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Where is Europe’s Foreign Policy?

BRUSSELS – In the 18 months since the Lisbon Treaty created the European Union’s diplomatic service – the European External Action Service (EEAS) – there has been more talk than ever of Europe having a “single voice” in world affairs. The service became an urgent necessity with the “Arab Spring” roiling the southern Mediterranean region. But a “foreign ministry” is not a foreign policy, and there is little sign that the EU will devise one anytime soon.

The mixed and even contradictory reactions of different EU governments to the Arab popular revolts have highlighted the lack of a common external policy. But they have also hidden a much more significant shortcoming: no one in Brussels has been charged with setting out Europe’s overall aims and concerns, or with analyzing its strengths and weaknesses in a fast-changing world.

A European foreign policy isn’t only about how the EU reacts to events, important as that is. For a bloc comprising a half-billion people, foreign policy should represent and defend a wide range of interests that until now have been the responsibility of its member governments.

The EU has long recognized the need for a concerted foreign policy to complement its international trade, anti-trust, and development policies. And establishing one received a major boost from Europeans’ deepening security concerns during George W. Bush’s presidency, when American unilateralism was rampant. The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), first outlined a decade ago, was intended to complement the EU’s economic “soft power”; with the Lisbon treaty, the CFSP became more ambitious still.