Stop Hating on the EU

I did another appearance on France 24 this evening, my first in French. (I’ll have a link when it goes online tomorrow.) And while waiting in the green room — which is neither green, nor really a room — I chatted with an American journalist here in Paris.

He was very dismissive of Nicolas Sarkozy’s efforts to broker a Gaza ceasefire, saying that in conducting an independent diplomatic mission that simultaneously overshadowed and undermined the EU’s concurrent mission, Sarkozy had effectively signalled the death knell of the EU’s common foreign policy. And I responded by saying that if so, perhaps it was so that the institutional reforms of the Lisbon Treaty might live. He said he wasn’t so sure Sarkozy’s that smart, and I decided not to mention that Claude Guéant and Jean-David Levitte — Sarkozy’s top two special advisors — most certainly are.

It was an enjoyable exchange, even if it qualified as a double helping of two of my pet peeves, namely American disdain for French diplomacy and American disdain for EU agency as a global actor. There’s certainly plenty of fodder for critical analysis of the EU’s common foreign policy, but the lion’s share of it, as Richard Weitz expertly details in his WPR column today, lies in institutional factors, not character flaws.

Sarkozy, in his capacity as French EU president during the Georgia War and French president during the Gaza War, has demonstrated the advantages of a strong EU presidency in the face of a hot crisis (the former), and the need for it to be the result of a stable institution rather than haphazard luck of the draw (the latter). And I have a hunch he will be remembered for that long after his personality traits, no matter how grating, are forgotten.

Significantly, the Lisbon Treaty also offers the EU Parliament more participation in both foreign policy and trade negotiations, and at least some — vaguely worded — oversight. The respective roles of the permanent President of the Council on the one hand, and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (affectionately known as the HR) on the other, also leave some room for interpretation and hence friction.

Both democratic oversight and executive branch turf wars pose some problems for an effective foreign policy. But while neither are exclusive to the EU, that shouldn’t keep Euro haters — if Lisbon does pass and the EU upgrades its foreign policy machinery to “punch at its weight,” as Richard Weitz put it — from heaping disdain on the pitiful EU the first time parliament hamstrings the executive, or the President and the HR duke it out.

Those silly Europeans. Won’t they ever learn?