Collecting signatures

Development Policy16 Oct 2009Niels Keijzer

The last two weeks saw the majority of Irish citizens voting in support of their country’s ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, as well as the Polish President providing his signature after his first pen mysteriously failed to produce ink.

Now all eyes are set on Václav Klaus in his Prague Castle, who needs to provide the final signature that will allow the Treaty to become a reality. Although the Czech Constitutional Court may still take some time to assess the ‘constitutionality’ of the Treaty, the speculations about possible candidates for still abstract sounding names such as ‘President of the Council’ and ‘High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy’ have intensified in previous weeks. Today’s rumours will likely be dominated by an interview with French President Nicholas Sarkozy in Le Figaro, in which he expressed second thoughts on the suitability of Tony Blair for the post of Council President and that it was a problem that the UK does not participate in the Euro scheme.

By means of the interview, President Sarkozy interestingly joins the position of many of the smaller EU member states. Three of those member states who together form the Benelux group suggested similar requirements for the Council President in a paper on the implementation of Lisbon which leaked to the press about a week ago.

More interesting for the future place and profile of development cooperation in the changing EU is the paper’s recommendation in relation to the European External Action Service (EEAS). First of all, the paper suggests that the EEAS should support the High Representative in ensuring the coherence of the EU’s external action, and to not simply steamroll ahead but carefully ‘pilot’ the future EU Delegations in a few countries. Perhaps the most interesting proposal, though, is the following:

“In the interests of the coherence of external policy, some aspects of development cooperation policy – the country desks that currently fall under DG Development – should also be incorporated into the EEAS, as the EEAS provides more opportunities to carry out a better integrated European policy (as in the case of the 3D approach). It should be noted nevertheless that the specific goals of European development cooperation policy, such as the eradication of poverty, have been included in the Treaty, where they are presented as objectives of the Union.”

Implementing this suggestion would mean a major change for the organisation, and would possibly require more fundamental changes in the Commission’s Directorates General responsible for formulating and/or implementing its development policies. The Benelux paper also proposes a gradual approach to setting up the EEAS, first relying mostly on Commission and Council officials and only a limited number of member state diplomats, and later to be staffed by all three. A major issue for decision among the member states, and one with much impact on the balance of power for development cooperation between the EC, Council and Parliament, will be whether the EEAS will be funded from the general EU Budget (as proposed in the paper) or whether it will be kept outside of this budget (as apparently desired by some larger member states). Whereas putting it inside the budget would allow the European Parliament to have both influence and control, keeping it outside would improve the influence of the member states’ governments.

Although the Benelux paper gives a rare insiders view of some member states’ views on the future of Europe, it is likely that the debate will continue in a (very) select group of people during the next few weeks, and that the rest of us will have to be satisfied with more fictional and sometimes even wishful thinking.