A certain nostalgia is emerging for the days when Javier Solana, the EU’s elusive high representative for foreign affairs and security, was in charge. He, at least, was seen from time to time, at international meetings and the Eurospeak-laden press conferences he ‘hosted’. The European External Action Service was created over three months ago to provide the EU the unified voice it lacked and its boss, Catherine Ashton has been remarkably…absent. Absent – or overshadowed by other European leaders – in the changing Arab world, absent in Japan, absent in Libya and absent in Lampedusa. What needs to happen for Ms Ashton and the EEAS to come out of the woods? A war in its own backyard? The invasion of the UK?
Member states, who of course chose Ms Ashton to act exactly as she has, each follow their own agenda – the creation of a joint army by France and the UK, who together sought UN approval to take action against Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and France’s recent military action alongside Alassane Ouattara’s troops in Ivory Coast are two recent examples among many.
Let’s face it: taxpayer money spent on the EEAS is money thrown out the window. The service’s €570 million annual budget for civil, military and humanitarian action – action yet to be seen – could be spent more effectively. Timid and voiceless, the service discreetly bows out to the Union’s national governments, which defend their own turf. This despite the fact that timidity, Lady Ashton, was not among the principles brandished by the EU’s founding fathers!
The EU can either accept this shortcoming and adapt – by abandoning its pursuit of a common foreign policy worthy of the name – or say no, and take a new approach. European diplomacy boarded a train which until now has taken it nowhere, conducted by an engineer who, lacking in courage and initiative, should hand over the controls to a more inspired candidate before the train reaches the station. Anyone?