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A Dream Job in Brussels

Austria’s former foreign minister, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, says she has her dream job. Since last month, she’s been the Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighborhood Policy. What exactly does she do?


Working in Brussels is ideally suited for Benita Ferrero-Waldner

The “neighborhood” part of the job description is new and indicates the major focus of the work for the EU’s top diplomat. Ferrero-Waldner will be looking after all those countries who have no prospects of becoming members of the European Union in the foreseeable future. That means once the Balkans and Turkey have entered the current bloc of 25, there won’t be any more expansion for quite a while.

The unanimous view in Brussels is that the western border of the former Soviet Union will remain the eastern border of the EU. And for all those on the other side of the thresh-hold, like Ukraine or Georgia, the EU offers what it calls its Neighborhood Policy. The aim, said Ferrero-Waldner, is to create “a ring of friends” around the enlarged union.

EU Erweiterung Karte und Flagge

The latest wave of expansion on May 1, 2004, forms the EU's eastern border

“This process is crucial in order not to have dividing lines, in order to work together and in order to keep the momentum up. And I really would like to breathe new life into these partnerships with our neighbors,” she said.

Packed agenda

On her agenda are democratization efforts, economic growth and political and judicial reforms individually suited to each neighbor’s situation. The Austrian diplomat has also said she will seek more cooperation on issues of migration and fighting terrorism.

Brussels has already made good neighborly gestures to Russia, Ukraine, Israel and the Palestinian territories, and Moldova, the poorest nation in Europe. Others will follow soon, she said with a view to Mediterranean countries.


Europe looks beyond its borders to its eastern and southern neighbors

“Our intention is after this first series of seven packages to integrate a second series of partner countries into the ENP (European Neighborhood Policy). This is Egypt and Lebanon, Azerbaijan and Georgia.”

The multi-lingual commissioner aims to do more than producing theories on paper. She wants to be hands-on. The neighbor states have to indicate that want these types of action plans; nothing will be forced on them, she said.

“It’s up to them. The more countries that go this way with us, the more they’ll get in return.”

Ferrero-Waldner said there’s money waiting if they agree to work with the EU. In the next two years Brussels intends to donate €250 million ($332 million) for transport, energy and technology projects.

More than a friendly smile

Benita Ferrero-Waldner Präsidentschaftswahlen in Österreich

Before working in Brussels, Benita Ferrero-Waldner was protocol chief of the UN under former Secretary General Boutros-Boutros Ghali and then foreign minister in Austria

The 56-year old diplomat with the penchant for bright clothes and a permanent smile brings a good deal of experience with her to the job. As a former foreign minister who led Austria into the EU in 1995, she knows first hand what kinds of expectations and frustrations countries have when they work with Brussels.

Although critics may say she’s too smooth and some ministerial colleagues from her time in the Austrian government grumble that she talks a bit too much, Ferrero-Waldner has insisted that she wants to work closely with Javier Solana, the future EU foreign minister.

“She is not much of a political head, but she likes to work with other people who she can be loyal to,” said Dr. Erik Frey, a senior editor with Der Standard newspaper in Vienna. For many years that was Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and now it is Commission President Barrosso; in the future it will be Javier Solana, the coming EU foreign minister.

“She has made very clear from the start that she will work with Solana and also submit to him in many key decisions,” Frey said.

Javier Solana

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is the bloc's foreign minister in waiting

Outside Brussels there’s often puzzlement about who actually runs EU foreign policy. Until the EU Constitution comes into force and provides for an official position of EU foreign minister, which is slated to go to Solana, the current high commissioner for EU foreign affairs, the job falls across several different commissions, depending on what the focus area is.

When Solana takes on the position, Ferrero-Waldner’s job of coordinating all the foreign efforts will be scrapped. Until then, she says she’ll continue to enjoy what she considers a dream job.

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