EU foreign ministers are concerned about the bloc's role on the global stage. During a meeting in Copenhagen, the debate focused on the EU's waning influence and its foreign policy towards Syria and Iran.
A closer look at the bloc's diplomatic services was to be on the agenda when EU foreign ministers met for two days of informal talks in Copenhagen: establishing joint embassies abroad as well as making better use of the fledgling External Action Service (EAD) - at least according to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
When asked by reporters at the outset of the gathering about her choice of topics in the face of mounting violence in Syria, Ashton - who has been in charge of the EU's new external action service since its inception two years ago - was unperturbed. The EU, she said, has expressed a joint point of view on Syria and was trying to push diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis.
Room for improvement
Ashton faces quite some criticism of what is perceived as her lack of initiative. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe criticised her diplomatic efforts, calling for better policy coordination. "We must improve the workings of the European external action service and the way they mix with diplomatic efforts of union members," he said
Poland's Minister for Europe, Mikolaj Dowgielewicz on the other hand, urged more patience. "Don't forget, the EAD is still a tiny baby, it has to grow and become more visible and stronger." Finland's Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja declared it is not Ashton's fault, nor is the EAD to blame - it's the member states, whose willingness to cooperate is waning.
"What we are actually losing is relevance. Who listens to the EU?" Tuomioja said.
A European president?
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said he was content with Ashton's work, but concerned about European policies becoming more national. He warned that Europe could only assert itself worldwide if it continues to develop further. In order to strengthen common ground, Westerwelle called for a European president, elected by the people, and a European constitution. He brushed aside objections that such projects were far in the future. "We should start this discussion now - if 500 million people are involved, it'll take a few years."
Hoping for a change of heart
On Syria, Westerwelle said "the process of disintegration of the Assad regime has begun."
But Westerwelle rejected military intervention. "We need to avoid a large-scale fire," he said. Speaking on the sidelines of the Copenhagen meeting, Westerwelle also addressed Russia's repeated veto in the UN Security Council of a resolution critical of Syria. "I hope Russia has a clearer view of the situation after the elections," the German foreign minister said.
His colleague from Luxemburg, Jean Asselborn said it would be a fatal mistake if Russia and China continue to block such a resolution.
Austria's Michael Spindelegger said he hoped it would soon be possible to provide food and medicine to people in lulls between the fighting - which is only possible if all sides agree. He cautioned against providing military backing for such aid and said it was too soon to support the Syrian opposition because it is divided. "First, we have to find out who the Syrian opposition are," Spindelegger said.
Rattling sabres irritate Europeans
With regard to Iran's nuclear ambitions, Guido Westerwelle remarked it was in Teheran's hands to avert sanctions by reviving sincere high-level talks and not abusing talks for "propaganda purposes." The EU is determined to prevent nuclear armament in Iran, he said.
But here, too, Westerwelle rejected military intervention, distancing himself from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has raised the possibility of an attack.
Such comments could easily weaken international sanctions, Westerwelle said. "The more you talk about military scenarios in public, the less likely it is that other countries will sign up for sanctions," he said.
Author: Christoph Hasselbach / db
Editor: Neil King