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11. 5. 2010 12:47

Strengthening EU´s global role

The Korean Times z 11. května 2010. (text je k dispozici pouze v angličtině)

By Juraj Chmiel

The political and economic shifts in recent years saw the emergence of a much more complex and much more demanding international environment.

New important actors - foremost from all corners of Asia - driven by their economic strength have been steadily challenging the established patterns of the international order for already some time.

Prompted by these fast paced changes an overarching consensus has gradually emerged among the European Union policymakers about the need to strengthen the track record of the 27 members block on the external action front and especially in foreign policy.

Despite some tangible achievements, most notably the two successive enlargements of the European Union that have changed Europe's post-Cold War political landscape, when also my country - the Czech Republic - joined the European Union in 2004, the EU's overall performance in the external realm falls short of its potential.

Consequently, the gap between the expectations EU's potential creates, and its actual capabilities when it comes to realizing its foreign policy objectives, has been considerably wide.

High hopes to help inject a more powerful fuel into the 27 member's bloc performance on the global stage were attached to the Lisbon Treaty - a new modus operandi of the enlarged European Union, whose membership almost doubled over the past six years.

The Lisbon Treaty finally came to life in the European Union on Dec. 1, 2009, following almost eight years of intense ``labor pains" and some last minute complications at birth, demonstrating the complexity of the functioning of a 27 member states union.

I believe, it was all well worth the efforts. By uniting the European Union's platforms for coordination of external affairs, the Lisbon Treaty should strengthen its ability not only to act, but also to deliver the results of its actions.

The treaty also rationalizes the nature of the European Union's external representation, making it more ``legible" to external partners.

Instead of the complicated combinations of the Foreign Policy Troikas, making it hard to decode ``who is who" for anyone outside of the EU, two permanent figures have been representing the EU externally already for several months now - the new EU's chief diplomat, the High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Baroness Ashton and the new permanent President Herman van Rompuy.

Furthermore, the role of the High Representative will be backed up by the so called European Union External Action Service that resembles national style diplomacies, but with one crucial difference.

Unlike those, the new ``EU's diplomatic service" should represent not one, but all the 27 member countries of the European Union acting as a link between the seats of major EU bodies - Brussels - and the individual capitals of each member state.

However, at present, with the member states and its institutions heavily preoccupied with the riddle of translating the possibilities the Lisbon Treaty opens up for the EU into practical terms, I consider it vital to raise the following points:

First, the Lisbon Treaty provides some solid tools for tuning up the EU's external actions. Yet, it is still just the means and not the ends to our goals. Having the right tools is one thing, knowing what we want to do with them is quite another.

It is therefore absolutely essential to finally start a long-overdue discussion among the member states and the new High Representative as well as new permanent President what role we want the EU to play internationally.

The EU administers the largest development aid budget in the world, has pulled off 23 crisis missions into world hot spots in Africa, the Caucasus, the Middle East, and the Balkans and enjoys considerable influence over its neighborhood.

Moreover, the EU's objectives on the external front are wrapped up by the appeal of its single market, the size of which makes the EU the world's largest trading block.

However, even this does not always seem to do the trick. Because the foreign policy the EU pursues at present resembles more of a series of ad-hoc moves without a clear direction.

The foreign policy it needs must represent a decisive yet inclusive strategy to which each of us, the member states, is willing to subscribe. This is more easily said than done, of course.

Attuning the 27 different views of what the EU common foreign policy should look like, is a tough job, and not just for the new EU foreign policy chief Ashton, everyone has to be on board. A lot is at stake I am afraid.

Unless the EU agrees on a common direction based on which it crafts as a meaningful foreign policy strategy ``en block," it will continue punching below its weight - regardless of the potential of the Lisbon Treaty.

Secondly, foreign policy does not happen in a vacuum. In the world in which economic strength is a key determinant of individual countries' global standing, the EU will be able to assure a more heavy-weight role for itself on the international stage only if it gets the economic pillar underpinning its influence right.

At the March European Council the discussion among the heads of European governments kicked off the final stage of preparations of the EU's joint economic strategy for the next decade - ``Europe 2020 Strategy."

The global competition is tough and ever more sophisticated, yet the EU's initial respond to it is too lame. Before it is too late, we have to come to terms with the fact that the EU's future economic success has to be built on our success in the strengthening of our economic competitiveness and stimulating the business environment, rather than on the reinforcement of subsidies for our agriculture policy.

Furthermore, I have already mentioned the appeal of the European Union single market. Its size harbors an enormous potential for the EU that needs to be further unfolded when it comes to both, removing the last existing barriers internally, within the EU as well as vis-a-vis important trading partners.

The Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and the Republic of Korea that is the most far reaching trade agreement with a third country is an important step in the right direction in this respect.

With its value estimated as more than 30 billion euros in new business opportunities, the Free Trade Agreement removes practically all existing tariffs and a vast majority of non-tariff barriers between the EU and the Korean economies as well as opens up new investment opportunities.

Altogether a win-win scenario for both economies, it would seem. The agreement, as it was agreed, should enter into force in the second half of 2010. Yet, before that, it will have to be ratified.

In the EU terms this means securing an approval of all 27 member states of the union as well as the European Parliament, which will hopefully all judge the agreement based on its merits - they are considerable.

To wrap up my observations, I would like to recall the words of Baroness Ashton. She recently argued that the Lisbon Treaty signaled a significant change of pace on foreign policy.

Yet, I would argue that to really change gears on its performance the EU needs to start looking beyond the treaty. Because until a full-fledged external action strategy firmly anchored within other aspects of the EU's action, such as a robust economic and trade policy, is embraced, the EU is at risk of lagging behind in the global competition.

Juraj Chmiel is minister for European affairs of the Czech Republic.

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