To claim a global role, the EU needs its own security council

Steven Everts and Antonio Missiroli in the IHT last week arguing that the EU needs more power

LONDON The recent controversy over the attempts by the leaders of Britain, France and Germany to carve out a leadership role has highlighted an important underlying tension that has long beset the European Union’s foreign policy. The EU is based on the fundamental principle of the formal equality of all member states, but there are major differences in the amount of resources and expertise that different countries bring to the table.

This discrepancy is nowhere stronger than in the area of foreign policy and defense. History proves that a stronger and more influential European voice can only be based on a consensus among all participating countries. Yet if population, economic clout, commercial and diplomatic outreach, culture and military capabilities are taken into account, it is clear that Britain, France and Germany represent the gist of Europe’s presence and influence in the wider world.

In practical terms, the “Big Three” have recently contributed to reinforcing the EU’s external impact. A good example was the mission of the British, French and German foreign ministers to Tehran last autumn, when they persuaded Iran to accept intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities and suspend uranium enrichment.

It would have looked better if the foreign ministers had taken Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, with them on the plane to stress that theirs was a European mission. But in substantive terms, the message they brought was fully in line with agreed EU policies and previous missions conducted by Solana himself.

Similar positive leadership by Britain, France and Germany lay behind the political compromise to set up a modest military headquarters for EU-led operations, a deal which was later accepted by all the EU member states.

On other occasions, however, the Big Three have given the strong impression that they are mainly interested in presenting themselves as an exclusive club. This is especially the case when they assert themselves in areas other than foreign policy, for instance on economic reform, where their leadership credentials are much more questionable. If the point of trilateral summit meetings is an attempt by London, Paris and Berlin to throw their weight around rather than inject new momentum into EU policies, it is inevitable that the rest of Europe will view them with growing suspicion and resentment.

If the EU wants to enhance its international role, it needs to envisage ways to give the Big Three – with others, where relevant – the role and responsibility they claim and deserve, without antagonizing other EU members. One solution could be the establishment of an EU Security Council, which would operate as a steering board between the EU Council, on which all member states have a seat, and the EU foreign minister, a post proposed in the draft EU constitution.

To make such a body effective, transparent but realistic criteria must underpin its design.

First, an EU Security Council should be small, with no more than 10 seats, in order to prevent constant deadlock. It would be impossible to discuss or manage an international crisis in a body that has 25 seats, as the Council of Ministers will have after the EU’s enlargement on May 1.

Second, France, Germany and Britain should have permanent seats. This would give them the status and visibility they deserve. But their leadership would take place in a broader structure, thus refuting the accusation that they act as a self-appointed directorate.

Third, other member states would sit on the EU Security Council on the basis of a rotation system that would take into account their size, population, economic, diplomatic and military capabilities. In this way, countries like Italy, Spain and Poland, but also the Netherlands and Sweden, could all get an appropriate role and standing.

Such a system would take the sting out of their criticism of the recent trilateral summit meeting. The other, smaller EU member states could also take part from time to time in the EU Security Council on a similar but less frequent rotation basis.

Such smaller countries should take part when a particular crisis is discussed that affects them particularly; when they sit on the UN Security Council as nonpermanent members; or when they chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. In any case, all member states would always have a seat in the broader EU Council.

Finally, the European Commission should also have a permanent seat on the EU Security Council, because of its substantial resources and policy-making role.

In other words, the composition of the EU Security Council would combine elements of the UN Security Council, where some countries are recognized as “more equal” than others, and of the U.S. National Security Council, where all relevant agencies of the executive are represented.

An EU Security Council could act as a permanent advisory body for the future EU foreign minister, helping with decisions and initiatives. It could help to build a consensus inside the EU, thus speeding up formal decision-making, which would remain the preserve of the broader EU Council of Ministers.

An EU Security Council could also help in crisis situations by executing guidelines and implementing decisions that had been adopted by all 25 members. In that case, representatives of the countries on the EU Security Council must act as EU emissaries, not as national officials. The Union would then be in a condition to use its potential international leverage to the full.

The main goal of an EU Security Council would be to give the whole EU all the relevant capabilities and ambitions to act effectively on the global stage. Without an EU Security Council – which could be established in the Constitution – the risk is that political energy and momentum will go outside the EU framework.

There is a pressing need for flexible arrangements that reflect existing political realities but which guide them in a positive direction. Without some new forum where those that have the means and ambition to bolster Europe’s influence can take the lead, the EU will drift inexorably toward perpetual deadlock and strategic irrelevance.

Steven Everts is a senior research fellow at the Center for European Reform, London. Antonio Missiroli is a research fellow at the EU Institute for Security Studies, Paris.