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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EUROFILE: EU Members Fail to Forge Foreign Policy




Not for the first time, the European Union's ability to forge a common response to a major international security crisis is in question. As the prospect of a U.S.-led military strike against Iraq draws closer, the EU's 15 member-states are speaking with so many different voices that the idea of a common European foreign policy seems pure fantasy.


Things are perhaps not quite as bad as that. Should the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton proceed with military action, it is a reasonable bet that almost all EU states, even France, will -- to varying degrees -- offer their support.


Germany, Italy and Spain have indicated that, in the event of war, they will provide logistical help as well as diplomatic backing for the United States. Britain has gone much further by making clear that it will not hesitate to fight side by side with the United States.


But as the Iraq crisis has built up, there has been no common EU policy worth speaking of. Worse still, the EU, sensitive to its internal divisions, has spent much of its time hiding in a corner in an evident attempt to avoid having to fashion such a policy.


The EU's 15 foreign ministers have held no emergency meetings to discuss what to do about Saddam Hussein's defiance of the United Nations. The subject does not even appear to have figured at the top of regular EU ministerial meetings.


Britain currently holds the EU's rotating six-month presidency. But most of its EU allies feel that British Prime Minister Tony Blair went too far during his recent visit to Washington in emphasizing his unqualified support for the hardening U.S. stance toward Iraq.


German diplomats said Blair had forgotten his responsibilities and should have made more of an effort to reflect the views of all 15 EU states. To which one can only ask: What matters most? Doing something about Saddam, or avoiding doing something in order to maintain EU unity?


It is extraordinary but true that, apart from Britain and perhaps Portugal, the strongest expression of support in Europe for U.S. policy has come from Poland -- a non-EU member.


Naturally, there is an element of self-interest at work here. Poland is yearning to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization so badly that it will do virtually anything to earn U.S. favor. Still, the Polish support is welcome.


The problem for the EU is not that it is congenitally incapable of developing a common foreign policy. If foreign trade is treated as an aspect of foreign policy, then the EU is usually highly effective at speaking with one voice.


But the bigger the crises grow, and the more military and political they become in nature, the more apparent is the EU's disunity. The most glaring recent example was the EU's role in the wars of the Yugoslav succession.


On such difficult issues, there is no escaping the frequent inability of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain -- the EU's "big five" -- to agree. Yet at the moment, the EU can just about live with that.


It may be a different matter after next January, when the EU launches its currency union. It is difficult to think of a historical example of a group of countries that successfully operated a currency union while being incapable of pursuing a common foreign policy.