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Foreign Policy Centre

Ideas for a fairer world


Foreign Minister of Europe

[Cover of Foreign Minister of Europe]

Sir Brian Crowe (with preface by Javier Solana)


Download the report (220 kilobyte PDF)

The creation of an EU Foreign Minister is one of the most innovative proposals of Europe's proposed new constitution; yet there is still very little understanding of what the position woiuld entail and what challenges the new minister would face.

In this paper, Sir Brian Crowe, former Director General for External and for Politico-Military Affairs in the EU Council of Ministers, argues that empowering a new EU Foreign Minister is crucial for putting flesh on the bones of the Common Foreign and security Policy (CFSP). Fundamental changes are needed if the EU is to develop the capability for coordinated, effective, and rapid reaction.

Executive Summary

To move beyond the useful but to-date limited successes of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the European Union (EU), some fundamental changes are needed. The empowerment of a new EU Foreign Minster who is at the same time Vice-President of the Commission responsible for External Relations will go far towards providing the EU with a more effective, better coordinated and rapidly-acting foreign policy capability. However, by transgressing the separation of powers inherent in the EU's institutional arrangements until now, it will cause frictions which the incumbent will be hard put to manage.

With a foot in each camp, the Minister will need the confidence of both the Commission and Council. The active support of the latter is however indispensable, both from larger states capable of conducting foreign policies outside the EU framework (as in the Balkans Contact and other semi-recognized groups in the mid-1990s) and from smaller ones who will not follow unless their concerns are respected. Experience suggests that there are various ways in which this can be done. These are analysed in the paper.

The Minister will increasingly be able to lead for the EU as member states gain confidence in him and in the new External Action Service, but a pro-active role for the Minister will also be essential. At the same time member states will need consciously to give a higher priority as an end in itself to having common foreign and security policies.

In an important sense the EU's CFSP is a function of US foreign policy, and the EU-US relationship is in many ways more important to the health of the trans-Atlantic relationship than the US-European relationship in NATO. A common EU approach to dealing with our great ally is correspondingly necessary for a really effective CFSP, but may not be attainable soon. The Minister will have an important role in trying to steer the EU through the pressures from London, Paris, Berlin, Washington and other capitals.

The particular international experience and influence of some member states are not something the Minister and the rest just have to put up with, but rather an asset which needs to be brought to bear for the greater effectiveness of the EU as a whole. The 'contact group' and other informal groups of self-selected member states are outsiders which will never be popular with those left out. But especially in an EU of 25-plus, these outsider mechanisms need to be accepted as often the only effective way of developing common policies and acting as interlocutors for the EU's partners, legitimised by the Minister. While firmly in the Contact and similar restricted groups, the UK nonetheless has a good record in supporting the CFSP. But it needs to be working towards a CFSP in which member states support the Minister, rather than have the Minister participate merely to legitimise what they are doing nationally. In other words, over time more of the responsibility should move from member states to the Minister as his track record builds up.