Europe aspires to playing a key role in world affairs. Economically, there is no doubt that it is already there. Politically, especially on foreign and security policy issues, the EU still has a ways to go.
The face of European foreign policy: Javier Solana
While European officials plot out how to better unify 25 member states into a single bloc with common foreign policy and security goals, individual governments balk at handing over too much political clout to Brussels bureaucrats. It is a constant tug-of-war with national capitals skittish about relinquishing sovereignty on such sensitive issues and committed eurocrats complaining about not having enough support from member states.
The situation is exasperated every time a prominent foreign minister begins to tackle an issue outside the EU organization. Germany's Joschka Fischer, France's Michel Barnier and Britain's Jack Straw are just three of the many foreign ministers in the freshly expanded European Union and, as is often the case in such a large institution, they don't always see eye-to-eye on an issue. Last year's dispute over support for a US-led invasion of Iraq nearly split the EU and was just one such example of where national interests could not be reconciled within the bloc.
Five years ago, Brussels foresaw many of the problems that would arise as the bloc grew and it created a quasi EU foreign minister, whose official title is the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy. In Germany, he is referred to by the German acronym for the post: GASP.
Javier Solana and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer
Mr. Gasp, as he is sometimes sarcastically called by the press, is the Spaniard, Javier Solana, who has held the job since its inception. He enjoys the respect of many national foreign ministers and is often sent to crisis regions as the EU's official negotiator.
The task of the High Representative is an extremely difficult balancing act to give the European Union a common voice in world affairs. Solana has worked to give it the direction he feels the EU needs to move forward in foreign policy goals.
"I think I know well how the European Union works," he said. "And I would like to make it more efficient in the foreign and security policy."
Although as Solana said, these are not issues that belong to the traditional core areas of the EU, they have become very important for shaping the future of the bloc.
Primarily economic interests
It wasn't until 1970 that the European Union even agreed to more cooperation on political issues. At the time the member states, which were known as the European Economic Community, primarily focused on economic, financial and trade interests. There were no common foreign policy goals, no foreign policy instruments and there was no vision of a European identity within the international community. Indicative of the situation, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973 coined the phrase: "If I want to talk to Europe, who do I call?"
Some 20 years later, at their watershed summit in Maastricht, EU leaders -- at least on paper -- finally agreed to work toward achieving a common foreign and security policy. But no instruments for doing so were created until 1999 when Javier Solana became Mr. GASP.
Real time action
"One of the most important things the European Union has to do is act in real time," Solana said recently about the feasibility of 25 member states working together. "If you have a crisis, a political problem in the world, and you do not deal with it rapidly, you waste time, money and perhaps even human lives."
But despite all Solana's efforts otherwise, national interests in Europe still tend to take priority over a common EU policy, as the conflict in Iraq showed.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan (left) and Solana are champions of multilateralism.
Solana is realistic and knows that the EU is not a single country and may never act as one. He understands that the rules and instruments of a single state cannot simply be duplicated on the EU level. Nonetheless, he remains optimistic about the chances of forging a single European policy for foreign affairs, even when the public perception of Mr. GASP is less than that of his colleagues in Berlin, Paris and London.
Progressing by meters and kilometers
Solana also knows that things take time in the EU. "The European Union is an organization that sometimes advances by meters and sometimes by kilometers," he said. With the new EU Constitution, the Spaniard sees the bloc jumping ahead by several kilometers.
"The EU is not a country, it remains an organization, a complex institution in which 25 states can have a common foreign and security policy."
If adopted, Europe's first Constitution will establish a real EU foreign minister position, which. Javier Solana is expected to fill. But the proof is in the praxis. It remains to be seen if Brussels can bundle together the various contravening interests under a common denominator, or whether national interests and national politicians will continue to dictate Europe's future road.