A demonstrator dressed in the colors of the European Union (EU) flag holds a placard in the EU flag colors outside of the Houses of Parliament in London, U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

EU Bickering Is Undermining Foreign Policy Aims

(Bloomberg) -- On foreign policy matters, it’s disunity, not unity, that defines the European Union.

Three cases this week hit that point home: The bloc failed to agree to jointly recognize the Venezuelan National Assembly leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim president, leaving it to individual countries; a joint EU-League of Arab States statement was held up because of two members’ objections; an EU statement deploring the collapse of a landmark nuclear treaty didn’t happen because of a disagreement over wording that blamed Russia.

In each of these, objections stemmed from national sensitivities and allegiances overriding a collective push by the EU to pull its weight in international affairs. As the bloc fights to be heard in an increasingly multi-polar world, fragmentation is getting in the way.

The rise of nationalist tendencies may further increase the risk of inertia after a bloc-wide election in May. While populists, euro-skeptics and pro-Russia governments across the bloc have little in common and not enough votes to push a common policy agenda, a strong showing could mean such dysfunctional standoffs become more frequent.

A taste of that came over the weekend when a push by countries such as Germany, Spain and the U.K. for the EU as a whole to recognize Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president, failed to garner consensus, amid resistance from Italy, two diplomats familiar with the discussions said.

“We have been informed that one member state is not in condition to agree on the draft EU 28 statement,” the EU’s foreign policy service said in an email to national delegations on Monday seen by Bloomberg. “This means that no EU 28 statement based on the draft circulated is going to be issued.”

EU Bickering Is Undermining Foreign Policy Aims

Separately, Hungary and Poland blocked a joint EU-League of Arab States statement because the country’s nationalist government wouldn’t accept any reference to the UN’s so-called global compact on migration. “Weeks of hard work have been wasted,” one of the diplomats familiar with the discussions said.

Russian Sanctions

Also on Monday, Cyprus opposed a joint EU statement deploring the collapse of a landmark nuclear treaty, with two diplomats attributing the opposition to Cyprus’s insistence that the wording not single out Russia as responsible for the debacle. A third European official threw the blame on the U.K., for blocking an earlier draft statement on Sunday, and said other countries, including Greece and Austria, were also unhappy with the latest draft statement on Monday.

Some EU countries are also opposing a push by several other member states for a new round of sanctions against Russia, over Moscow’s activities in the Sea of Azov. The prospects of additional sanctions are slim, in the absence of consensus, one of the officials familiar with the matter said.

Like taxation, foreign policy is one of the areas in the EU-decision making process where unanimity is required. For most policies, decisions are taken with the backing of a super-majority of member states, while the bloc’s assembly needs to approve legislation by a simple majority.

Meanwhile, the EU’s foreign policy service advised governments to be “coherent and consistent” in their statements and “maintain the unity of purpose that has so far prevailed in the approach of the EU28 to Venezuela,” according to the internal memo seen by Bloomberg.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.