The foreign-policy solidarity gap

European solidarity is though but necessary ? especially in today?s economic, political and security climate

Director, Wider Europe programme

This piece was first published as part of the author’s EUObserver blog.

Complaints about an imbalance in the levels of EU engagement in the Southern
neighbourhood compared to the Eastern neighbourhood are wide-spread. The new EU
member states like to point to the  fact that EU funding for the
Mediterranean neighbours is much bigger than for the Eastern neighbours; and EU
diplomatic engagement in the Middle Eastern conflicts (be it the
Israeli-Palestine conflict or Lebanon) has been much less shy than in the post-Soviet
space.

But Southern EU member states also have their grudges. The Portuguese
prime-minister implied
once
that the EU has spent almost twenty years cajoling and baby-sitting
the Eastern neighbours of the day (beginning with Central Europe which is
already in the EU, and then the Balkans), and now it is time to turn to the
South where a “new” generation of threats such as terrorism, migration and
conflicts are threatening Europe.

Two recent EU summits with their neighbours provide a good snapshot of the
balance of priorities and the foreign policy solidarity
gap
: the July 2008 summit of the Union of Mediterranean in Paris
and the May 2009 summit of the Eastern Partnership in Prague. Stanislav Secrieru, a blogger, contrasts the attendance
of the two summits by EU leaders. The full lists of attendees are here:
for the Eastern
Partnership
summit and for the Euro-Mediterranean
summit.

Take summit attendance as a proxy that can reveal a certain solidarity gap
in the way EU member states support each other’s foreign policy priorities. The
question is which of the new EU member states attended to the Euro-med summit
in 2008, and which of the Southern EU states paid back in kind by attending the
Eastern Partnership summit in Prague in 2009?

Here is the crude data. The Euro-med summit in Paris in July 2008 was attended by 25 heads
of state – presidents or prime ministers. Finland sent both its president and
prime-minister. Only the Czech Republic was represented by a deputy-prime-minister
and Belgium
by the foreign minister. The important thing is that virtually all of the new
EU member states showed solidarity on this occasion with the Mediterranean
priorities of the rest of the Union.

The Eastern Partnership summit provides a strikingly different picture. Ten
EU member states were not represented at “heads of state level”: Sarkozy,
Zapatero, Berlusconi, and Gordon Brown ignored the summit. The leaders of Austria, Luxembourg,
Malta and Portugal as well. Stranger, though,
was the fact that Lithuania
sent its foreign-minister, and that Romania’s president Traian Basescu
also stayed away. Strangely enough the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt, one
of the “parents” of the Eastern partnership, also stayed away (though Sweden was
present at PM level). But the fact that Italy
was represented by its minister of welfare, while Austria by its ambassador
(perm.rep) to the EU – was outright offensive. I also hear German diplomats
were furious at the lack of diplomatic solidarity of so many EU member states
(Merkel was in Prague).

The bottom line: on the issue of pressing the reset button of EU policy
towards its neighbours – South and East – the new EU member states showed more
solidarity with their fellow (older) EU member states than vice-versa. The
attendance lists of the two summits are proof of that.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.

Author

Director, Wider Europe programme