Dealing with the Parliament II

by Henry Farrell on April 14, 2005

Today’s FT has an interesting short article about the growing foreign policy clout of the European Union (something I wrote about back in June of last year). Robert Zoellick recognized this when he took time out of his short European tour to talk to MEPs in the Parliament’s foreign affairs committee. Even more interesting is that the Parliament has been taking more of a hands-on role in the enlargement process; a highly critical Parliament report on corruption in Romania (which is an EU candidate state) triggered a government reshuffle there. This is the kind of under-the-radar change that is likely to have substantial long-term repercussions for the transatlantic relationship. On the one hand, as I noted last year, this is likely to mean a more stormy relationship between the EU and US over the medium term. Just as the US Congress passes laws and makes demands that constrain the ability of the executive to make international deals, so too the European Parliament is likely to make it more difficult for the EU as a whole to reach accommodations with the US. This is especially likely in the touchy issue area where human rights and security concerns intersect. When I talk to people in the Parliament about transatlantic cooperation in security and intelligence sharing, the Maher Arar case and the practice of extraordinary renditions come up again and again. On the other, the Parliament may provide the US with a new ally in areas such as the China arms embargo, where Parliament’s concerns about human rights and US foreign policy interests point in the same direction.



P ONeill 04.14.05 at 3:16 pm

Surely the wildcard in the path towards a stronger foreign policy voice for the EU is fate of the EU Constitution — about which I think we need some CT posts soon. If the Constitution tanks in France, then the next few years in the EU will be consumed with yet another “crisis,” undercutting the ability of the Union to project even moral power externally.


John Quiggin 04.14.05 at 5:33 pm

Henry, the FT link doesn’t work for me – I don’t get an error, but it doesn’t load either.

I agree with p o’neill that we need a post on the Constitution, preferably from our Northern hemisphere team :-).


Doug Muir 04.15.05 at 4:21 am

Even more interesting is that the Parliament has been taking more of a hands-on role in the enlargement process;

Remind me again why this is a good thing.

Case in point: Croatia. The EU Commission very correctly told the Croats that their application for membership would go nowhere until Croatia’s war criminals were handed over to the Hague. The EU Parliament, on the other hand, was much more sympathetic… much too sympathetic; had it been up to them, they’d have given the Croats a green light, mass murderers and all.

More generally, the EU Parliament’s few forays into foreign policy have shown a distressingly high tendency towards pointless gestures and petulant displays. You can argue that its very irrelevance encourages it to behave badly, and I wouldn’t disagree. But that “hands-on role”, so far, has consistent of a lot of second-guessing; many trees have died, but there hasn’t been an iota of actual policy change.

a highly critical Parliament report on corruption in Romania (which is an EU candidate state) triggered a government reshuffle there.

Um? I live in Romania, and we haven’t had a government reshuffle. We got a new government in December, but that was after elections. It had nothing to do with any Parliamentary report.

You might want to go back and check that one.

Doug M.


Andrew Boucher 04.15.05 at 6:22 am

EU Constitution post:
Jacques Chirac appeared on French television last night to plead for a yes vote on the EU Constitution. He should have stayed home. The format had been chosen by the President’s daughter and communications manager, Claude Chirac; it was not a debate with Constitution opponents, but a question-and-answer session in front of a selection of the nation’s young. Nothing probably appeared easier; French youth have been consistently more pro-European than their elders and were probably expected to toss the President a few softball questions.

Instead their queries were mostly negative and mostly aggressive. The youth were also very French, in that they were looking to the government, now in the form of the EU Constitution, to solve all their problems. The line of questioning wasn’t far from, “I don’t have a job. Will the EU Constitution help me get one?”

Chirac’s reasons for the Constitution were mostly negative. Should the “no” vote win, France would lose influence in Europe. Worse, the United States wanted a “no” vote, because it wanted Europe to stay weak. About the only positive reason given was that Europe would finally have a Constitution which enshrined “French” values.

But the youth would have none of it. In the end an exasperated Chirac admitted that he didn’t understand why people were voting no. “I don’t understand you,” from a President to his people, is a cry of distress. It is, however, not the kind of convincing argument that is likely to help get the Constitution passed.


Henry 04.15.05 at 7:42 am

Doug – the Romania reshuffle thing is from the FT article – according to the FT it happened last year. And while there’s surely something to your claims about petulance, your argument that the Parliament hasn’t produced an “iota of policy change” is flat-out wrong.

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