The Guest Blog

Guest post by Dan Luca & Nienke van Leeuwaarden.

An interesting approach is taken by Stefan Lehne, visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, about the European External Action Service (EEAS). The big paradox seems to be that since the EEAS has become active – European foreign policy is less visible and effective than before its existence.

There are several technical issues, or ‘design flaws’, that Lehne addresses in his publication. But that is to be expected – transforming plans on paper to practice always needs reviewing and adapting. There are practical circumstances that one could never have foreseen whilst working out an idea on paper. These issues can be resolved in time though. For example, not every Member State has embassies all over the world – this is where the EEAS can win in effectiveness.

However, if we want Europe to be big in foreign policy, we need to take care of how this ‘Foreign Ministry’ of Europe is perceived – inside and outside the EU. The success of the EEAS not only hinges on technical issues: visibility is at least as important.

Look at Hilary Clinton – in charge of the “foreign ministry of the US” as Secretary of State, she is a well-known face across the globe. We just cannot compare her with Baroness Ashton, who is not as well-known as Europe’s ‘high representative’, although she does great work behind the scenes.

Now, with the Treaty of Lisbon, whether we like it or not, we already have four visible leaders of the EU: the president of the EU (Council), the president of the European Commission, the president of the European Parliament, and the leader of the country currently in charge via the six months rotating presidency. To push a fifth person to an external visible position – to have another leader – is difficult. We see this clearly coming forward in a survey which circulated internally in the Commission. The survey shows that Ashton’s visibility in national media is the second lowest out of all commissioners.

Granted: visibility is a challenging problem. Not in the least due to the fact that the EU is not one state – there are 27 voices, representing 27 individual national interests that need to be taken into account. It will be next to impossible for example to imagine Ashton addressing the press at the UN Security Council to speak for Europe, as Clinton does for the US. We need to find a balance to carry out one ‘European’ foreign policy, while still keeping the traditional national foreign policy channels running.

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