STRASBOURG (EJP)---EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton spoke of the need for EU member states to work together to address challenging global needs, as she launched a debate on the annual Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) report at the European Parliament plenary session in Strasbourg on Tuesday.
Speaking of the European External Action Service (EEAS), which she heads, she said: “We are building the best possible diplomatic service to meet Europe’s needs and the needs of the European citizens”, adding that collective unity was needed to confront the issues of all member states, both large and small, as well as neighbourhood concerns that affect the international community, including Iran, Syria and the Middle East peace process.
Opening the joint debate session was the report’s author, MEP Elmar Brok, who said it showed a “policy which is consistent, resources are used consistently and legitimately”.
Speaking of the importance of EU leadership in solving common foreign and security issues, he said “we need to have unanimity, we hope to see the quality of leadership show we’re speaking with one voice”.
Praising Ashton’s “positive aspect” to approaching diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear programme, he acknowledged “gaps”, but insisted “parliaments can have a great role, not just in terms of providing legitimacy, but can help provide strength and push forward changes”, invoking the popular civil uprisings that came about as part of the Arab Spring.
Speaking of the importance of representing and sharing the interests of EU citizens, he insisted “human rights have to be born in mind”, heralding the appointment of the EU’s first representative for human rights.
In words which were echoed by many speakers in the debate that followed, Brok insisted that “whilst security and defence police is important, we don’t often see tanks winning wars, we see financial markets wining wars, and as such the EU’s success depends on it resolving economic crises”.
Expanding on his rhetoric, Spanish MEP Jose Ignacio Salafranco spoke of the need to redress international criticism of the EU, asking “what credibility do we enjoy on the international stage if we fail to solve our internal problems?” Adding that there was need to respond to suggestions the EU tries to enforce its own vision of western ideals, he said “we need to solve our external problems by first outing our own house in order”.
Belgian MEP Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck was more concerned about the role of the EU in global affairs being overlooked by much of the international community. Whilst acknowledging the importance of Brok’s emphasis on the US as Europe’s main strategic partner, she highlighted “unfortunate developments throughout the (US) National Democratic Convention last week, there was no mention made of the EU”, adding that this showed “there is a great deal of work that needs to be done” to establish EU credibility.
Concurring, Romanian Ioan Mircea Pascu, said the current economic crisis required the EU to be more inward-looking, which, in combination with the rapid development of the international community, undermined the credibility of the EU as a global entity. “We have to convince the rest of the world we are an attractive option, we can master our own problems and still keep an everything happening in the world,” he insisted.
Speaking of the EU’s international standing, Ashton said it was “important to remember “why” we do what we do. We do this to promote and protect human rights and democracy which are the guiding principles of our foreign policy”.
“We exist to serve our citizens to help them to be more secure, more able to pursue the lives they want, to give them the right environment and hopefully prosperity and to help others obtain what we have,” she added.
German MEP Franciska Katharina Brantner echoed the importance of effective assignment of limited resources, saying “we need to avoid expensive reactions to developing crises and look to prevention”. Emphasising the EU could “do a lot more to prevent conflict rather than stoke it”, she said the main drawback was resources and lack of effective conflict avoidance and mediation structures.
However, some members were less diplomatic with their rhetoric, with British MEP Nicole Sinclaire insisting that at a recent meeting with a diplomat from the Middle East, he had told her that in affairs in the region, “Ashton is often seen as more of a hindrance than a help”.
French MEP Arnaud Danjean agreed, adding that Ashton’s “ambitiousness” and desire “to be everywhere all the time”, led to a “clear lack of strategic priorities for the CFSP” and called for a move away from “this fragmented piecemeal approach to a comprehensive approach to mobilise resources”.
Dutch MEP Bastiaan Belder meanwhile invoked German and French Foreign Affairs rhetoric describing the possession of nuclear weapons by the Iranian regime as “unacceptable” to probe the foreign policy chief on the EU position on such unequivocal statements should diplomacy fail.
Quoting statements attributed to her suggesting that EU sanctions on the regime are being circumvented or broken, he asked if there was any real evidence available in support of this idea.
Ashton was keen to pinpoint the manpower involved in bringing diplomacy in Iran to this stage, highlighting her own input of 48 hours in direct negotiation and a further 18 hours in bilateral discussions with Iranian negotiators. Whilst acknowledging the need to address human rights and regional security concerns, she spoke of the “need for us to keep moving on the diplomatic track”.
“When you look at all the situations in which we are operating they are multi-faceted, complex and particular. In none of them is there a simple solution – political, military or economic. The great strength of the EU, working with member states and international partners, is the range of diplomatic tools at its disposal,” she added.
Responding to concerns over EU limitations, Ashton added: “When we made a common policy it wasn’t about individual states not being able to do things, it was about being able to do it better together. It’s not just about dealing with conflict, it’s about what you do before and after,” highlighting the work the EU is doing to help emerging democracy Libya to establish its own structures and institutions in the wake of the Arab Spring.
“We need to develop a strategy where the EU takes its place in the new global order,” added Brok, closing out the debate. “If we don’t have this place and we only react, it’s not going to work. That’s a shortcoming we have in the EU, but another shortcoming we have is certain members don’t want to participate in common action. Only by a common approach can we achieve anything, but it’s something we have to combine with justice and human rights.”
Austrian MEP Andreas Melzer asserted that the “dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme is not something that can be solved by violence, otherwise we’ll see an implosion in the Middle East. A war would see unimaginable migratory patterns. Israel has a right to be there and Iran must lay its cards on the table.”
Speaking of the ongoing European goal of working to achieve a “just and lasting two-state solution” in Israel, Ashton spoke of the Palestinian Authority’s financial concern as a possible barrier to this.
She also spoke of the importance of recognising Israel’s own security and economic needs, adding that “we will continue to find a way through that will bring security for both. But it is increasingly urgent in my view”.
Talking of last week’s informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Cyprus, she added that “water is a final status issue”, when talking of the Middle East Peace Process, describing the region as an area “where water plays an incredibly vital role in the potential for conflict”, insisting there was a need to be engaged with this issue when entering into diplomacy with key players in the region.