The EU’s Foreign Affairs and the implications of the Lisbon Treaty

Shimon Peres meets Spanish Prmie Minister Zapatero. Photo thanks to Israel's ministry of Foreign Affairs

Today a work colleague heroically explained and clarified the implications of the Lisbon Treaty on the EU’s Foreign Affairs. I warn you now…this is a complicated issue but I will do my best to explain it in the clearest possible way.

Before Lisbon (which came into force on the 1st December 2009), the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP – this is the same as saying foreign affairs) was part of the “second pillar” (for an explanation of the pillar system see the wikipedia page). It was nearly all done between national governments and any decisions were taken by unanimity. There was a very limited role for the European Parliament. The EU’s voice for foreign affairs was the Troika (made up of the presidency, high representative/council secretariat and the Commission). The Presidency was responsible for putting out demarches, representing the EU at the UN/OSCE etc… It also chaired all the council working groups and the GAERC.

Post Lisbon, things look a little different. The pillar system has been scrapped. Unlike most other areas of EU life, national governments kept in the unanimity clause for decision making (this means that member states still have a veto). The EU’s voice has been condensed to just the High Representative (assisted by the European External Action Service EEAS). The High Representative is also responsible for all the stuff the presidency was responsible for before (like chairing working groups and sending out demarches). Clear…

There are of course, a big long lists of buts…

The transition between what we had before Lisbon and after Lisbon is not going to happen overnight. It has already started (on the 1st Jan 2010) but will not become fully operational until at least 31st June 2011 – just before the Polish presidency. The High Representative has not yet planned anything for the EEAS. She has to submit her plans by April 2010. Until then, there is no EEAS. This means that the next three Presidencies (Spanish, Belgium, Hungarians) are all going to be “transition presidencies”.

This means, that although what we will get at the end will be clearer, more democratic and easier to follow, there risks being great confusion over the coming 18 months as these plans begin to become grounded. This means, that now, more than ever is the time to get engaged and work for a better structure to ensure that the EU lives up to its commitments to human rights, development and democracy. If we do not engage, we risk inaction in these coming months and ineffective structures after that.

Is this clear for everyone?

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Filed under EU politics, Human rights

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