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Lack of honesty undermining EU’s search for foreign policy

The European Union must start being more honest with itself if it wants to continue expanding and needs to engage in a proper debate if it wants to form a coherent foreign policy, Lord William Wallace, a member of Britain’s House of Lords for the Liberal Democrat party since 1995, told Kathimerini English Edition. «We have made some significant steps towards a common foreign and defense policy that were unthinkable 10 years ago – that you actually have European Union forces operating in several different countries, now that’s real progress,» said Lord Wallace, who is also an emeritus professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics (LSE). Troops from the EU, including Greece, have recently taken part in operations in Bosnia, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Congo. But in terms of uniting behind a common foreign policy, the EU still has considerable divisions to overcome as was evident by the awkward approach to the crisis in Lebanon this summer. Lord Wallace identified a number of areas of foreign policy where the EU has to work harder to create a united front. «Common foreign policy on Iran has been moderately effective but the real failures are no common policy towards the Middle East as a whole, above all towards Israel and Palestine, no common policy towards Russia and one might dare say no common approach towards the United States,» he said. However, before a common policy can be formed, member states have to engage with each other over how to create this unity. According to Lord Wallace, who was in Athens to take part in an LSE debate on whether Europe can provide a multilateral alternative to the American definition of global order, the EU’s biggest problem is that it is not willing to engage in a discussion. The Liberal Democrat peer points to efforts made by the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana and his aides to generate a discussion on developing a common policy but the Spaniard’s efforts appear to have fallen on deaf ears. «You have to have a European-level public debate. Take the greatest failure so far – in 2003, Javier Solana and Robert Cooper wrote a paper on European security strategy. It was intended to provoke a debate among national governments about Europe’s place in the world. What did they do with it? Almost no parliament had a debate on it and almost no newspapers covered it,» he said. The ability to develop a coherent foreign policy has taken on more importance as the gap between Islamic countries and the West appears to be widening. «It is even more difficult to attempt to define a more coherent relationship between the Western world and the Muslim world. Neither the Unites States nor Europe is very good at this at the moment,» Lord Wallace said. If the EU has failed to develop a common foreign policy with 15 or 25 member states, then achieving unity as the bloc continues to expand looks even more unlikely. But Lord Wallace believes that it depends on what countries will become members. «It depends how far expansion goes. If you include Turkey then of course it becomes more difficult, let alone if you think about Ukraine and Georgia,» he said. «If you’re taking on a small number of states in the western Balkans, it doesn’t make it that much harder.» Turkey’s deteriorating relations with France in recent days and its stubbornness in opening its ports and airports to Cypriot ships and airplanes suggests that if Turkey becomes a full member of the EU, agreeing on foreign policy will be a complicated process. Lord Wallace believes that European politicians and Turkish officials have not thought through the implications. «If Turkey joins, the European Union will have a direct frontier with Iraq, Iran and Syria and we’ll have to have a common foreign policy towards those three countries. Parliamentarians in Western Europe have not begun to think about that,» he said. «When one says to Turkish foreign policy makers that the European Union will have to have a coherent view towards the use of the headwaters of the Tigris and the Euphrates as part of a common foreign policy, they are horrified by that. So there are a large number of strategic issues that we have not fully addressed,» he added. Expansion This apparent lack of desire to debate the issues openly also seems to have permeated the issue of expansion itself. Bulgaria and Romania have been given the green light for full membership in January but the EU’s approach to Turkey seems as muddled as ever. Meanwhile, the matter of whether to allow Ukraine and Georgia to join is looming on the horizon. «The whole question of Turkey in the European Union is a very difficult one. Neither side has addressed it properly,» said Lord Wallace. «The Turkish elite has addressed Europe as a deus ex machina which will save Turkey from itself without recognizing all of the complications of adjusting to European norms.» The mounting concern for Turkey is that should it meet the EU’s requirements, it still faces the possibility of having the door slammed in its face. «We are now faced with the immense problem of ratifying Turkish accession in France, the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany. We had better face up to that as a series of obstacles before we go very much further,» he said. The British government has been vociferous in supporting Ankara’s bid to join the EU. Prime Minister Tony Blair believes that leaving Turkey outside of the Union could have catastrophic consequences as Turkey would then align itself with more hardline Muslim countries. Lord Wallace is a fierce critic of this stance. «The British government has unwisely wanted to please the Americans without thinking through the complexities of what it is pursuing. After all, it was very much an American project to push Turkey towards the European Union and British foreign policy far too often assumes that what the Americans want, we should follow,» he said. «It would be disastrous if the issue continues to be presented in terms of all or nothing. We have to open the question of whether or not a partnership which would have to be a great deal more than just the neighborhood policy is a viable alternative for both sides,» he added. Lord Wallace again points to a lack of honesty being at the heart of the EU’s troubles. «I wish the European Union were able to be more honest in terms of the sheer problems of absorption and the sheer problems of persuading our domestic publics, in democracies, to accept this larger issue,» he said. This lack of openness is acting as a catalyst for other complexities that the EU will run into in the future, he argues. «It’s very difficult to say yes to Turkey and say no to Ukraine. I think there are large issues about whether it is desirable for Ukraine to join the European Union… even though the United States is pushing hard for them to join NATO and the European Union,» he said.