The European Union has announced the deployment of their troops to Mali, citing need assessments conducted on January 28 and February 2. It has moreover announced to restart the development aid that was interrupted as a result of the military coup d’état in March 2012, which was followed by an increased wave of rebellion in the north of the country – ironically what the military coup aimed to avoid to begin with. Power seemingly was given back but the chaos continued. And while countries and international organizations all over the world declared their disapprobation, nothing was done.
When finally violence and Malian living conditions grew worse, international organizations decided to undertake more decisive action, strongly condemning the violence and the destruction of valuable sites. Intentions for draft plans were thrown around, and the EU finally resolved on asking the UN to take action. And nothing happened.
Between October and December the EU was busy contemplating the possible deployment of a training mission. And while they absolutely needed more time to properly prepare the mission, they declared support to any action that might be taken by anyone, preferably the UN or ECOWAS. Yet still nothing happened.
When Mali finally asked France to lend a hand and France responded in less than 48 hours, the very slow progress of international organizations became painfully clear. The fact the grande nation did take matters in its own hands after all -explicitly not in the context of the EU – made the latter’s lack of a foreign policy profile all the more apparent. Granted; the EU never had the intention to deploy troops to fight in Mali. Training missions need to be accompanied by military missions to be effective. Yet, the failure of the EU to respond appropriately on an international level resurfaced, again traumatizing any EU official that would have liked the EU to be less insignificant globally.
The fact that it has taken the EU more than a year to get to action is only one example of the EU foreign policy being one of its weakest points, although it should reflect the EU’s strengths. Any improvement would without doubt be welcome. Yet any decrease of foreign policy competences of the member states could be just as damaging as the strengthening of EU foreign policy could be beneficial. When the Malian confusion paralyzed the Council of Ministers, it was only an individual member state that could leave the chaos behind. And even if this action was no longer undertaken in the framework of the EU, it’s action nonetheless. Thanks to creating the post of High Representative and her External Action Service, the EU arguably has a more unified face. However, this is of little importance if the decision-making process behind it is as split as ever. The unified voice of EU foreign policy is therefore left with the uncomfortable choice between schizophrenia and silence.
Understandably, EU member states are unwilling to lose competences if the defense of their interests faces a deadlock in Council negotiations. Even a considerable shift of competences would not erase the great divergence of interests within the EU, although it might hide it better. The EU member states therefore face the challenge they already have faced numerous times without ever being able to conquer it: How to strengthen a common foreign policy without losing their capacity to act on their own interests when common action could be contrary or just non-existent.