Why The European Union Has No Foreign Policy

LONDON: Britain’s Labour government reacted to the crisis in Kosovo by coming out in favour of a stronger defence role for the European Union. The lesson of Kosovo, said Prime MinisterTony Blair, was that Europe "must speak coherently on foreign and security policy".

The need is long overdue. Europe’s incapacity to act coherently in foreign policy is a glaring shortcoming, and it became a source of scandal and shame when the EU failed to intervene effectively in the war in Yugoslavia. The Kosovo tragedy is yet another reminder that the Europeans never seem to get their act together.

Why is this so? Some say it is a question of nationalism: the French or the British are reluctant to subordinate national to European interests. Others say that Europe can hardly have a single foreign and defence policy when four of its members are neutral. A third explanation, often advanced by Americans, blames moral and political cowardice: the Europeans are as numerous as the Americans and nearly as rich, yet they prefer to shirk their international responsibilities, freeloading on their American allies.

There is something in all three points. But they do not tell the whole story. First, member states say they want to develop a common European foreign policy. At Maastricht in 1991, they set up new institutions for doing so; and at Amsterdam last year, they ostensibly strengthened those institutions. Yet in practice there has been no detectable progress.