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No common policy

Riegert, Bernd / bw
August 29, 2014

The European Union is in desperate need of a unified foreign policy as well as a strong foreign minister, veteran EU parliamentarian and foreign committee head Elmar Brok tells DW.


EU foreign ministers will gather Friday for their regular two-day informal meeting, this time in Milan under Italian presidency. Elmar Brok, Chairman of the European Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs, will be partaking in the meetings.

DW: Considering the numerous crises surrounding the EU - Iraq, Syria, Libya, Gaza and, first and foremost, Ukraine and Russia - is the EU overwhelmed when it comes to international affairs?

Elmar Brok: Well, it is not that well developed. The European External Action Service has been up and running for five years and has made great progress. Yet we know that this is not enough. We have no sufficient analysis. We have no unified strategy. How can we, for example, find a lasting solution to the Ukraine question if we, in a thorough sense, have no common Russia strategy? We don't know how we should deal with dictators and Islamist movements in the Islamic and Arab worlds. In addition to pressing questions such as weapons supplies to the Kurds and supporting the Ukrainians in their negotiations with Russia, I believe the informal gathering of foreign ministers should develop a strategy on how we can deal with the challenges in our neighborhood.

The EU has a foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who appears now and then, but she normally stays in the background. The foreign policy tone is often set by the national ministers, particularly the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the French foreign minister, sometimes the British, sometimes the Polish. Is Europe well organized in a foreign policy sense??

In the last five years there have been positive developments, but more needs to be done, the glass is only half full. I believe that these dramatic challenges we have show that we must evolve much more. It is clear to everyone that undiscussed national measures are merely a drop in the bucket. Europe can only be of significance value when its actions are united and when actions are backed by its united economic force.

Do you see a readiness on the part of the 28 European foreign ministers to discuss this question?

Of course, there is sometimes a problem when it comes to which roll each one will play. I believe we need to have an overall discussion about where the added value is. The results have to be right. We have to break away from certain traditions. Everyone has to realize that even the foreign policies of large nations like Great Britain, France, or Germany have their limits, and they are only effective when implemented together. According to opinion polls, 70 percent of the population would like a unified foreign and security policy. I hope that this can be implemented in a practical sense.

Elmar Brok / EU-Parlament / CDU / EVP
Image: dapd

Take the decision to deliver weapons to the Kurds in Iraq as an example. The EU couldn't reach a common position and each member was permitted to act as it chose. Is that a model for future decisions?

Not everyone needs to do something all the time, but the decisions need to be discussed and organized together. It's good that the decision to deliver such weapons is in the scope of the EU, but who is coordinating it? The member states are coordinating again with each other with the limited possibilities that exist. I think this is a clear indication that Brussels has to take more initiative and develop its capabilities.

The European Parliament has often given different responses than the foreign minister to certain questions. How big in reality is her influence on the sum of these national foreign policies?

There is an interplay, but we are of course better off because of it. If it is serious, the Council of Foreign Ministers must always decide unanimously while we have the possibility of a majority decision in the European Parliament. That shows that the EU foreign policy chief, who is also vice president of the EU Commission, must assume stronger leadership with her organization. Despite the unanimity, she must generate pressure with suggestions that force the Council to move forward and not only search for the least common denominator. That is one of our most pressing challenges for the new term.

On Saturday, the EU heads of state and government will at a special summit, appoint Ashton's successor as foreign policy chief. Italy has nominated their rather inexperienced foreign minister Federica Mogherini. Would she be the right choice?

We have also made other suggestions. We must determine: The Christian Democrat Jean-Claude Juncker will be President of the European Commission, so the Socialists have access to the post. The socialists have agreed on Ms. Mogherini. We see there is some concern over her lack of experience. If that now is inescapable on account of the Socialists' politics, then we will express clear conditions. Ms. Mogherini has a decided advantage over Ms. Ashton. She has the support of her own government, whereas Ms. Ashton, as Labour politician, has had to deal with a euro-skeptic regime in Great Britain that hinders more than supports her.

The eastern European member states suggest that Ms. Mogherini is too friendly toward Russia. I remember claims from Lithuania, that she would never be approved. Is it possible to put Mogherini in place against the wishes of Russia's neighboring states?

She has been told clearly that she must alleviate these concerns and that has been made clear to her. That is made clear first and foremost in the Italian presidency's paper concerning eastern European policies. I believe that she can and will make her position clear. I assume that she will also do that at the informal meeting of foreign ministers.

After the rather colorless Ms. Ashton, is a strong personality needed? Who would you suggest?

Yes, I would suggest Radek Sikorski (Polish foreign minister) or Carl Bildt (Swedish foreign minister) or Elizabeth Guigou (former minister) from France. But it can't be one of us Christian Democrats because the Socialists are claiming the post for themselves. The Socialists must also make it clear, that they now have the responsibility to suggest a strong personality. They are also required to give this person the necessary space to ensure that the successor is in a stronger position than Ms. Ashton was.

Elmar Brok (CDU) is Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament. The 68-year-old German has been a member of the European Parliament since 1980.

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