No more veto = A more effective Foreign Policy?

Josep Borrell, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/ Vice-President of the European Commission speech during Launch of EU-funded support to the WHO cooperation with ASEAN and opening of an European Union Project Office at ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta, Indonesia on June 2, 2021.
Oscar Siagian © European Union 2021

You may not have noticed, but the EU and its foreign policy have received rather a lot of attention lately. Why? Well, mainly because it doesn’t really have a foreign policy. Instead, it has twenty-seven different foreign policies that all need to be coordinated. Exactly that has been pretty problematic lately, leading some to argue for reform. 

Allow us to explain. Of course the EU has a foreign policy: the Common Foreign and Security Policy, or CFSP for short. It even has a kind of foreign minister: the The High Representative is the chief co-ordinator and representative of the EU foreign affairs policy. The position is currently held by Josep Borrell. High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, or just the The High Representative is the chief co-ordinator and representative of the EU foreign affairs policy. The position is currently held by Josep Borrell. High Representative for the non-lawyers among you. The problem, however, lies with the veto power of the The 27 countries that are part of the EU. See the list of all members here. Member States. The EU Treaties stipulate that, in order to adopt a common position within the field of CFSP, all The 27 countries that are part of the EU. See the list of all members here. Member States represented in the An institution representing the Member States’ interests. Either comprised of the heads of government (European Council) or more frequently the ministers (Council of the EU) meeting in different constellations depending on the policy area. Involved in policy-making, often together with the European Parliament. Council of Ministers must give their consent. Every. Single. One. Out of twenty-seven. As anyone who has ever tried to organise a family holiday will know, getting everyone to agree is quite the task. Now imagine that this is not about your kids’ holiday preferences, but about twenty-seven different national interests and you may start to understand the challenge that is the CFSP. If one Member State objects, there cannot be a coordinated action or even a statement from the EU.

This is exactly what has been happening lately, when Europe was faced with challenges from without. One particular thorn in the side of the EU is Hungary, or more specifically the Hungarian government under Viktor Orbán. Only last month, it vetoed a common European declaration calling for a ceasefire in the most recent conflict between Israel and Palestine, and in April it blocked an EU statement criticising China’s treatment of Hongkong. However, it’s not just Hungary that has frustrated an effective European foreign policy. In September of last year, it was Cyprus that used its veto to block sanctions against Belarus.

According to some, the solution to this problem is getting rid of national veto power in the area of CFSP and using majority voting instead. The latest of these proponents is German foreign minister Heiko Maas, who stated that the EU should no longer be able to be taken “hostage by those who paralyse EU foreign policy with their vetoes”. Other proponents of this plan include French president Emmanuel Macron, as well as Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez. The latter two recently published a paper, in which they outlined their ideas for the future development of the EU, including scrapping vetoes in the area of CFSP. 

For the EU, an effective foreign policy may just require further integration, this time in a field that has long been the exclusive domain of national governments. You can be sure, therefore, that such calls will provoke nationalist sentiments across the EU. Sentiments which populists will be more than happy to make use of. Nevertheless, with the biggest obstacle to European integration gone – by which of course we mean the United Kingdom – and the need for integration greater than ever, a true EU foreign policy may be closer than you think.

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