In November 2012, the New York Times reported that the European Union was offering “crucial support for the new Syrian political opposition,” which the E.U. referred to as the “legitimate representative for the Syrian people.” The E.U. stopped short of “conferring full diplomatic recognition” to the new group—the National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces—even though one of the E.U.’s states, France, had conferred such recognition one week earlier, and another state, Britain, would soon do likewise.
In the early U.S., foreign policy was transferred to the union because of the greater political muscle the combined forces would have, and out of fear that European states would “divide and conquer” the new American union as state would turn against state according to their different alliances. In the early E.U., at least as of late 2012, a state could have a different foreign policy than the union itself without fear that the difference could be a threat to the union itself. Years earlier, divisions between E.U. states on Iraq had kept the E.U. from being a check, or counter-posing power, on the American-led invasion and occupation. The presence of state militia and union troops on the ground could have enabled the Europeans to effectively counter the American terms of the occupation, including its duration.
In general terms, the states’ rights “euro-skeptic” forces within E.U. states—particularly in the “red states” such as Britain and the Czech Republic—outweighed the prospect of more political influence abroad from foreign policy being a competency of the union. That the difference between the policies of the states of France and Britain and the policy of the E.U. as a whole could possibly be exploited by foreign powers to weaken European integration was in large ignored in Europe at the time. For one thing, the states were still generally assumed to be the proper guardians of foreign policy. The staying power of this residual assumption came with a cost. Just as divergent fiscal policies at the state level could put pressure on the euro, differences in foreign policy between a state and the union, or even between states, could detract from the E.U.’s aim to be taken seriously on the world stage as a major player, even in the economic domain, and detractors abroad could exploit the differences to compromise the E.U. itself.
The E.U. has had difficulty standing above its states in foreign policy. euobserver.com
Whereas in the early U.S., the states transferred all of their foreign policy competencies to officials at the union-level, the tradition in the early E.U. has been to keep state officials “in the game” at the federal level. The European adaptation makes for a stronger federal system, I believe. In determining whether to shift more foreign-policy sovereignty to the E.U., state officials would not have to reconcile themselves with their own exclusion. The political benefits abroad from foreign policy at the federal level would not be at the cost of relegating the states completely—only their refusal to have foreign policies very closely fitting to their specific state interests.
Put another way, E.U. foreign policy could be fashioned by state officials (i.e., heads of state, and foreign ministers) meeting at the European Council or the Council of Ministers, so the “transfer” would really only be in terms of the ability of a state to have its own foreign policy. With a veto essentially emasculating any federal foreign policy, any given state could be on the losing side of a vote by qualified majority voting. This fact, by the way, illustrates in an important way why the E.U. even as of 2012 constituted a federal system (rather than an alliance)—dual sovereignty being among the critical attributes of modern federalism (as distinct from a network and even a confederation). The question at the time of the policy-making with respect to Syria can be put as whether different foreign policies within the E.U., or between the E.U. and a state, undercuts the level of integration that is requisite to supporting the dual-sovereignty already achieved. This question is similar to that of how much fiscal integration was needed for the E.U. to meet its responsibilities to support the euro.
Tim Arango, “European Union Backs Syrian Opposition Coalition,” The New York Times, November 20, 2012.
Neil MacFarquhar and Hania Mourtada, “Citing a ‘Credible Alternative’ to Assad, Britain Recognizes Syrian Rebel Group,” The New York Times, November 21, 2012.