Friday, 9 November 2007

The wonderful world of a so-called “Common Foreign Policy”

On 15 October, EU foreign affairs ministers gave their final approval for the deployment of EU troops in Chad and the Central African Republic, adopting a joint action on Operation EUFOR TCHAD/RCA. According to the Conclusions of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, the EU will “conduct a bridging military operation in Eastern Chad and North Eastern Central African Republic (EUFOR TCHAD/RCA) in the framework of the European Security and Defence Policy, for a period of one year from the date that its initial operational capability is declared” to support a joint United Nations-African Union (AU) peacekeeping force. The operation has been planned in coordination with the UN and in consultation with African partners. This mission has been considered a test for the EU’ external security policy. It is supposed to be the largest EU military operation since 2004 in Bosnia.

However, this mission is already struggling with the lack of troops and equipment. It seems only France, Poland and Belgium will contribute with troops whereas Spain with focus on logistics. Jim Murphy MP told to the European Scrutiny Committee that UK supports this operation but it will not deploy troops. The operation is to be funded by the EU Athena mechanism which is a mechanism for the financing of the common costs of European Union operations having military or defence implications. According to Jim Murphy MP, “the common headquarters and infrastructure costs of the operation are likely to total some 99.2M Euros.” Jim Murphy is not sure yet how much this operation will cost the UK, but it could be around between £10-15 million.

The EU is in fact duplicating the work of the United Nations and NATO. NATO spokesperson James Appathurai has said to the Austrian daily Der Standard that "we are having problems providing troops for all the NATO, EU and UN missions." The majority of EU Member States are also NATO members and therefore they have to make troops available for both organisations.

Moreover, the last GAER Council made clear that the EU is split over sanctions on Iran. Iran is currently facing limited EU sanctions and visa bans. France, which is backed by Britain, has been pushing for new EU sanctions mainly on Iran's financial sector. However, the EU Member States foreign ministers failed to agree on new sanctions. Germany, Italy, Spain and Austria do not support stronger sanctions as they are important Iranian trading partners.

The EU foreign ministers have also discussed the situation in Zimbabwe. The Council discussed sending an envoy to Zimbabwe to report back on the economic and humanitarian situation in the country. However not all the Member States have backed the UK´s proposal which will be further discussed at the Council.

Moreover, the Council has agreed to impose sanctions on Burma in response to a violent crackdown on protesters last month. This will include an “export ban on equipment to the sectors of logs and timber and mining of metals, minerals, precious and semi precious stones, an import ban of products of the sectors mentioned before, and an investment ban in these sectors.” The sanctions proposed by the EU have been considered ineffective since the majority of Burma’s raw materials are sold on the black market. According to the Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, “what's on the table now would affect a little more than one percent of Burma's foreign trade and hardly touch the regime's central finances."

Gordon Brown has, however, been in favour of economically supporting Burma with aid if the military junta carries out democratic reforms. Moreover, the Council has stressed that it “remains seriously concerned about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan”, and through aiming to encourage the Uzbek authorities to take positive steps to improve the human rights situation, the Council has decided to lift visa restrictions for a period of six months. Who has pushed for such decision? Germany. Germany has a military base in the country and has energy interests within the country, while other countries such as Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK were more in favour of keeping the sanctions.

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