it could encounter resistance from smaller member states who fear their voice in a common foreign policy would be diminished if they sat in the troika for only six months instead of 18 months at present.


Barnier has also privately floated a more radical idea for merging over time the EU's foreign policy think tank with the secretariat of the Western European Union defense body, grouping 10 of the 15 EU states.


In the long term, Barnier believes Monsieur PESC should wear a double hat, also serving as secretary-general of the WEU. That idea would be anathema to Britain, which rejects any EU control over defense policy.