143rd Bergedorf Round Table

“Is a Common European Foreign Policy Possible?”

June, 12-14, 2009, Berlin

Under the chairmanship of former German President Richard von Weizsäcker politicians, diplomats and specialists from the EU, its neighbourhood and the U.S. discussed the possibilities and limitations of a common European foreign policy at the 143rd Bergedorf Round Table in Berlin. The participants included former Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik; German politicians such as Werner Hoyer, Alexander Graf Lambsdorff and Cem Özdemir; Helga Maria Schmid, director of Javier Solana’s Policy Unit; and Christoph Heusgen, foreign and security policy adviser to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

There was general agreement about the fact that there is such a thing as an EU foreign policy identity. Common interests and values such as democracy, freedom and the rule of law, it was thought, held the EU together. Furthermore, the foreign policy identity of the EU was said to include a belief in the value of regional cooperation, a great reticence when it came to the use of military force, and the conviction that conflicts can be resolved first and foremost by means of dialogue and negotiation. Yet the EU cannot restrict itself to a regional role. Since its interests are of a global nature, it simply has to accept international responsibilities in far-distant parts of the world. There was disagreement on how the EU should deal with these responsibilities. Some people described it as a “leave-well-alone community” which did not interfere with others and did not want to be interfered with and thus considered this attitude to be dangerous and harmful. The EU, they believed, should worry less about being right, and concentrate on the results of its policies. In the final analysis this also included the willingness to use military force. Others were of the opinion that the EU now plays an essential role in international crisis management. The significance of military measures should not be overestimated. It is in fact the EU’s “soft power” and its reticence with regard to military issues which make it a unique actor who is accepted by all the parties to a conflict and in certain respects is ahead of the U.S.

The participants agreed that the EU plays a prominent role in its neighbourhood and on account of its neighbourhood and enlargement policy possesses a transformational power which other states find very attractive. However, with its “Eastern Partnership” the EU has embarked on a power struggle with Russia. EU enlargement policy towards Turkey continued to be controversial. Some participants argued that Turkish membership would be a setback for a common European foreign policy, whereas others emphasized that the EU needed Turkey in order to become a great power in global terms.

How can the common elements of European foreign policy be strengthened? The reforms included in the Treaty of Lisbon were on the whole deemed to be positive. The newly created President of the European Council and the High Representative for the Foreign and Security Policy could in future improve the image of the EU. It remains to be seen how much room for manoeuvre the member states will actually concede to the President of the European Council and the EU “foreign minister.” The discussion also touched on the question of how and to what extent cooperation between the individual member states could be improved in the area of foreign policy. Many of the participants thought that it would be a good idea in the case of important issues if the large member states coordinated their views on an informal basis. However, institutionalized cooperation among the larger states, for example, in a “Directory of the Big Six,” was rejected. Ignoring the smaller members went against the notion of EU solidarity and in the long run would undermine the cohesion of the community. The idea of two-tier EU membership and enhanced cooperation among a core group of member states continues to be controversial.

There was disagreement about how important it is to secure the support of EU citizens for a common European foreign policy. The participants thought that it would be a good thing if the EU electorate actually approved of a common European foreign policy. How exactly European foreign policy could become part of the democratic process is an open question. Some participants believed that if the European Parliament or the national parliaments had exaggerated co-decision powers, it could seriously hamper the EU’s ability to take any kind of action.

The results of the confidential discussions had been included in edited form in the 143rd Bergedorf Protocol, which is published by Edition Körber-Stiftung.

List of Participants