Lisbon, the new diplomatic corps and federal Europe

, by Translated by Peter Matjašič, Roberta Carbone

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Lisbon, the new diplomatic corps and federal Europe

With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty we are (finally) witnessing a greater concentration of power of 27 Member States aimed at achieving a more unified foreign and domestic policy. In this article I shall focus on the issue of EU’s common defence and foreign policy.

As is well known the first attempt to create a common European defence policy was the plan proposed in 1950 by Frenchman René Pleven for a European Defence Community (EDC). But it was the federalist advocacy done by Altiero Spinelli [1] that led to setting up of a Parliamentary Assembly drawing up plans for a constitutional framework of the EDC and the ECSC. These ideas evaporated when the EDC Treary failed to obtain ratification in the French National Assembly in 1954 due to Gaullist opposition and fear of loosing France’s national sovereignty. With the Lisbon Treaty things are changing again.

Defence Policy

To start with, the Lisbon Treaty confirms and extends the powers of the European Defence Agency, created in 2004, allowing it to gradually replace the inter-governmental bodies in the field of armaments. This agency has the task of uniting the industrial and technological research of the Member States to create a common platform at European level and make more progress in the field of defence. Although Member States are not required to be part of this agency, it is nevertheless a step towards a future common defence policy, especially considering that the European Defence Agency is not the only tool available to the EU in this respect: the Lisbon Treaty, in fact, offers the possibility of enhanced cooperation between Member States in the field of defence.

Lisbon Treaty enables enhanced cooperation in the field of defence

A group of states, supported by the institutional structure of the European Union, may decide to pool their resources and military technology, creating a system of central coordination for the militaries of countries that belong to it. Even though the ultimate goal is not to create a European army, this can be regarded as a first step towards unification of the EU’s military resources, which would lead to better coordination, greater efficiency and a course of action, if not unified at least consistent with the common objectives.

Also in the field of defence, let us not forget that the Lisbon Treaty introduces a further element of integration, namely Article 27(7). This article is similar to NATO’s Article 5 and represents an obligation for Member States to intervene in support of another Member State if it were subjected to military attack, terrorist attack or natural disaster, whether it is neutral or not (neutral States may intervene with logistical support, medical and technological).

Foreign Policy

Regarding foreign policy, the Lisbon Treaty has provided the EU with tools to give life to a real European diplomatic corps: the European External Action Service (EEAS) headed by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice-President of the European Commission.

The EEAS has several strengths but also some weaknesses. First of all it will have a right of initiative in foreign affairs comparable to that enjoyed by the Commission in domestic politics. In addition, it will combine the know-how of the 27 Member States and will have a uniform policy, ending (perhaps) the often conflicting statements of individual Heads of State and Government. Do not underestimate the possibility, envisaged by the Lisbon Treaty, to appoint the High Representative as the sole representative for the EU at the UN. It is time to recall the federalists claim for the need of a single and unified voice in international institutions, especially in the Security Council of the United Nations, where for the moment national interests still prevail above the interest of the EU.

European foreign policy is left to Member States

On the other hand despite the many positive aspects the new situation brings there are some negative aspects that we need to be aware off: although it is positive that the budget of the EEAS depends on the European budget and is thus controlled by the European Parliament, is not so good that the EEAS’ actions and the nomination of the High Representative depend on the approval of another institution, the European Council.

Once again European foreign policy is left to Member States, even though the initiatives – as mentioned above – can be taken by the High Representative. The support given to EEAS initiatives by the European Council, in fact, facilitates the process of approval within the Council of Ministers by introducing a qualified majority vote for decisions that otherwise would require unanimity (with the consequence of maintaining the veto powers of Member States).

Lisbon’s EU and Federalism

Summing up the above can we say that the EU is making progress towards the Federation? Maybe. Or maybe not.

Once again we provide Member States with the tools, but the political initiative is up to them, because a short-sighted political class could bloc the process of further European integration. With or without Lisbon. On the other hand, the Lisbon Treaty opens many doors and, you know, it’s much easier to decide to cross an open door than decide to break down a wall. And the sixty years of community history teach us that, so far, these opportunities have been used in “small steps” - as Schuman said- to achieve the European Union we have today. We just have to persevere.

Further reading on the topic:

 European defence and the Lisbon Treaty – reply to the annual report of the Council; report submitted on behalf of the Political Committee by Paul Wille, Rapporteur (Belgium, Liberal Group); click here for the PDF version

 Foreign, Security and Defence Policy and the Lisbon Treaty: significant or cosmetic reforms? by Professor Richard G. Whitman; click here for the PDF version

 European Defence in the wake of the Lisbon Treatyby Bruno Angelet & Ioannis Vrailas; Egmont - The Royal Institute for International Relations, May 2008; click here for the PDF version

Image: Figures on a map of Europe; source: Google Images


[1It was Spinelli who persuaded Italian Prime Minister Alcide De Gasperi to insist in the negotiation of the European Defence Community (EDC) treaty on a provision for a parliamentary assembly to draw up plans for placing the EDC, the ECSC and any other development within a global constitutional framework to “replace the present provisional organization” with “a subsequent federal or confederal structure based on the principle of the separation of powers and having, in particular, a two-chamber system of representation”. The Assembly was invited to submit its proposals within six months of its constitutive meeting following the entry into force of the EDC treaty. However, the failure of France to ratify the EDC treaty meant it was all to no immediate avail. Some of its ideas, however, were taken up in subsequent events.

Your comments
  • On 8 November 2010 at 22:40, by Nico Replying to: Good signals about defence convergence from London and Paris, a small improvement for CFSP

    Dear Roberta and dear Peter,

    Thanks for this article. I second your views that strenghtening the EDA is crucial to streamline the Member States’ commitments to creating the proper capabilities for missions in the near abroad. Now, I must say that the CFSP/CSDP discourses are some of my favorit topics and I’m sure we can have fruitful discussions about that IRL.

    We are still quite dependent on multilateral commitments (often also with NATO) to emanate European values and mitigate conflicts - without being regarded as “interventionist” in a dominating fashion. However, there is still too much budget lost and wasted by duplicating defence and security R&D programmes running in parallel between nationa ’corporate champions’. In Italy they will sponsor Finmeccanica, and in the Netherlands it will be TNO Defence that gets more state attention.

    I don’t know if you followed the news lately somewhat, but there has been a very positive indication of improved bilateral defence cooperation on the 2nd of November. On that day, President Sarkozy and PM David Cameron signed a new ’Defence Pact’ that aims at sharing defence capabilities and collaboration in a range of vital strategic areas (nuclear testing, and even the sharing and joint management/maintenance costs for a common aircraft carrier by 2020). In fact, the present austerity measures that most governments imposed on themselves have this by-effect in the CFSP area. Some, like UK and France today, find ways to rationalize defence spending and harmonize (or merge) R&D and capacity-building, which was priorly separated or duplicated. Knowing the long-lasting poltical quarrels between the UK and France, it’s a fine example how Europe can perform in a more coherent and efficient way. I pray for the multiplicator effect - it would certainly facilitate the objectives of the European Defence Agency.

    If you’re interested in the details of the French-British ’defence deal’, I recommend this FT article:

    Best regards, Nico

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