The Bruges Group spearheaded the intellectual battle to win a vote to leave the European Union and, above all, against the emergence of a centralised EU state.

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"Engagement" with the axis of evil a.k.a. the European common foreign policy

Dr Helen Szamuely

At a certain juncture it looked like the Iraqi war would claim another victim, one that will not be mourned particularly widely: the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Alas, unlike Saddam's regime, which is not doing all that well, the CFSP has acquired yet another lease of life. Several articles of the proposed Constitution deal with the European Union's foreign policy and, notoriously, it creates the position of a Foreign Minister that has been under heated discussion for several years. It is said that the favourite candidate for that job is the present German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, a man whose political credentials are dubious, to say the least. If he does become the new European Union Foreign Minister, the illiberal, anti-Western, anti-American trend that has been present in western European thinking since the sixties will triumph. Not only Herr Fischer is an out and out European federalist, he is also vehemently anti-American, and his main aim in foreign affairs is to split up the Western alliance that had fought Communism and should now be fighting the new threat: terrorism. Instead, the European Union and the United States will be snarling at each other. A jolly prospect as our enemies are massing at the gates.

The CFSP has acquired yet another lease of life. Several articles of the proposed Constitution deal with the European Union's foreign policy... It is said that the favourite candidate for that job is the present German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer

Most of the references to the Common Foreign Policy in the proposed constitution deal with structures and the duty of member states to adhere to it, whatever it may be, loyally. This sort of circumlocution is inevitable - there is, after all, no real purpose for a common European foreign policy as there are no common European interests or attitudes. There is, however, one article that tries to summarize what the policy might consist of. Article I-3(4) is worth quoting in full:

In its relations with the wider world, the Union shall uphold and promote its values and interests. It shall contribute to peace, security, the sustainable development of the earth, solidarity and mutual respect among people, free and fair trade, eradication of poverty and protection of human rights and in particular children's rights, as well as to strict observance and development of international law, including for the principles of the United Nations Charter.

On the one hand, this is complete gobbledygook, at once too general and too inclusive of unnecessary detail to be of any real use to politicians. On the other hand, one could argue, and, if it comes to that, no doubt many developing countries will argue, that this is a western wish list and a mandate for imposing inappropriate western values on other countries. In other words the EU is proposing to have relations with the wider world (good of them to acknowledge that it exists and being outside the EU does not mean being cast out into complete uninhabited darkness), which could be described as seriously imperialistic. This is particularly ironic as that is the very accusation European politicians and bien pensants have been flinging at the Americans. The American wish list is on the whole much simpler. President Bush has expressed himself to be against tyranny and has promised dire punishment for those who either practise terrorism or harbour terrorists, particularly if they happen to be threatening the United States. How crude and vulgar, say the sophisticated Europeans. Nothing about "sustainable development of the earth", in the name of which we feel justified to condemn whole nations to enduring poverty, particularly as we do not intend to reform our own protectionist trade policies in accordance with "free and fair trade". (I suppose they do not think in precisely those words but the substance is accurate enough.)

The two characteristics that have distinguished all attempts at producing what is grandly described as a "European foreign policy" have been a lamentable tendency to bow and scrape to some of the world's worst tyrants and to try to produce a united front even if that means complete lack of policy or principles. The first is known as "engaging in dialogue" and the second is known as "playing a strong role in the world". In fact, the trend that runs through all these actions and characteristics is a desire to stand up to the United States. One cannot help feeling that in the minds of many of the creators of the Union, it is the United States that is seen as the primary enemy and rival, cost what it may to the West and its values, supposedly so dear to the heart of all Europeans.

The desire to have a united front and to show the European Union to be an equal rival (not partner) of the United States was first displayed in the long and bloody war in former Yugoslavia that swallowed up most of the nineties. The result of that display was complete chaos in the Balkans, many thousands of unnecessary deaths, hundreds of thousands of people displaced and a legacy of hatred and bitterness that will not wash away for a few decades. And at the end of it all, some sort of a solution was imposed on the various warring groups and nations by NATO led by the Americans. Something for the Europeans to be proud of.

Attempts to square up to the Americans over Iraq and, if truth be told, Afghanistan before that and the whole war against terror, have not been successful. As they are materially affected by the war, the Americans have not shown themselves to be anxious to surrender to displays of European "sophistication" or "engagement" with unpleasant dictators and protectors of terrorists. Instead, what looked like a fatal chasm opened up within the European Union and, especially, in its common foreign policy. But there is no keeping a really bad idea down. Just as the notion of the CFSP recovered from the disasters of the Balkan war, so it has bounced back after the set-back of the Iraqi war. (One might argue that all these set-backs and disasters occur during wars but, unfortunately, wars do happen and, in any case, a foreign policy that cannot survive wars or, even, preliminary hostilities, is not much of a policy.)

Recent reports even in some of the American media have indicated that the Europeans have learnt their lesson over the Iraq fiasco and have conducted feverish negotiations to present a united front in the EU-US summit this week (June 25) during discussions over Iran, North Korea and the Middle East. These reports ignore the obvious problem that a united front is merely a structure. There has to be some coherent content to a policy as well.

Judging by recent events and by the statements that have come out of the so-called Thessaloniki Summit (which actually took place in Porto Carras) coherent content is as distant a dream as ever. For example, the European Union leaders have announced that they "look forward to an important United Nations contribution to the process leading to the formation, as soon as possible, of a representative Iraqi government, in which the UN can use its unique capacity and experience in post-conflict nation building". This is the sort of thing that would make one despair of all European politicians if one did not know that presumably the statement was cobbled together by equally despairing officials, simply to have something for the press. The UN's unique capacity and experience has consisted largely of sending troops that are then taken hostage and setting up badly run and badly guarded refugee camps that become breeding ground for terrorist and guerrilla groups. Given that, and given the UN's and the EU's non-contribution to the overthrow of the less than free and representative Saddam regime, there seems no chance whatsoever of such a statement being taken seriously by anyone who matters. But it remains on record as an uncomfortable reminder of the European leaders' posturing and finger-wagging at the United States.

What else have the creators of the European foreign policy been up to? Well, Solana jetted off to Syria and Lebanon (presumably he could tell the difference, though as the troops of one are permanently employed in the other, it might not be necessary) to try and organize separate peace negotiations from those being pushed on with variable success by Secretary of State Colin Powell. The EU has a long history of giving help and support to Yasser Arafat, even though his presence has been a considerable hindrance to any attempt to peace negotiations in Palestine. Why does the EU support him, despite his inadequate credentials as either a democrat or a man of peace? Because the Americans do not or because the Israelis want to negotiate with someone else? Either way, the EU's posturing is complicating further an already difficult situation.

What of the war against terrorism? Well, the French government has just raided an Iranian opposition group, claiming that they are a potentially terrorist organization. Nobody else knows precisely whether this is so, but the Iranian government expressed its pleasure and gratitude. Given French (and Dutch and Belgian and various other) reluctance to move against the well-known organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Al-Quaeda and so on, there is something strange about this zeal. But then as Gareth Harding wrote in the European Voice in February, External Commissioner Chris Patten had not long before "jetted off to Tehran to talk business with a brutal regime that considers eye-gouging, public flogging, limb amputation and stoning to be just reward for disobeying the Mullahs' Islamic Punishment Act."

To be fair, the EU has recently made several statements that indicate a certain understanding of the problems with the refusal by both Iran and North Korea to allow anyone to inspect their nuclear activities. The European Council in Porto Carras issued some fairly strongly worded statements indicating that it would not be pleased if the two rogue countries continued to defy the world. As usual the EU is more interested in putting together a common strategy and in showing itself to be supposedly more intelligent and sophisticated than the United States, than in being effective. What matters is that there should be a single policy and that the policy should be different from the American one. That shows that the EU is a real grown-up player. As Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for Javier Solana told the Wall Street Journal Europe "American officials used to say to us: 'Oh you guys don't take seriously the threat from WMD.' Well, now we can show the Americans that they not only take these problems seriously, but also that they have an action plan." The action plan, apart from Solana's draft security strategy, is to play good cop to the Americans' bad cop. Not so different after all. The EU does not want to threaten Iran or any other rogue state that refuses to divulge what it is building in its backyard, it wants to "engage" with them.

This sort of "engagement" has been going on for a while and whenever questions were asked in the House of Lords, the relevant Minister would explain patiently that the mere fact that there was a dialogue with China, Iran, North Korea or whatever, was a good sign. But what does the dialogue achieve? It achieves the fact that there is a dialogue. In December 2002 the EU and Iran began talks to promote trade, supposedly, on condition of political reforms in Iran. Earlier this month a seven-point declaration by the EU Foreign Ministers reminded the Mullahs in Teheran that these reforms were supposed to include co-operation with international inspections of its nuclear facilities. The declaration expressed "serious concern" (that much favoured phrase of inaction in the face of brutality) that the co-operation was not happening. As a matter of fact, the political reforms are not happening either and France, a leading member of the European Union, happily accepts congratulations from the unreformed Iranian government after cracking down on an opposition group. The EU believes the Iranian government can be influenced through this form of "engagement" more directly than what it sees as American heavy-handedness. Maybe. But so far, "engagement" with some of the world's worst tyrannies has led to very little. Possibly some trade, no reforms and no real understanding. What happens if the good cop fails this time as well? What will the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy say then?