05f143239aa58210VgnVCM100000e56411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2009-Q4The road to a useful Europe may start in the Middle Eastf4f143239aa58210VgnVCM100000e56411ac____The road to a useful Europe may start in the Middle EastThe selection of Herman van Rompuy as president of the European Union's Council of Ministers, and of Catherine Ashton as the EU's foreign policy chief, surely underlines the extent to which member states are in the driver's seat in the EU.<p>The selection of Herman van Rompuy as president of the European Union's Council of Ministers, and of Catherine Ashton as the EU's foreign policy chief, surely underlines the extent to which member states are in the driver's seat in the EU. They manage its institutions in their own interest. The EU is no super-state striding bravely into a bright new dawn.
The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, will not have to compete for the global limelight with any Brussels supremos; Germany will not be challenged to break out of its increasing introversion, no longer obliged to demonstrate its democratic post-war credentials by embracing the European cause at every turn; and Britain can rest easy that its world role will remain the aspiring Jeeves of the White House.</p>
<p>The best that could come from the appointment of Europe's two new low-profile leaders is that it leads to better and more coherent management of the EU's business. Mr Van Rompuy will be able to offer a longer view than that of a six-month national presidency. Baroness Ashton should be able to tie together the political and resource arms of Europe's external policies.
But it is not yet clear, whatever the Lisbon Treaty says, that Baroness Ashton has full control of either the EU external budget or of appointments to the new diplomatic service. She has a difficult hand to play, and can expect her elbow to be nudged by the EU Commission president José Manuel Barroso, who was the big winner in the carve-up of jobs. But foreign ministers will be deeply suspicious if they think the Commission is taking over foreign policy.</p>
<p>Past experience suggests that there are five guidelines to follow if there is to be a more effective European presence on the world stage when foreign and security policy are at the top of the agenda.
First, Europe should dare to believe that what most suits its interests might also be best for the relationship with its closest ally, the United States. For example, EU members should want to prevent the militarisation of nuclear energy in Iran precisely because of their concern as Europeans, not because they are allies of the US.</p>
<p>Second, European rhetoric about its role as America's international partners for peace should not stray too far from reality. It is not just that Europe does not spend enough on hard power, but that what it does spend - about €200 billion (Dh1.1 trillion) - is spent badly. The EU needs common defence procurement and harmonisation to acquire the helicopters, transport aircraft, battlefield communications equipment and surveillance drones necessary for 21st-century operations.</p>
<p>For reasons of history, morality and security, Africa should be regarded as a particular European responsibility. The EU should deploy aid, diplomacy and peacekeeping capacity to support sustainable development, good governance, and regional collaboration on the continent.
Third, where Europe has a serious internal policy, it is easier to establish a serious external one. The best example of this is energy policy and Russia, which wants a sphere of influence around its borders.</p>
<p>Dealing with Russia has probably been the biggest failure in the attempt to make European foreign policy. To formulate such a policy requires Europe to frame a single energy policy. Baroness Ashton will need to be firm with Russia and with member states who subordinate Europe to the commercial interests of their national energy companies.
Fourth, European external policy is most effective the nearer it is to home. The EU is at its best in its own back yard - and at its worst, too. Its greatest success has been EU enlargement. This promoted and consolidated regime change without weapons, stabilising the continent.</p>
<p>The job is not complete. The prospect of EU membership is at the heart of EU policy in the western Balkans, where Europe is starting to show (for example in Bosnia-Herzegovina) a dangerous disinclination to apply tough conditionality. It is committed to Ukraine's "European vocation", but not to its EU membership. Spot the difference!
The EU undertook more than four decades ago to negotiate Turkish membership once that country became fully democratic with an open economy and respect for human rights and the rule of law. To turn down Turkey would be tantamount to writing Europe out of any serious script in global affairs. The EU would be rejecting a country that is an important regional power, a significant Nato member and a crucial energy hub. It would stand accused of burning, rather than building, bridges to the Islamic world. Unfortunately, Mr van Rompuy, an author and poet, has spoken out against Turkish membership in far cruder terms than one would expect from a gentle haiku writer.</p>
<p>My final guideline for policy is that Europe is not and will not become a superpower or superstate. Unlike the US, the EU does not matter everywhere. It does not require a policy on every problem and every place. But where the problem affects much else, and where the region is close to home, it should have a policy that consists of more than waiting to agree with whatever America decides its policy should be - as, for example, in the Middle East. The present "no war-no peace" lull in the Middle East is not sustainable; nor is a one-state solution either possible or desirable.</p>
<p>So what can Europe do to nudge things forward in a region where America is again engaged but not respected, and where Europe is neither? At the very least, the EU could set out its own policy, beginning with an effort to end the fragmentation of Palestine and Palestinians between the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Does it matter if Europe is not on the same page as the US? Frankly, no.
When Barack Obama had to choose between a meeting of Asean or the celebrations in Berlin marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall, he chose Asia. Will Europe do enough to change his mind the next time there is such a choice? As things stand, it is in danger of becoming politically irrelevant, a successful customs union with a Swissified foreign policy and a group of fractious, vision-free leaders.</p>
<p><I>Chris Patten, the last British Governor of Hong Kong and a former EU Commissioner for External Affairs, is Chancellor of the University of Oxford.</i>
© Project Syndicate</p>