International Spectator

The International Spectator

Volume XXXIII No. 3 (July-September 1998)


Flexibility and Enhanced Cooperation After Amsterdam—Prospects For CFSP and the WEU *
By Antonio Missiroli


Since it was inserted in the Maastricht Treaty on European Union (TEU), the common foreign and security policy (CFSP)—the EU’s second pillar—has become subject to intensive academic, political and public attention, and criticism. A tangible “expectations vs. capability gap” has affected its implementation as well as its reputation, while other “policy providers”—UN, NATO, OSCE, but also various coalitions of the willing, each with EU member states at the forefront—have more or less adequately met the challenges with which they have been confronted. 1

After the signing of the Amsterdam Treaty, the only policy areas in which a clear European identity fails to emerge and in which going beyond intergovernmentalism seems a hardly attainable goal are precisely those that CFSP and the WEU address. This does not mean, of course, that the EU as such has no international “presence” at all, nor that it cannot claim to be an international actor of some weight in its own right: as a matter of fact, its common trade and aid policies—as key components of the first “pillar”, they are carried out by the Commission—represent important political levers on the global scene and have already led to the conceptualisation of the EU as a “civilian power”. 2

Yet it is apparent that they fall short of a proper common foreign, let alone security, policy: institutionally, trade and aid, humanitarian missions, external relations and CFSP proper are being dealt with by separate bureaucratic entities (as well as by different EU Commissioners); academically, there is no consensus over considering all of them as components of one and the same policy area. Besides, even along the long and winding road leading from European Political Cooperation. 3 to CFSP many opportunities to strengthen and upgrade the existing intergovernmental cooperation (and to make it more consistent with the common trade and aid policies) were missed, neglected or inadequately addressed by the EC and the EU member states—be it in the Middle East, vis-à-vis the apartheid regime in South Africa or, more recently, in former Yugoslavia—and have consequently led to widespread disappointment and frustration.

As a partial response to such difficulties, lately, that is before and during the negotiations that led to the Amsterdam Treaty, some analysts and policy-makers floated the idea of resorting to some form of flexibility or enhanced cooperation within the European institutional framework to allow more effectiveness and visibility in the second pillar and to make Europe a more respected international actor.

This article will provide a brief survey of the debate, a summary of the Intergovernmental Conference (ICG) negotiations, an assessment of their outcome and its implications for CFSP and WEU, and a brief analysis of the present state of affairs.


After Maastricht

The debate about how institutionally to reconcile and manage heterogeneity within the European Community/Union (EC/EU)—with a view to the dual challenge of “deepening” and “widening”—is hardly new. From the publication of the Tindemans Report in 1975 until the early 1990s, though, the supply of quality literature and convincing arguments on the subject was scarce and occasional. Only after the Maastricht Treaty was ratified and the CDU/CSU parliamentary group released its controversial paper “Reflections on European Policy” in September 1994, did discussion take off again, giving way to an avalanche of new visions and concepts across the continent: Europe, it was suggested, should go multi-speed and for an integration échelonnée; it should become two-tier, multi-track, of variable-geometry, or à la carte; it should be built around a hard core, or take the form of concentric circles. Scholars and political leaders competed in the coinage of terms that clearly entailed different visions and goals, which in the end made the whole discussion fairly confusing. 4

Until the conclusions of the so-called Reflection Group preparing the IGC came out (July-December 1995), three main definitions of a more flexible, differentiated EU could be singled out with some clarity in an effort to better understand some of the implications of the whole discussion: a multi-speed (or hard core) Europe, a variable geometry Europe, and a Europe à la carte. Roughly speaking, the three could be pegged, respectively, to time, space, and subject matter.

Of course, things are not so simple and clear-cut: even the CDU/CSU proposal, for instance, called for a “multi-speed or variable geometry” Europe, without realising that the two concepts are rather different. 6 It is arguable that the multi-speed and à la carte approaches are at the two opposite extremes of the spectrum of differentiated integration, whereas—in its ambiguity—variable geometry exemplifies the middle ground (or grey area) in between. The main difference between variable geometry and multi-speed is the degree of common objectives involved. Variable geometry has to take place outside the acquis communautaire and, as opposed to à la carte, somehow implies various forms of deeper integration outside the normal decision-making framework of the EU. Multi-speed, on the other hand, aims at the most ambitious acquis and avoids any form of differentiated integration outside the community structure.

In terms of policy, and more concretely, the transitional periods and temporary derogations often related to accession agreements, harmonisation of VAT, or similar issues could be considered the most obvious examples of a multi-speed integration already in place. Moreover, the Maastricht Treaty introduced a very important multi-speed element into the implementation of European Monetary Union (EMU): as a matter of fact, capability (as measured against common and unanimously agreed convergence criteria), willingness and a precise timetable jointly make for a quintessential case of multi-speed Europe, in which it is up to each member state to choose the most appropriate means to achieve such common goals. Indeed, EMU itself has become more or less explicitly the cornerstone—or rather the underlying term of reference—of any controversy over enhanced integration ever since. 7

Within European institutions there have also been examples of variable geometry. In the area of security policy, this has been illustrated by WEU itself, and by the Eurocorps, EUROMARFOR, EUROFOR and other bi/multinational forces. And in the sphere of the initially fledgling “third pillar” (justice and home affairs), the Schengen Agreement could be considered a good example of a conglomeration of states pursuing deeper integration within a separate unit through forms of opting-in (rather than opting-out). Finally, the Maastricht Treaty itself enshrined a number of opt-out clauses that could be situated somewhere between à la carte integration and variable geometry: on EMU (United Kingdom, Denmark), on the common defence policy (Denmark), and on the Social Charter (United Kingdom). Some residual evidence of opt-outs can also be found in the accession agreement signed in 1994 by Sweden (the snuff tobacco exemption).

This is only to say that, fuzzy as it may have appeared, the 1994-95 debate had a bearing on many forms of European integration that were not purely theoretical, nor entirely untested. Indeed, Wolfgang Schäuble, Edouard Balladur and John Major—as well as their academic counterparts—probably had something fairly specific in mind when they outlined their respective blueprints for a more differentiated Europe. 8


The Road to Amsterdam

The Reflection Group preparing the IGC published its final report in December 1995, at the end of the Spanish EU presidency. Although the Group’s progress report also displayed a certain inconsistency in the use of terminology related to differentiated integration within the EU, it outlined a clear vision of its limits and future possibilities. In essence the Group, chaired by Carlos Westendorp, rejected any formula which could lead to an à la carte Europe. It maintained that more flexible solutions—mainly multi-speed—could be used if the following criteria were met: a) differentiation should only be allowed as a last resort and temporarily; b) those who are willing and able should not be excluded from participation in a given action or future policy; and c) when allowing differentiation, the acquis communautaire and the existing single institutional framework should be preserved and respected. The report also pointed out that the degree of differentiation admissible varied depending on the pillar in question, and whether or not the country in question was already a member states or acceding in the next enlargement(s). In other words, while derogations would not be allowed in the first pillar as they could jeopardise the internal market, the CFSP and some third pillar issues could be open to a greater degree of differentiation. All this meant that multi-speed integration continued to be the name of the game—inasmuch as it will ever be played—while à la carte integration was rejected outright. Variable geometry formulas, on the other hand, were not addressed explicitly by the Group, which may explain the invitation to do so from Chancellor Kohl and President Chirac in an open letter dated 5 December 1995.

This Franco-German move also influenced the debate by introducing a new term—coopération renforcée/enhanced cooperation—into the political vocabulary of the IGC, and by suggesting that its qualified insertion into the revised TEU should be properly considered. From then on, therefore, the political and academic debate was centred mainly on enhanced cooperation and coupled—again, a little confusingly—with “flexibility”. Indeed, each term concealed different, even divergent, views on the future of European integration. One of these—a more centralising view—considered enhanced cooperation as a half-way house towards bringing more competences and activities within the EU, and as a way of making greater use of Community procedures and institutions. The other—a more decentralist view—assumed that Europe could best develop around a limited core group of activities, while allowing different groupings of member states to pursue “flexibly” different approaches in other areas and to use different procedures and institutions suited to the policy in question. As a consequence of such terminological ambiguity—partly inevitable and perhaps necessary at that stage of the IGC negotiations, but not beneficial to the ensuing discussion—the German Chancellor, the French President and the British Prime Minister all endorsed “flexibility”, although each meant something different by it.

However ambivalent its acquis linguistique, the IGC was eventually set in motion in Turin, in late March 1996, and went on through the Irish and Dutch presidencies before coming to an end at the European Council in Amsterdam, in June 1997, immediately after the British (and the French) parliamentary elections. As mentioned above, the political impulse was established in two joint Franco-German letters published before the IGC (i.e. the letters by Kohl/Chirac of 7 December 1995 and Kinkel/de Charette of 27 February 1996). The European Council of Turin provided the mandate for examining enhanced cooperation/flexibility in the IGC, and it was clear from the beginning that it would be one of the most difficult and sensitive areas of discussion. Throughout the Conference, a total of twenty-two documents were submitted on the matter: apart from those released by the successive presidencies, France and Germany (jointly), Italy, Portugal and Greece (separately) all submitted their own texts and proposals. In addition, a number of non-papers, such as the “Ten Commandments of Flexible Integration” by the Finnish delegation, were circulated among the participants.

Without dwelling on too many details and technicalities, suffice it to say here that the evolution of the discussion was typical of any new concept developed in a intergovernmental conference: first, the idea was launched; second, the concept was defined; third, a draft article was provided; and finally, the latter was subjected to interpretation and negotiations. In particular, the Italian presidency’s report on the state of play raised the idea of a general flexibility clause—for purely practical reasons, from now on the term “flexibility” would be used as synonymous with enhanced cooperation—supported by three specific flexibility clauses for each pillar (June 1996). Incidentally, the move on the general clause was probably dictated, at least partly, by the obstructive behaviour adopted at the EU level in the spring of 1996 by the United Kingdom in retaliation for the embargo on British beef issued by the Commission to prevent the “mad cow” disease from further spreading. Flexibility, in other words, was also seen as the only way out of the institutional paralysis a single government had been able to generate.

At any rate, in the ensuing negotiations different options were floated on the mechanisms designed to trigger flexibility in each pillar: for instance, qualified majority voting (QMV) in the first, unanimity in the second, both (alternatively) in the third (the Franco-German memorandum of 17 October 1996 stressed that no member state should have a veto right). In January 1997, Italy submitted a draft article for the second pillar, whereby all forms of flexibility related to defence required the consent of all WEU members. 9 Later on, though, the Dutch presidency voiced doubts as to the necessity of an enabling clause in the second pillar and, in any case, the final draft prepared for the Amsterdam summit envisaged unanimity as its trigger mechanism, whereas QMV was deemed sufficient for the first and third pillars. This turned out to be an important warning signal: in the final, hectic stage of the Amsterdam negotiations the entire flexibility clause in the second pillar literally disappeared from the table and was dropped in favour of constructive abstention. By and large, it may be argued that the arrival on the European stage of a new British government officially less hostile to constructive cooperation with its EU partners—along with the consolidation of a less obstructive political leadership in Greece 10 —contributed to rest the case and to lower the call for a strong general flexibility clause. All this also made it possible to address more traditional concerns about the preservation of “the principles of the Treaties and the single institutional framework of the Union” and the use of flexibility “only as a last resort” (Art.K.15/ now Art.43 consol. TEC).

In the end, the Amsterdam Treaty endorsed three basic forms of flexibility, although—significantly enough—the term as such completely disappeared from the final text:

All in all, and with specific reference to the terminology used in the pre-IGC debate, the first form is the closest thing to a new multi-speed framework, but with plenty of constraining conditions, which have led some advocates of enhanced cooperation to complain about a “strait jacket” being imposed on any future grouping of the willing and able. 11 At the opposite end, the third form is close to a Europe à la carte in which the orders have already been taken: all the customers have opted for the basic menu on offer at a reasonable price, with some of them (vegetarians maybe, or the religious-minded) getting ad hoc variants without any extra charge; if proven satisfactory, the whole arrangement may quickly become the staple diet. Finally, the second form dramatically shows the limits of institutional provisions in tackling issues and policy areas where fundamental disagreement persists among member states, that is, about what political responsibilities should be attributed to the EU, about the future of European defence, and about how it should be configured with respect to NATO, and where incentives for enhanced cooperation are either comparatively low (other organisations already in place do the same job more effectively) or unevenly distributed between security “providers” and “consumers”. 12 Along with the de facto postponement, at Amsterdam, of the decision on the full integration of WEU into the EU, despite the fact that a detailed, three-stage proposal to this end had been jointly submitted to the IGC by Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and Spain in March 1997, 13 and paves the way, more or less directly, to variable geometry as the only possible form of enhanced cooperation in the fields of security and defence.


Implications for CFSP and the WEU

Art. J.4 of the Maastricht Treaty, concerning CFSP, refers to “the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence”, and looks to the WEU as the institution which, as “an integral part of the development” of the EU, may be “requested” by the EU to “implement decisions and actions of the Union which have defence implications”. Very little use has been made so far of this provision. 14

Moreover, the fact that the three new EU member states which joined after the ratification of the TEU (Austria, Finland and Sweden) were all neutrals/non-aligned, albeit with different traditions and identities, and that all eventually opted (as non-NATO) for “observer” status within WEU’s institutional architecture has further differentiated the EU/WEU membership. In actuality, Austria, Finland and Sweden all have remarkable records in terms of participation in multilateral peacekeeping and similar operations (now categorised in WEU as “Petersberg-type” missions) under the UN flag. 15 However, they have significantly added to the already existing mismatch between full memberships of the EU, WEU and NATO. And the actual dynamics of the IGC negotiations—the citing of particular instances in which some national governments had blocked agreement on CFSP issues weighed heavily in the debate—showed how the initial purpose of allowing some kind of enhanced cooperation among member states in policy areas where unanimity was compulsory eventually yielded to more traditional solutions.

As already mentioned, the only loophole left in the Amsterdam Treaty for undertakings that are not strictly unanimous—once not only the flexibility clause, but much to Italy’s chagrin, also the extended use of QMV in the second pillar were thrown into the IGC dustbin—is the constructive abstention clause (Art.23 consol. TEU), itself a rather ambivalent device. In fact, although it makes good sense that a reluctant member state—when no important and “stated reasons of national policy” call for a formal veto (this being the “emergency brake” inserted in the Treaty at the eleventh hour)—can simply refrain from action without blocking a sizeable majority of others, how far can such a “consensus minus X” formula be stretched without undermining the credibility of the decision and its implementation? Problems of both the quantity and quality of abstentions are bound to arise, not to mention the fact that constructive abstention is, in any case, not applicable to decisions with military and defence implications (Art.23 consol. TEU). On the one hand, in fact, if the abstainees make up more than one third of the weighted votes in the Council, the decision is not adopted. On the other, who abstains on what decision it is not irrelevant.

Of course, it is somewhat arbitrary to draw up virtual scenarios in the absence of specific cases and configurations: it is likely, however, that a common action with “soft” military implications from which, say, France and the UK decide to abstain would appear less credible than one from which, say, Ireland and Sweden decide to abstain. Plausibly, in fact, the former would not take place at all, or would take place outside the W/EU framework., and the latter may become part of a broader politico-military framework involving, for example, the UN and/or NATO.

Moreover, abstentions should also be measured against the theatre they refer to: if Scandinavian countries abstain from a decision affecting the Baltic Sea area, for instance, the credibility of that same decision—let alone its implementation—will presumably be less than if the abstention comes from, say, Portugal or Greece. In other words, there should preferably be some consistency between voting behaviour and actual engagement in the target area. In addition, it will be increasingly difficult to obtain the unanimous consent and commitment from 15-plus member states to carry out such diverse Petersberg-type missions as now explicitly envisaged by the Amsterdam Treaty (Art. J.7/now Art.17 consol. TEU). Finally, the abstention clause might have a much less constructive impact on financial arrangements, if it leads a country to abstain for purely financial reasons. The costs of missions approved through constructive abstention, in fact, will be borne by the participating member states in accordance with the GDP scale—and not by the Community budget, unless the Council decides otherwise—with the exemption of those who opt to abstain. All this, to put it bluntly, may pave the way for new forms of free-riding in foreign policy.

The transfer of a similar device to the WEU Treaty or to WEU practice—as recently suggested by some WEU member states, most vocally by France—could generate similar problems while contributing to the solution of others. 16 On the one hand, the WEU has to a certain extent already become a multi-tier (albeit not a multi-speed) organisation: since 1995, apart from a core group of ten full members, it has acquired successive “circles” of companions—three associate members (NATO-only members Norway, Iceland and Turkey), five observers (Denmark plus EU-only members Ireland, Austria, Finland, Sweden), ten associate partners (all the Central European EU candidates)—but it increasingly works on either an 18 or 28 basis: at 18, obviously, when matters related to EU and NATO are addressed. On the other hand, the kind of missions WEU has carried out so far have been particularly low-key, low-risk and low-cost. Thus there has been no need, so far, to resort to any form of abstention (irrespective of the financial arrangements) nor to open a debate on any form of flexibility. At the same time, however, and in perspective, the present Verfassung of WEU already envisages a dual system of guarantees and potential commitments: the inner circle of ten full members of both NATO and EU clearly entails “hard” mutual security guarantees (Art. V of the modified Brussels Treaty), and has stringent defence implications; the outer circle gradually encompasses the whole company of 28 and, irrespective of present and/or future memberships of the EU and NATO, is already potentially available to carry out non-Art. V, Petersberg-type missions. Logically, it is only the latter circle’s size that could call for some form of constructive opting-out, should the WEU framework be used for multilateral operations.

Article 17 consol. TEU now defines WEU as “an integral part of the development of the Union” in that it supports the EU “in framing the defence aspects of the common foreign and security policy”. Moreover, it reads, the EU “will avail itself of WEU to elaborate and implement decisions and actions of the Union which have defence implications”, and WEU will be involved in the setting up and the subsequent activity of the forthcoming Policy Planning and Early Warning Unit (PPEWU) envisaged by the Treaty. On paper, therefore, now that Petersberg-type tasks are explicitly included in the policy sphere of CFSP, the enhanced “agency”-role Art.17 attributes to WEU provides the functional connection for closer cooperation and interaction between the two institutions.


Potential and Actual Options

From closer up, however, the picture looks more intricate, especially as far as the decision-making procedures are concerned. In principle, as regards the management of Petersberg-type peace support operations, European countries currently have a broad range of institutional options at their disposal:

In actuality, though, all these options have to be measured against the same countries’ political will and the attitude of the United States, especially in the higher range of Petersberg-type operations. There is far less debate in Europe than frequently imagined about the proposition that NATO will continue to be the main forum for politico-military deliberations in any crisis in which the US declares itself willing to play an active role. Even in the 1998 Kosovo crisis, the United States demonstrated its interest in playing a key role in its management very early on, thus automatically transferring the primary locus of planning and deliberations to NATO.

At the same time, however, the American commitment to participate in European crisis management is neither automatic nor unconditional. As shown in the early stages of the Yugoslav crisis in the early 1990s, as well as in the 1997 Albania breakdown, there have been occasions on which a number of European countries have seen their national security interests directly jeopardised and on which the United States has declared itself unwilling to intervene. Furthermore, in recent times the gap between current Clinton administration policy on American involvement in international security matters and the domestic political debate about these issues—in the US public in general, and in the US Congress in the specific—is wider than it has ever been.

In addition, there is increasing divergence between the way in which Americans and Europeans conceptualise and implement their respective approaches to conflict management: suffice it to mention here the so-called revolution in military affairs (RMA, “soft war”) as compared, for instance, with the illustrative mission profiles that WEU recently submitted to NATO for planning purposes—namely, conflict prevention, assistance to civilians, guarantee and denial of movement, imposition of sanctions, containment and separation of parties by force. And the whole setting up of CJTFs is made even more complicated—politically as well as operationally—by the fact that NATO capabilities for collective defence and crisis management functions cannot be easily distinguished.

Yet, it must also be said that recent developments in the restructuring of national armed forces—most notably in France, Italy, Spain, even Sweden (Britain had started much earlier)—hint at a reorientation towards inter-army projection of force and interoperability. That, along with other developments in the field of joint arms procurement and defence industry, looks promising for CJTFs and WEU-led missions to come. Finally, it goes without saying that Europe does not have the ambitions of the US for global military power projection, so that any crude comparison in this field, from total spending to technology, would be somewhat unfair and not to the point.

What are the consequences of these new trends for European crisis management? From a European point of view, the most likely and preferred military option in a crisis involving European security interests in or around the continent today remains the NATO option with American participation: either a full-fledged NATO operation, or a NATO-led CJTF-operation (as allowed for by the 1996 Berlin Declaration) with the participation of third countries. If one looks beyond the occasional rhetoric, all European countries de facto agree that an operation with the direct involvement of the United States is to be preferred over an operation without it. In addition, such primacy was explicitly acknowledged in both WEU declarations that were attached to the 1991 Maastricht and the 1997 Amsterdam Treaties, which called NATO “the essential forum for consultation” and “the framework in which they [the members] agree on policies bearing on their security and defence commitments under the Washington Treaty”.

This does not mean, however, that NATO will always play the leading role in every conceivable operation. In potential crises where Europe and the US have asymmetrical (if not contradictory) interests, it looks prudent and farsighted to develop some residual Europe-only options in case the United States is unwilling (for whatever reason) to participate militarily. Here is where W/EU comes into the picture, particularly if Europe does not intend to remain a purely “civilian” power, and where—given the above mentioned difficulty in reaching unanimous consensus and commitment among 15-plus members—the need for more “flexible” arrangements is most acutely felt.

So far political scientists, and especially international relations theorists, have devoted scant and only intermittent attention to the role of “cores” and “clubs” in international organisations and, more generally, in defence and security matters. 17 The existing academic literature is therefore of little help in envisaging viable ways to overcome or sidestep the institutional blockages that affect European crisis management. Moreover, even under the terms of the new EU Treaty, the second pillar cannot by itself produce a “core” group committed to a common security and defence and cannot therefore bring about an effective multi-speed CFSP: the impulses the EU will be able to give to WEU will presumably be varied but limited in scope and intensity, and may in any case still require a concomitant unanimous decision by WEU itself (and by NATO, if the CJTF concept or some “borrowing” of assets are drawn into play). By contrast, WEU is legally entitled to decide autonomously on a security and defence action (including non-Art. V missions) without a concomitant decision of the EU, although many efforts are being made to fine-tune the (in)decision-making “flow chart” and to improve the coordination, in particular, of the rotational presidencies of both organisations. 18 Which means, too, that it is ever more unlikely that WEU may go it alone, since both its inner and outer “circles” will in practice refer to EU and/or NATO (as well as UN and OSCE).

At the same time, WEU is currently the only official and operational link between EU and NATO, which still gives it a specific function among European and Western institutions in the early critical stages of a crisis, during which the Europeans would presumably be struggling to achieve a consensus on a possible course of action: the WEU Council still provides the only available institutional framework for military-political discussion, while the actual military option-generation and preliminary planning can be set in motion by WEU’s operational components. At times, however, precisely this “interface” role of WEU has allowed for some cases of “forum-hopping”, that is, the policy (or practice) of deferring and/or even boycotting decisions and actions by more or less systematically “shuttling” them between different bodies and fora.

Finally, the uncertainties that still linger on the actual use of the CJTF concept make it rather unlikely that Europe as such, within the framework of its present institutions, will be able to decide, plan and carry out autonomously an action in this field, unless a new political landscape, the accession of new members or other developments—above all, an eternal shock and/or a new crisis in the vicinity—substantially change the key players’ attitudes.

For some evidence, one has only to look at what happened with the 1997 Albanian crisis, although it must be taken into account that it climaxed during the final stage of the IGC negotiations (and shortly before the British elections of May 1997). On the one hand, the lesson of Bosnia had been learnt, and the international community encouraged some form of external intervention at a relatively early stage. On the other hand, once the United States made it clear that, contrary to Bosnia, it would not play any direct role in Albania, the field was open for Europe to act, and the formula that was eventually adopted belied most of the commitments made earlier in this domain: the EU failed to reach unanimous agreement on an intervention in Albania under the existing CFSP provisions—the Germans and the British, in particular, expressed their reluctance to take action—while the WEU Council did not consider the possibility of taking independent action until it was confronted with the request to play a minor role on the ground, that is, to send a reduced multinational advisory police element (MAPE), in the light of the experience previously acquired in Mostar.

In the end, a pretty mixed “coalition of the willing”—Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, plus minor contributions by Denmark, Austria and, towards the end, Belgium—set up Operation Alba with a UN/OSCE humanitarian mandate and under Italian “framework/lead nation”-type leadership. 19 The mission was therefore undertaken outside any specifically European institutional framework: it lasted a relatively short time (as compared with IFOR/SFOR)—April to August 1997, including a short extension of the original mandate—and proved relatively successful, given the initial difficulties on the ground. The fairly positive outcome may also explain why the W/EU governments who had resisted a common action (by simply refraining from it, under Maastricht Treaty rules) seem to have had second thoughts and now, with the benefit of hindsight, regret not having made Alba the first test-case—ahead of the entry into force of the Amsterdam provisions—for an effective CFSP-WEU joint action.



It is difficult to assess now whether an Alba-type operation could have been set up and carried out under the novel CFSP provisions of the Amsterdam Treaty. As a matter of fact, it was also the controversial nature of the final negotiations over the Treaty that led Britain, for example, to undermine the hypothesis of a EU common action. Yet if there is one lesson 20 to be drawn from Operation Alba, it probably has to do with flexibility, enhanced cooperation and variable geometry.

On the one hand, it is arguable that the present institutional provisions—given the substantial lack of convergence on crucial political issues, along with different geopolitical priorities and with only occasional bouts of willingness to act on the part of W/EU member states—are not sufficient to provide solid ground for the future evolution of CFSP. With some qualifications, the constructive abstention clause of the Amsterdam Treaty may help overcome some obstacles, but, as argued above, it should be handled with care and, by definition, on a case-by-case basis. In any case, it is not applicable to defence matters.

In a sense, once again, only a successful start of the final stage of EMU might provide new momentum for strengthening cooperation and solidarity among its core members on an increasingly wider range of policies, therefore (hopefully) linking more tightly the first and the second pillar and eventually producing positive results for CFSP as well. Yet, in spite of all spillover theories and expectations, there still is no guarantee nor any evidence that this will happen in the foreseeable future. For one thing, it is true that EMU’s likely initial configuration at eleven—instead of “five plus”, as envisaged in the early stages of the debate over a “core” EU—has had a reassuring effect in some countries with respect to other future flexible arrangements: in the first as well as the other pillars, in fact, it will become increasingly important to build large coalitions of interested actors rather than to rely on bi- or trilateral axes as the main driving force. It is also true, however, that the only tangible spin-off of EMU so far has been its capacity to concentrate and exclusively absorb the minds and actions of policy-makers—to the detriment of other policies, most notably CFSP. Finally, it goes without saying that a major crisis of EMU would fatally affect every other common undertaking and put at risk the prospect of Political Union itself.

On the other hand, Alba has proved that coalitions of the willing built around a common objective and with limited scope can work quite effectively, at least insofar as they apply to low-scale peace support operations. As such, it has set a useful precedent on which to build in the future, although it has not solved the issue of the international legitimisation of such ad hoc groupings, nor significantly strengthened the case for institutionalised multilateralism. At any rate, Alba certainly was a Petersberg-type mission, with the involvement of a limited number of countries: in a way, it was also a quintessential case of enhanced cooperation with a different label, albeit “enlarged” to non-EU (and non-NATO) members. Even such openness to outsiders, however, could be considered a promising experience in the light of future developments in this field, provided it does not produce a permanent multi-tier framework with unequal obligations and unequal rights for participants (a problem, incidentally, that will soon involve not only NATO and/or EU candidates, but also such “post-neutral” states as Austria, Finland and Sweden). In fact, it should not be forgotten that enlargement is in itself an instrument of foreign and security policy, the actual use of which significantly affects the overall prospects for peace and stability in Europe: such de facto or “early” enlargements as Alba or, to a certain extent, WEU’s Kirchberg Declaration (1994), if properly managed, may well reinforce existing trends and anticipate further cooperation and integration. And, finally, one could go so far as to say that after all—given the use of NATO’s Partnership for Peace operational standards and codes on the ground—Alba was a sort of CJTF-type mission ante litteram.

If variable geometry has any meaning, then, it is related precisely to such a configuration and refers to policies that are: a) more or less methodically pursued outside the existing treaty rules; b) in compliance with the spirit of the integration process; c) related to space and subject matter; and d) open to new “opters-in”. European governments may still lack the method, but the general idea is there. Even the drafters of the Amsterdam Treaty seem to have thought as much when they wrote that Article J.7. (Art.17 consol. TEU), with all its constraints and tortuous formulations, “shall not prevent the development of closer cooperation between two or more member states on a bilateral level, in the framework of the WEU and the Atlantic Alliance, provided such cooperation does not run counter to or impede” CFSP as previously outlined.

In other words, enacting and testing enhanced cooperation outside the rigid institutional settings with a) as many participants as possible, b) little ad hocery, and c) a view to stabilising peace support in the medium/long term and to reinforcing civilian reconstruction (the latter being Alba’s main shortcoming), could well turn out to be the essential prerequisite for giving more credibility and legitimacy to the second pillar, for accumulating a sort of acquis securitaire, and for preparing the ground for the insertion of such forms of flexibility into the EU (and WEU) framework at a later stage. Which, incidentally, is what has just happened with the third pillar, which has been “communitarised” much more than originally seemed possible. At the same time, precisely the experience of the Schengen group shows that these forms of variable geometry eventually need to be inserted, more or less explicitly, into a political structure capable of providing leadership and responsiveness beyond the lifetime (and the occasional convergence of interests) of “coalitions of the willing” or great power directoires. Such political structures exist for US foreign policy and to a lesser extent for NATO. Yet they do not exist—or rather they are not sufficiently nor adequately developed—in the W/EU compound, and the Amsterdam Treaty per se has not particularly spurred their growth.


Antonio Missiroli is Research Fellow at the Institute for Security Studies, Western European Union (WEU), Paris.



*: This article is the updated and expanded version of an essay to be published in WEU @ 50 (Paris: WEU Institute for Security Studies, 1998).  Back.

Note 1: Among only the most recent articles on the subject, see R. Antretter (ed.) “Sicherheit in Europa—Die Westeuropäische Union”, transnational, no. 35 (Bonn: Europa Union Verlag, 1997); A. Deighton (ed.) Western European Union 1954-1997: Defence, Security, Integration (Oxford: St. Antony’s College, 1997) pp. 93 ff.; G. Wyn Reese, The Western European Union at the Crossroads: Between Transatlantic Solidarity and European Integration (Boulder: Westview Press, 1998); and A. Dumoulin, E. Remacle, L’Union de l’Europe Occidentale—Phenix de la defense europeenne (Brussel: Bruylant, 1998).  Back.

Note 2: See, for instance D. Buchan, Europe: The Strange Superpower (Aldershot: Dartmouth, 1993); O. Norgaard et al. (eds.) The European Community in World Politics (London: Pinter, 1993); and L. Balmond and J. Bourrinet, Les relations extérieures de l’Union Européenne (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1995). For a thorough discussion of the (controversial) concept of “civilian power” as applied to the EC/EU—first coined in 1973 by Francois Duchêne—cf. H. Bull, “Civilian Power Europe: A Contradiction in Terms?”, Journal of Common Market Studies, no. 1-2, vol. XXI, 1982, pp. 149-70. For a recent reassessment in the light of the forthcoming EMU, see C. Bildt et al., What Global Role for the EU? (Brussels: Philip Morris Institute, 1997).  Back.

Note 3: That is, the European Political Cooperation framework established at the EC intergovernmental level in the early 1970s. Unquestionably, the book on EPC is S. Nuttall, European Political Cooperation (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992). See also, among others, A. Pijpers, The Vicissitudes of European Political Cooperation: Towards a Realist Interpretation of the EC’s Collective Diplomacy (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 1990); M. Holland (ed.) The Future of European Political Cooperation: Essays in Theory and Practice (London: Macmillan, 1991); and E. Regelsberger, “European Political Cooperation”, in J. Story (ed.) The New Europe: Politics, Government and Economy since 1945. (Oxford, Blackwell, 1993), pp. 324-36.  Back.

Note 4: For a detailed overview of the early stage of the discussion see C. Giering, “Flexibilisierungskonzepte für Europa”, Arbeitspapier der Forschungsgruppe Europa (München: CAP, 1997). The notion of à la carte Europe, first associated with a famous lecture given by Ralf Dahrendorf, A Third Europe?, Third Jean Monnet Lecture (Florence: European University Institute, 1979), has long remained in the focus of the British intellectual debate—see H. Wallace with A. Riley, Europe: The Challenge of Diversity, Chatham House Papers 29 (London, RIIA, 1985)—and has also become a recurrent trait in the attitude of successive British governments up to the White Paper presented at the start of the latest IGC: see A Partnership of Nations: The British Approach to the EU Intergovernmental Conference 1996, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Cmnd 3181, London. See also P. Maillet and D. Velo, L’Europe à Géométrie Variable (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1994).  Back.

Note 5: See A. C.-G. Stubb, “A Categorisation of Differentiated Integration”, Journal of Common Market Studies, June 1996, pp.283-29; C. Giering, “Vertiefung durch Differenzierung—Flexibilisierungskonzepte in der aktuellen Reformdebatte”, Integration, no. 2, 1997, pp.72-8.  Back.

Note 6: CDU/CSU-Fraktion des Deutschen Bundestages, “Überlegungen zur europäischen Politik. Vorschläge für eine Reform der Europäischen Union”, CDU-CSU Dokumentation, Januar 1995. Moreover, the paper explicitly mentioned only five EU States—Germany, France and the Benelux countries, i.e. the founding members of the EC minus Italy—as likely participants in the envisaged Kerneuropa, thus triggering hostile reactions all across Europe and further damaging the cause.  Back.

Note 7: See, among others, Club de Florence (ed.) L’Europe: L’impossible status quo (Paris: Stock, 1996); Bertelsmann Foundation (ed.) The New Europe—Strategies for Differentiated Integration (Gütersloh: Bertelsmann Foundation Publishers, 1997), esp. pp. 42-9; F. de La Serre, H. Wallace, “Les coopérations renforcées: une fausse bonne idée?” Études et Recherches “Notre Europe”, Paris), no. 2, 1997.  Back.

Note 8: See footnote 6 for the CDU/CSU Paper; John Major, William and Mary Lecture, Leiden, 7 September 1994. Cf. also then French PM Edouard Balladur’s interview, Le Figaro, 30 August 1994, and his article, Le Monde, 30 November 1994, in which he referred to a Europe of “concentric circles”—a common pillar for economic policy, political cooperation and common borders, and solidarités renforcées in other areas such as EMU and defence, plus a third circle for applicants and future members. For further references see, among others, F.Vibert, Structured Flexibility in the European Union (London: European Forum, 1996); The prospect of enlarging the EU eastwards, too, played a significant role in the debate: see, among others, L. Miles, J. Redmond, “Enlarging the European Union: The Erosion of Federalism ?”, Cooperation and Conflict, no. 31, September 1996, pp.285-309; and P. van Ham, “Central Europe and the EU’s Intergovernmental Conference: The Dialectics of Enlargement”, Security Dialogue, Winter 1997, pp.71-82.  Back.

Note 9: More specifically, Italy proposed that QMV should also be the rule for setting general foreign policy guidelines, supplemented by the use of “constructive abstention”. If these changes were accepted by the IGC, Italy saw no need for a flexibility option, which had to be considered—consistently with Italy’s overall vision—as a second best solution, if not last resort ( extrema ratio ). As such, flexibility could be applied to defence matters, provided participating states included all WEU members. Conversely, the Portuguese proposal argued, as far as the second pillar is concerned, that enhanced cooperation should apply only to the implementation of measures unanimously decided by the Council. For complete documentation on the 1996-97 IGC, cf. the website  Back.

Note 10: For early assessments, see K. Hughes, E. Smith, “New Labour—New Europe?”, International Affairs, January 1998, pp. 93-104; A. Kazamias, “The Quest for Modernisation in Greek Foreign Policy and Its Limitations”, Mediterranean Politics, Autumn 1997, pp. 71-94. See also L. Barber, “Britain and the New European Agenda”, Research and Policy Paper “Notre Europe”, Paris, no. 4, 1998.  Back.

Note 11: See J. Janning, “Dynamik in der Zwangsjacke—Flexibilität in der Europäischen Union nach Amsterdam”, Integration, no. 4, 1997, pp.285-91. For a detailed reconstruction of the IGC and a first assessment, cf. A. C.-G. Stubb, “The Amsterdam Treaty and Flexible Integration: A Preliminary Assessment”, Paper presented at the IPSA meeting, Brussels, 10-12 July 1997; G. Edwards, A. Pijpers (eds.) ThePolitics of European Treaty Reform—The 1996 Intergovernmental Reform and Beyond (London: Pinter, 1997); G. Edwards, E. Philippart, “Flexibility and the Treaty of Amsterdam: Europe’s New Byzantium”, in Flexibility and the Treaty of Amsterdam: Europe’s New Byzantium? CELS Occasional Papers No.3 (Cambridge: Centre for European Legal Studies, CELS, 1997), pp.1-46.  Back.

Note 12: For recent assessments see, in increasing order of criticism, E. Regelsberger, M. Jopp, “Und sie bewegt sich doch! Die gemeinsame Aussen- und Sicherheitspolitik nach den Bestimmungen des Amsterdamer Vertrages”, Integration, no. 4, 1997, pp. 255-63; P. de Schoutheete, “L’avenir de l’Union Européenne”, Politique Étrangère, no. 3, 1997, pp. 263-77; P. H. Gordon, “Europe’s Uncommon Foreign Policy”, International Security, Winter 1997/98, pp. 74-100.  Back.

Note 13: Roughly speaking, the first phase would coincide with the practical measures to be implemented after the signing of the Maastricht Treaty revision. During the second phase, the WEU Secretariat would be incorporated into the EU Council Secretariat and the EU would take over political control of WEU. The third phase would entail the disappearance of WEU as an independent organisation and the establishment of direct relations between EU and NATO.  Back.

Note 14: Actually, the “click-in” device enshrined in Art. J.4 TEU has been put into effect only once, in November 1996, when the EU called on the WEU for the possible organisation of a humanitarian operation in the region of the African Great Lakes (which did not take place). The policing operation in the EU-administered city of Mostar, in former Yugoslavia, was carried out (summer 1994-fall 1996) by WEU on the basis of a bilateral memorandum of understanding with the EU: when it was planned and implemented, however, the TEU had not yet entered into force.  Back.

Note 15: On their attitudes, see T. Pedersen, European Union and the EFTA Countries: Enlargement and Integration (London: Pinter, 1994); P. Luif, On the Road to Brussels: The Political Dimension of Austria’s, Finland’s and Sweden’s Accession to the European Union (Vienna: Braumüller, 1995), especially pp.237 ff.; L. Miller (ed.) The European Union and the Nordic Countries (London: Routledge, 1996). Since 1995, however, such attitudes have increasingly been put into question: in Austria, for instance, the present “Grand Coalition” government is split over the prospect of future NATO membership. Furthermore, Austria and Finland are pushing for closer integration between EU and WEU, and even Sweden is considering closer operational integration with NATO forces. At any rate—formally speaking, at least—NATO membership is not a prerequisite for full WEU membership.  Back.

Note 16: Actually, the French proposal does not aim at modifying the Brussels Treaty (1948), Art. VIII of which already envisages non-unanimous decisions, albeit indirectly ( “The Council shall decide by unanimous vote questions for which no other voting procedure has been or may be agreed ”). Moreover, France, backed by some other WEU members, is only aiming at applying such consensus aménagé to non-Art. V, Petersberg-type missions. No formal decision has been taken so far on the matter. The WEU ministerial meeting held in November 1997 in Erfurt, however, emphasised the need for facilitating consensus-building inside the organisation, if necessary also by exempting some member/associate states from financially contributing to a specific action they would be willing to support politically. Ways are being sought to put all this into practice.  Back.

Note 17: In a seminal article dating back to the mid-1960s, Mancur Olson and Richard Zeckhauser developed an economic theory of alliances by characterizing deterrence as a ‘public good’: M. Olson, R. Zeckhauser, “An Economic Theory of Alliances”, Review of Economics and Statistics, no. 48, 1966, pp.266-79. The purely “public good” nature of defense in general has been increasingly put into question ever since, in particular by Todd Sandler—see e.g. T. Sandler, “Impurity of Defense: An Application to the Economics of Alliances”, Kyklos, vol. 30, no. 3, 1977, pp. 443-60—who argued that defense has become an “impure” public good and that the costs/benefits of forming tight cooperative structures depend not only on economies of scale but also on transaction costs. For an excellent review of the literature and some interesting suggestions for further research—encompassing also such variables as the nature of threats, the specificity of the assets involved and the degree of heterogeneity of participating states—see K. Weber, “Hierarchy Amidst Anarchy: A Transaction Costs Approach to International Security Cooperation”, International Studies Quarterly, no. 41, 1997, pp. 321-40. Meanwhile, more specific analyses of “clubs” and “cores” have been developed in the field of public choice: see e.g. D. C. Mueller, Perspectives on Public Choice: A Handbook (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); and R. Cornes, T. Sandler, The Theory of Externalities, Public Goods and Club Goods (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).  Back.

Note 18: For one thing, since 1993 the duration of the WEU rotational presidency has been reduced from one year to six months, in accordance with the provisions laid down in the Maastricht Treaty for the EU presidency. Secondly, from 1 January 1999—starting with Germany—the rotational presidencies of the EU and WEU will be held jointly whenever a WEU full member takes over the EU Council. The decision was taken by the WEU after the signature of the Amsterdam Treaty. No trojka—either Maastricht- or Amsterdam-type—nor any similar mechanism, however, has (yet) been established for WEU.  Back.

Note 19: The concept of “framework nation” (nation-cadre) was originally a French proposal. Under the more usual name of “lead nation”, however, it already enjoyed wide applicability in the United Nations and other international organisations that face similar difficulties with collective action problems. It was formally adopted in the Paris Declaration of the WEU Council of Ministers on 13 May 1997. It applies to the organisation of autonomous WEU operations, of which it is a special case (and allows for an operation to be set up faster by using a national headquarters, while at the same time emphasising its multinational nature by ensuring broad coalition representation on the lead-nation headquarters staff)—and is “designed to enable a European Headquarters to be established, using existing national or multinational assets, within timeframes compatible with the operational requirements, especially in situations of extreme urgency”. It explicitly seeks to envisage “flexible modes of action that are adaptable to a range of crisis situations” [italics added].  Back.

Note 20: For a first assessment see S. Silvestri, “The Albanian Test Case”, The International Spectator, July-December 1997, pp. 87-98; G. Kostakos, D. Bourantonis, “Innovations in Peacekeeping: The Case of Albania”, Security Dialogue, 29, March 1998, pp. 49-58; E. Greco, “New Trends in Peacekeeping: The Experience of Operation Alba”, and E. Foster, “Ad Hoc in Albania: Did Europe Fail?”, Security Dialogue, no. 29, June 1998, pp. 201-12 and 213-17, respectively. For a tentative connection between conflict prevention and crisis management, as well as between second and third pillar policies, see also F. Pastore, Conflicts and Migrations: A Case Study on Albania, CeSPI Occasional Papers (Rome: CeSPI, March 1998). It is worth mentioning, too, that in the wake of Alba, the WEU Council formally pledged to give primacy from now on—on similar occasions—to multilateral operations undertaken within the W/EU institutional framework over looser ad hoc coalitions.  Back.