WITHOUT making too much of a fuss about it, the European Union is beginning to play an identifiable role in international affairs.
The principal mover is Javier Solana, the EU's chief foreign policy representative who acts on behalf of the EU Council of Ministers of member states. In the hectic negotiations over the Lebanese crisis Sr Solana was everywhere to be seen and the success of his efforts in helping to bring about the ceasefire was acknowledged by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Sr Solana is also active with Iran over its nuclear intentions and has had several meetings in Tehran with the Iranian leadership.
All this is very encouraging to those who believe that the EU should have a recognised place on the international stage when its interests are involved.
While its policies may often coincide with those of the United States it should also be able to take an independent approach when it seems to be called for. It would be wrong, however, to move too rapidly in developing the EU's role. One obvious problem is that of reaching an agreed foreign policy among 25 member states; there have already been murmurings from the current Finnish presidency of the EU, as well as from other states such as Italy, that Sr Solana seems to report to the Big 3, Britain, France and Germany, rather than to the Council of Ministers. In a fastmoving situation this may be inevitable but it is not ideal.
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