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The Convention and Common Foreign and Security Policy

Security policy / WORKING PAPER
Fraser Cameron

Date: 18/03/2003
The Convention on the Future of Europe has been discussing the European Union’s (EU) common foreign and security policy (CFSP) against the background of the Iraqi crisis and the threat of international terrorism, two issues which have exposed deep divisions between Member States and between the EU and the United States (US). Speaking on 27 February 2003, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing stated that mutual trust had been shaken and the Iraqi crisis had cast a long shadow over the work of the Convention. Many editorials questioned whether the Union should bother with CFSP. Some observers suggested that it should be put into cold storage or simply concentrate on the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. Both suggestions are wrong.

The CFSP has made steady progress since its inception almost a decade ago in very difficult circumstances. It survived a baptism of fire in the Balkans and gradually began to develop common positions and policies on a wide range of geographical (e.g. Middle East) and functional (e.g. arms control) issues. The parallel European security and defence policy (ESDP) started later when the European Council agreed in 1999 to create a rapid reaction force (RRF) due to be fully operational by the end of this year. Over most external issues the Member States do agree and speak, more or less, with one voice.

Throughout the 1990s CFSP structures developed gradually. The Treaty of Amsterdam established a High Representative for CFSP and a new political and security committee (COPS) to provide overall guidance and direction. But criticism of the CFSP and ESDP continued on both sides of the Atlantic. On the CFSP front, critics pointed to the tendency of the Union to issue declarations about foreign policy rather than take concrete actions. Differences between Member States were often covered up by accepting the lowest common policy denominator. The decision-making process was cumbersome and difficult because of the unanimity rule. On the ESDP front, critics argued that most Member States were not serious about spending money on defence capabilities or restructuring their armed forces.

It was against this critical background and uncertain international situation that the Convention began its deliberations on CFSP and ESDP. The discussions both in plenary and in the two separate working groups reflected the wide divergence of views between the Member States. These differences were not easy to categorise because the disputes did not simply reflect stereotype ‘Atlanticist’ versus ‘European’ views, nor large versus small Member States, nor protagonists of the intergovernmental versus community methods of business. The discussions rather reflected a lack of consensus on what role the Union should play in world affairs, whether it should have a NATO article V type solidarity clause, whether it should speak with one voice and if so who should be that voice. It was not surprising therefore that the conclusions of the working group on external affairs were widely regarded as modest. In contrast, the conclusions of the working group on defence were slightly more ambitious.

As a result of the disarray between Member States on Iraq, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing announced on 28 February that revised treaty articles on CFSP would not be introduced until May. When the Convention does begin drafting treaty articles on CFSP and ESDP it is difficult to believe that bureaucratic changes alone will compensate for lack of EU clarity and consensus on some of the most fundamental issues of foreign and security policy. This wider debate has yet to start. But paradoxically the public disarray over Iraq may act as a stimulant for such a debate. This Working Paper reviews the debate in the Convention to date and proposes some reforms to make CFSP/ESDP more effective in the knowledge that the decisive element will remain the political will to act together.

Read the full paper here

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