European unity was a dream of a few people. It became a hope for many. Today it is a necessity for all of us. It is, ladies and gentlemen, necessary for our security, for our freedom, for our existence as a nation and as an intellectual and creative international community”. Former German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer, one of the founding fathers of the EU, understood the scope and benefits of a European unity in as early as 1954. What started with the establishment of a European coal and steel community (ECSC) in the aftermath of World War II, primarily aimed at ensuring control over these two industries, led to more than half of a century of unprecedented peaceful cooperation and increasing economic and political power on the European continent.
The course for European unification policy was set by the Schuman Declaration, named after the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman, and the corresponding Treaty of Paris that was adopted by Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands in 1952. The Roman Treaty in 1957, the “Single European Act” in 1987, and the Treaties of Maastricht (1992), Amsterdam (1997), Nice (2000) and Lisbon (2007) are all milestones on the path away from war and conflict and towards stabilization, providing the EC – which became the EU – with strengthened institutions and broader responsibilities. Since the foundation of the ECSC, the European member countries expanded from 6 to 27, with more waiting to join.
“If I want to talk to Europe, who do I phone?” (Henry Kissinger, 1970s)
Today, the EU is the largest exporter and importer in the world, and five of the top nine exporting countries in the world are European (Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands). Its commercial success notwithstanding, many analysts criticize that it remains an economic power only and lacks a clear and stable common foreign policy. The fact that most EU member states still consider their peers as rivals often prevents the EU from becoming a framework for action in foreign policy issues. Ironically, the more important the issue, the more divided the positions. In the years following September 2001, the European divergence over the invasion of Iraq clearly showcased the limits of the EU’s common foreign and defense policy.
The Lisbon Treaty was designed to channel this multi-actor process and implement a more consistent and assertive EU external policy by creating the position of a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. As such, Catherine Ashton seeks to coordinate the intergovernmental and “community” dimensions of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. “We need to defend Europe’s interests and project Europe’s values in a more coherent and effective way”, argues Ashton. A new EU diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service (EEAS), which was officially launched in December 2010, brings together the different EU action instruments and will also have a major influence over development policy as one of the main pillars of external policy, setting overall strategies for the EU’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget.
The EU’s development aid budget
The EU is the world’s largest aid donor, its member states and the European Commission together allocating about 50 percent of the world’s foreign aid. With the loss of development policy’s independent status, the main concern for those ringing the alarm bell are the often competing priorities in external policy. Public debates accompanying the launch of the EEAS highlighted that the poverty focus of EU development cooperation may be undermined by foreign policy-makers, whose primary objective is to safeguard the interests of European citizens. Although the Lisbon treaty accords poverty eradication a primary role, many EU experts emphasize the risk that development funds could be used for short-term foreign policy objectives at the expense of long-term development goals.
Following long negotiations, the European Parliament achieved that development cooperation will be programmed jointly by the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the Commission, but the responsibility for the EU’s development policy remains with Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Hence, this supranational “community” method ensures that decisions can be taken more transparently and democratically than in an intergovernmental system. As Piebalgs puts it, “development rightly finds its place at the head and heart of EU external action worldwide”.
Important prerequisites for the EEAS
During the current transition period, it is still too soon to judge whether the full implications of the new framework will enable external relations, development and foreign policies to complement each other, or whether the new system will create more tensions. In order for the EEAS to develop its full potential and deliver real added value, it needs to facilitate coordination among donors. “Unsatisfactory coordination between different actions and policies means that the EU loses potential leverage internationally, both politically and economically”, declared the Commission in a communication to the European Council. A recent Commission study revealed that between €3 billion – 6 billion (or 10% of the total EU budget) dedicated to development aid is wasted each year.
Furthermore, the EEAS will need to play a major role in managing policy linkages between development objectives and European economic and security interests, once priorities and core objectives have been determined by the member states. This process will be monitored by the Commission who will ensure that ODA instruments are used appropriately and transparently.
These are all medium-term or long-term processes, and judgments of success or failure cannot be made at this point. It is certain, however, that the new framework offers an exciting chance for the EU to move towards enhancing policy coherence for development and external relations.