|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||04/01/96, Volume 2, Number 01|
IN the wake of a dazzling array of foreign initiatives last year, 1996 may be a year for EU policy to become more focused as it faces up to political challenges more profound than those involved in its commercial forays.
EU diplomats have put the former Yugoslavia and Russia at the top of their lists for this year's foreign policy priorities - and then, apparently daunted by those two, they have kept the rest of the list short.
Clearly the most pressing problem, Bosnia, will occupy much of the EU's diplomatic, military and financial energy this year, but the Union must also plan its future relations with the Balkan region.
Trade and cooperation accords are on the drafting table for Macedonia (FYROM) and Croatia, while Slovenia is expected to apply for EU membership. French officials have talked about a new stability pact for the Balkans, along similar lines to the Balladur pact for Central Europe, aimed at resolving ethnic disputes.
“Yugoslavia is still the focal point of any major risk,” said a Swedish diplomat, agreeing with EU counterparts that not only will the war-torn states be a logistical priority for the Union, but a conceptual one as well.
Real imagination will also be needed, they say, to establish the still undefined post-Cold War relationship with Russia. Well aware of Moscow's resistance to seeing its former satellites join either the EU or NATO, and waiting for the outcome of the Russian presidential elections in June, the Union must tread carefully but boldly. With Union membership ruled out for Russia, the world's biggest land mass, a pending cooperation agreement would create bureaucratic links. But its real status is still as yet undetermined and many believe that, as one French diplomat put it: “A place for Russia in Europe is absolutely vital.”
With pre-accession strategies well under way for the Central and Eastern European countries aspiring to join the Union, relations with them take on the nature of housekeeping rather than creative initiatives.
But Nordic governments have said they will not allow the Baltic states (all of which have applied for EU membership) to be swept under the rug, and will continue to push for political initiatives there. Serious discussion of ties with the Baltics requires lengthy thought on the shape of European security. In considering their membership of the Union and full status in the Western European Union, EU officials risk arousing Russian fears of Baltic participation in EU foreign policy and, eventually, NATO.
French diplomats have put discussion of European security architecture on their priority list for 1996. They say last year's furore over French nuclear tests shows the need for a discussion of nuclear capacity and of neutrality.
Meanwhile, EU governments have pledged to continue two major initiatives of 1995 in the coming year - those in the Euro-Mediterranean zone and those on the Transatlantic agenda. Both are high on most diplomats' list.
Italy, which has just taken over the EU presidency from Spain, is keen to maintain the momentum created by last November's Euro-Med conference in Barcelona, giving the region a second year in the spotlight after it was put centre stage during the French presidency. This 18-month effort redresses the balance after UK, Danish and German presidencies placed a higher priority on Eastern Europe.
EU governments also see the Euro-Med zone as an important means of raising the Union's stature in the crucial political arena of the Middle East peace process. An EU initiative from which Americans have been excluded, it has been seen as a success in winning attention for the EU and promoting a concrete bilateral platform.
However, Italian officials are also concentrating on more material initiatives, stressing the need to bolster the year-old World Trade Organisation (and the EU's role in it), keep up the pace on commercial initiatives in North and South America, and achieve concrete results at the upcoming Asia-Europe summit in March.
With last year's fight over funding for African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) nations signalling the death throes of EU policy in Africa, agreements sewn up with Mercosur and the customs union with Turkey in place, Asia may be the next to come over the horizon.
Following several pin-pointed initiatives in Vietnam and China last year, some diplomats see opportunities there. German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who toured China, Vietnam and Singapore in November, has been saying that people are waking up too late to Asia and is lobbying to get the continent moved up the EU agenda.
French diplomats also cautiously mention “the enchanted continent, the one Europe still has to discover”. As one commented: “Latin America and Africa are old hat now, but Asia is still virgin territory.”
Just under 6&percent; of the Union's 86.5-billion-ecu budget for 1996 will go on foreign spending, with projects ranging from administering the Bosnian town of Mostar (32 million ecu) to promoting EU exports in Japan (13 million ecu).
Excluding the EU's efforts in implementing peace in Bosnia, which do not yet have a price tag, the biggest single budget beneficiaries include South Africa (125 million ecu) and the Palestinian-administered territories. Both remain political priorities as well.
But the largest initiatives are regional ones, with nearly 2 billion ecu going to Central and Eastern Europe and the states of the former Soviet Union. The vast bulk of this money is being channelled through the Phare and Tacis programmes.
Another 900 million ecu will go to North African and Middle Eastern states in the Mediterranean. Some 245 million ecu will be devoted to maintaining EU fishing accords with foreign nations, such as Morocco, which are vital to Spanish and Portuguese livelihoods.
Food aid totals some 850 million ecu, with another 730 million ecu devoted to development aid, followed by 550 million ecu for specific development projects in Cuba, Vietnam, Latin America and Africa, among others, with much of this money distributed by the European Community Humanitarian aid Office (ECHO).
In what is perhaps a sign of how immature the Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) remains, its administration budget line remains a meagre 30 million ecu.
|Countries / Regions||Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, Slovenia, Southeastern Europe|