Feature

All for One?

The Lisbon Treaty creates an EU president, sure. But it's the new foreign policy czar who might really change the world.

Something that might augur a truly titanic shift in foreign affairs happened this week. It involves possibly sweeping foreign-policy changes in two of the world's five official nuclear states. It promises to alter the Middle East peace process, negotiations with Iran, and policies regarding Russian missile defense. It will likely necessitate scores of new embassies. It directly affects 500 million people and indirectly affects the rest of the world.

On Tuesday, Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, grumblingly signed the European Union's Lisbon Treaty. His was the last signature needed to ratify the agreement, which streamlines Brussels's byzantine and slow-moving policymaking process and creates two leadership roles, an elected president with a 30-month term and a high representative for foreign policy.

Most focus has centered on the former position, whose precise responsibilities and powers EU leaders plan to hash out at a Nov. 11 summit. (The treaty comes into formal effect in December, and the new president is expected to take office on New Year's Day.) The somewhat sexy idea of a European president has led to wild speculation as to who might fill it, with dozens of potential candidates mentioned, most often the silver-tongued and internationally renowned Tony Blair and the barely known center-right Dutch leader Jan Peter Balkenende.

But it's actually the latter gig that has the most potential to transform how Brussels works and how Europe relates to the world. The president is likely to be just a figurehead rather than any kind of revolutionary leader. Just this week, a joint statement from the leaders of Denmark, Finland, and Ireland stressed that the president should be a "chairman," not a "chief." The characteristic most often cited as necessary is "consensus-building." For the eight years that the Lisbon Treaty and its prior incarnations have wended their way through various EU and European institutions, the concern has always been that the president might have too much authority, not too little.

The foreign-policy position and other structural changes built around it, on the other hand, are certain to bring real change. The point of the new role is to create a single, strong negotiator for the European Union. Currently, control over European foreign and defense policy is split between many people and institutions. NATO takes care of continental security, though each country is ultimately responsible for its own. Brussels deploys troops on peacekeeping missions, but doesn't keep its own army. The European Union does have common policies and a high representative for them -- currently, Secretary-General Javier Solana -- but it requires all 27 members to agree before action, a somewhat rare occurrence. As a result, European foreign policy and diplomacy is disaggregated and as diverse as Europe itself, a mishmash of foreign ministers, prime ministers, presidents, European council figures, and EU representatives.

This fracturing ensures that each country represents its own sovereign interests -- important, given Europe's diversity and the introversion of its foreign policy, which often consists of neighbors arguing among themselves. But many have lamented that Europe has no single, strong voice on the global stage -- increasingly dominated by the heavyweights China and the United States -- even despite Europe's economic heft, large population, and consensus on many issues.

Susanne Nies, a director of the French Institute of International Relations, told the Los Angeles Times, "The EU has kind of been ignored, kind of scorned by foreign powers despite its impressive wealth" because it "was not always clear who you were dealing with." Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once famously asked, "Who do I call if I want to call Europe?" -- and it's a tough question to answer.

The Lisbon Treaty does much to centralize Europe's foreign-policy power under the high representative, combining the authority held by Solana (who primarily handles relations between the European Union, national governments, and international bodies) and the external relations commissioner (who controls the budget and the bureaucracy). The new mandate is broad and deep, with the foreign-policy czar doing everything from chairing meetings of member-country ministers to controlling the European intelligence-sharing unit, the Situation Center. "It gives that person a sway and a ... regularization of power," says Charles Kupchan, a Europe expert at the Council on Foreign Relations and Georgetown University.

Most importantly, the high representative will control an entirely new foreign service, the European External Action Service (EEAS), proposing the budget and holding oversight over staffing. The EEAS will comprise thousands of analysts and diplomats from member countries and various EU bodies, creating policies to be voted upon by member-countries. The 125 European Commission representative offices will become EU embassies, with ambassadors appointed by Brussels. The EEAS will also control the EU missions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, Georgia, and elsewhere.

The tasks -- from intelligence sharing to peacekeeping to diplomatic negotiations -- aren't new. The revolutionary aspect of Lisbon is to ensure that they happen under a single roof, making the goal of a unified EU foreign policy (if not a monolithic one) more of a reality. The potential policy footprints for the EEAS and the high representative are, simply, enormous, far beyond the scope of any other single EU figure or agency at the moment. And big names are already being mentioned for the role, most often David Miliband, the British foreign minister.

Questions remain about how it will work, and the new high representative and foreign service aren't due to come into full effect until 2012. Two groups in particular might pose strong opposition to the proposals under consideration: small countries fearful of ceding sovereignty and big countries with strong foreign ministers, like Germany, fearful of ceding power. "Small countries are likely to feel completely overshadowed -- partly because they already do," Kupchan says. On the other side, he asks, "How willing are the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Britain to take a back seat to the so-called high representative in Brussels?"

Although such considerations might mean a diminution or dilution of the Lisbon Treaty's bold changes, the major structural transformation is sure to take place, and that structural transformation suggests a major change in how Europe engages with the world. At least as proposed, it seems that come 2012 a single agency will write and mediate the European Union's foreign policy and a single figure will be the primary negotiator of its interests abroad -- meaning, too, that a single person will pick up the phone when would-be Kissingers decide to call.

"This is not a geopolitical earthquake," Kupchan notes. "On the other hand, it is precisely these kinds of institutional changes that, in the long run, change the world."

JOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

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