Editorial TEPSA Newsletter February 2015: “Speaking with one voice”, by Prof. Jaap de Zwaan, TEPSA Secretary General

EUIt was the German Chancellor, Merkel, who developed initiatives to put an end to the violence in Eastern Ukraine. It was her, Merkel, and Hollande who went to Minsk and Moscow for the diplomatic talks. Who did they represent, their countries or the European Union as such? Anyway, at least initiatives were developed from the European side. That is positive.

That being said, the question of course arises why Tusk or Mogherini didn’t go. Because, they respectively do represent the European Union at the highest political level (Tusk as President of the European Council) and have a mission to act at ministerial level on behalf of the European Union in foreign policy contacts with third countries and international organisations (Mogherini as High Representative).

Whereas the Commission generally speaking plays a useful role – and is also accepted by third parties – as negotiator and representative of the European Union and the Member States when Union competences are at stake (the reference here for example is to Malmström and the TTIP negotiations), the same is apparently not true when the subjects’ matters essentially concern national competences. In such cases we apparently don’t trust too much the structures we have created ourselves, but prefer to designate somebody who can exercise real influence on the negotiations in question.

Is that a problem? Yes, to a certain extent it is. Because it took a while before the new functions of Permanent President of the European Council and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy were created. Now we have them, one could argue, we should also profit from them.

Now, practice shows that the new models, developed in times of peace, are in fact suited to be applied –indeed- only in times of peace. As Herman Van Rompuy has demonstrated, they are also appropriate to be practised when (serious) internal problems of the Union and/or the Member States have to be dealt with. The economic crisis is such an example. Indeed, no one has contested Van Rompuy’s capabilities not only to chair the meetings of Heads of State and Government, but also to find compromise formulas at the right time. However, when serious foreign policy and defence issues are in discussion, thus domains where essentially Member States are the competent authorities, we are looking for a heavy weight, by preference a sitting Head of State and Government, to do the job. A personality whose involvement may have a real impact also on the third parties involved in the negotiations. Like Merkel in the case of the Minsk agreement.

In this respect one may wonder whether for conflicts in (French speaking) Africa it would be Hollande to be best placed to represent the European Union during peace negotiations, or Cameron when conflicts might occur in the English speaking Western world, or Rajoy in case of problems in the Spanish speaking part of Southern America.

If that’s the way the European Union can best function when foreign policy or defence issues are at stake, so be it. At least it helps to provide the European Union with the status of a real global player. Such an evolution clearly represents a European interest.

Photo source: theguardian.com