Friday, May 21, 2004

Spanish eyes – on the foreign minister post

While at the same time as pushing for a higher voting threshold to be written into the constitution, Spain's new socialist government is also first in line in a bid for its own man to fill the post of the all-powerful European Union foreign minister. It has fronted Javier Solana, currently "high representative" for the Union's common foreign and security policy.

As current arrangements stand, however, foreign affairs are run jointly by Solana, who reports to the European Council, and the external relations commissioner, Christopher Patten.

Should the current draft of the constitution be approved, the two jobs will be combined, with a vice-president of the commission presiding over the General Affairs and External Relations Council and running the EU’s diplomatic service. He (or she) will have the sole power to propose foreign policy initiatives, which will then be approved by qualified majority voting.

However, there will be a gap between the Patten standing down as extenral affairs commissioner – in October – and the new post coming available – which will not be until after the constitution is ratified. Therefore, a temporary replacement will have to be appointed to fill Patten’s job, while Solana will continue in his present post. The Spanish now want assurances that, when (if) the constitution is ratified, he will be able to step immediately into the combined job, and the external affairs commissioner will be dumped.

Meanwhile, recoiling from the latest demonstration of Spanish diplomacy – the refusal of Spain to allow cruise ships that have docked in Gibraltar then to visit Spain – Straw has issued a robust statement: "We regard the disruption of the cruise ships as completely unacceptable," he told a news conference held jointly with his Spanish counterpart, Miguel Angel Moratinos. "The solution is for the disruption to end," he added.

Nevertheless, there is no indication that Spain is going to back down or, having done so, will not continue harassing Gibraltarians in its attempt to take over the British colony. While its tactics to date have been unsuccessful, however, Spain’s hand will undoubtedly be strengthened if it has its man in charge of EU foreign policy, decided by QMV. No wonder it is so keen to pave the way for Solana to take the foreign minister post.

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