German Foreign Minster Joschka Fischer has long been a staunch European federalist. Now, as the European Union debates the merits of a common foreign policy, he could become the EU's first foreign minister.
The first EU foreign minister?
An EU constitutional convention led by former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing last week presented a blueprint for reforming the Union’s major institutions in time for its expansion by 10 new countries next year.
Besides revamping the EU’s rotating presidency and streamlining the European Commission, one of the convention’s key proposals calls for the creation of a European foreign minister to conduct the bloc's common foreign, security and defense policies.
And although the job doesn’t yet exist, Germany's Joschka Fischer, who has made no secret that he yearns for a wider international stage, is already being touted for the position.
“More than anything Europe needs a foreign policy engine room, led by a European foreign minister,” Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker told the Reutlinger Generalanzeiger newspaper in an interview on Friday. “(Fischer) would be an excellent choice for it.”
Despite being consistently rated as Germany’s most popular politician, Fischer doesn't seem content to stick to the domestic political scene. As Germany took the presidency of the U.N. Security Council earlier this year at the height of the Iraq crisis, it was clear the leading politician from the Green party relished the international limelight.
With his strong federalist credentials, a top foreign policy job in Brussels would appear to fit perfectly with Fischer’s ambitions. Indeed, shortly after taking over the helm of the German foreign office in 1999, he made clear he hoped to eventually make his job “superfluous, by replacing it with a European foreign minister.”
Crucial to determining to Fischer’s future professional plans could be a meeting of EU foreign ministers on the Greek island of Rhodes this weekend. Besides discussing a recent controversial defense summit attended by four EU members, the politicians are also expected to stake out positions for the constitutional convention, which will offer its proposals in June.
Fischer on Rhodes, Greece.
“This informal meeting allows us to have a real open debate, let off some steam and delve into the issues in much greater depth," Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou told the Reuters news agency.
Backing from abroad
According to the newsmagazine Der Spiegel, the German Foreign Ministry is already working out under what conditions Fischer -- who reportedly already has backing from Britain and France -- would be prepared to leave Berlin for the top diplomatic post in Brussels.
In an attempt to avoid future internal EU divisions over issues such as the war in Iraq, Giscard and others have proposed endowing the foreign minister position with considerable power and funding. The candidate would likely be chosen by EU leaders but would have a seat on the executive European Commission. The job would also meld the posts held by EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten and Javier Solana, the union’s representative for foreign policy.
A “European Foreign Office” with a beefed up budget would then control the 300 officials currently under Patten. The roughly 130 EU offices around the world would also be upgraded to embassies.
But such grand schemes could quickly fall apart if EU states are unable to stay united over divisive foreign policy issues such as Iraq. Fischer, perhaps realizing this, remains coy when asked directly about his ambitions, remarking only that he is “quite happy” at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin.