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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 22:19 GMT
The puzzle of Solana's power
BBC Europe correspondent Jonny Dymond travelled with the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana on his recent trip around the Middle East. Here he examines Mr Solana's role and how EU foreign policy fits into the jigsaw of international diplomacy.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is a cajoler and persuader

On the final day of his whistle-stop tour of the Middle East, Javier Solana sat down with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallim.

Camera crews were being brought into the small meeting room in batches of five or six at a time, and it was taking a little while to get them all in and out.

Rather than discuss the finer points of Syria-Lebanese relations with the microphones switched on, Mr Solana and the foreign minister sparred a little.

"I see you all the time on the television," said Mr Mouallim.

There's always an EU diplomat somewhere remembering a [UN] resolution
EU official

"I don't look for them. They look for me," protested Mr Solana. "They're hoping I'm going to say something important."

"Just your presence is an important event," said Mr Mouallim.

Both men had the fixed grins of professional diplomats. But scattered like tiny diamonds across the exchange were telling truths and untruths about Mr Solana's role.

Important tools

For the Syrians, Mr Solana's presence really was an important event. It was a sign that their long international isolation was coming to an end.

His visit was to be milked for publicity purposes. In a country where the government controls every TV station, it is no coincidence the 15 crews turn up to film an international visitor.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallim
For Syria, Mr Solana's visit was an important event

The untruth is that Mr Solana does not look for the TV cameras. He does.

Not because he is vain - though there is probably a little bit of that. It is mainly because cameras and microphones are among his most important tools.

There is no EU army. Mr Solana cannot - should the desire ever take him - order up an air strike or send a fleet to hover off the coast of a country.

He carries no fat commercial contracts to use as persuasion, nor does he have the power to impose embargoes.

Even the EU's sizeable aid and development budgets are disbursed by other departments.

He is instead a cajoler and a persuader. He is a symbol of that still nebulous thing, European foreign policy.

Hard and soft power

EU foreign policy is not the sum of the policies of the member states that make up the union. It is different.

Freed from the restraints and demands of national self interest, it starts from a different base - at its best, the desire to spread democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

For a state, the starting point is the national interest. For an organisation like the EU, it is principles
EU diplomat

That is not to say that it is not full of messy compromises.

Common positions thrashed out by 27 foreign ministers and their civil servants are never going to be examples of moral clarity.

The EU ducks and weaves with diplomatic language along with the best of them.

But the starting point is different.

"For a state," says one EU diplomat, "the starting point is the national interest. For an organisation like the EU, it is principles - the rule of law, UN resolutions, human rights.

"These are very important for the EU, especially in the Middle East."

EU foreign policy is built up year by year, layer upon layer, precedent upon precedent. Not for the European Union sudden declarations about an "axis of evil".

"There's always," says one official, "an EU diplomat somewhere remembering a [UN] resolution."

That EU diplomat is often Mr Solana. He is right when he says that the camera crews are hoping he will say something important. How often they are disappointed.

His style is the antithesis of that of US secretaries of state, with their dramatic rhetorical flourishes.

Theirs is "hard" power, his is "soft".

The same official admits that Europe is Venus to the US's Mars; Europeans, he says, are not interested in fighting wars anymore.

The avoidance of another catastrophic war was one of the reasons the EU was created.

How much EU foreign policy actually achieves is for others to decide.

But the palaces of presidents and kings are open to Mr Solana.

For a man who walks quietly but carries no big stick, his counsel is widely sought and his shadow surprisingly long.


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