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"Europe must be a strong global actor"

05-03-2012 14:54:00

Minister Søvndal speaks on behalf of Catherine Ashton at the European Parliament Plenary session in February 2012.

Photo: The European Parliament
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Villy Søvndal

During the Danish EU Presidency he represents the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, around the world. He will help to ensure a close and robust cooperation between the European External Action Service and the Member States. And as a member of the Danish Government he will work to implement a Presidency programme, which focuses on responsibility and growth as well as a green and a secure Europe.

As the Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs Villy Søvndal is ready for the challenges of the EU during the Danish Presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2012 - not least the upcoming Gymnich meeting in Copenhagen.

When the Lisbon Treaty was adopted in 2009 the role of the Presidency changed, not least in the area of foreign affairs. Before the treaty, the rotating Presidency was in charge of the foreign policy of the EU and chaired the Foreign Affairs Council, but today this responsibility lies with the European External Action Service (EEAS). Consequently the Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs can look forward to six months of close collaboration with the EEAS and the European Member States.

"The High Representative Ashton and EEAS have taken over the Presidency of the Foreign Affairs Council and our top priority right now is to work to promote a common European approach. However, there is still a role for us to play as the country holding the rotating Presidency – we will support the EEAS and contribute to the improvement and solidifying of the EU’s external efforts and activities,” Villy Søvndal says and adds:

“It is no secret that we strive to become a ‘model-Precidency’ for future Presidencies when it comes to strengthen the close cooperation with the EEAS”.

A global representative

The division of tasks was already established before Denmark took over the Presidency. The Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs and the EU’s High Representative looked at where it would make most sense for Søvndal to assist and replace Catherine Ashton.

“I will be representing Ashton at meetings in Brussels as well as on travels outside Europe. I will work to ensure that we strengthen the EU's external relations, when I visit the Horn of Africa, Western Africa or some of the emerging regions such as Indonesia, Central America and Central Asia," he says.

But the traditional partners will also be prioritized.

"It is important to have a close dialogue with the traditional partners, USA, Japan and Canada and to engage the new high-growth countries in the debate on global and regional issues”.

One Europe, one voice, one solution

Søvndal hopes to demonstrate how a close and well-functioning cooperation between the rotating Presidency and the EEAS should be. Among other things this is demonstrated when Denmark is hosting the informal ministerial meeting, Gymnich, 9-10 March, where the EU’s Ministers for Foreign Affairs will debate the EU's foreign and security policy at the Bella Center in Copenhagen. The meeting is chaired by the EU’s High Representative Catherine Ashton.

"Denmark hopes to contribute to a common recognition that no Member State in the EU is able to address the global challenges, we already face, on its own. We must stand together and work towards a strong Europe that speaks with one voice. At times it may be difficult, but for this same reason it makes an even greater impact and increases our credibility when we succeed in doing so," says Søvndal.

He believes it is essential that we use the various instruments in a more coordinated manner.

"With Ashton's effort - supported by the EEAS - we have already strengthened the continuity of the EU’s foreign policy, and over time the effects will obviously increase. It is a process to make the new structures function optimally and still ensure the best possible coordination. But we have already come a long way during the first year," the Foreign Minister says.

The Gymnich meeting is one of nine informal ministerial meetings during the Danish EU Presidency in the first half of 2012.

"The EEAS is our most important instrument"

Right from the start there have been plenty of tasks for the EEAS. And when asked about the future of the service ten years down the road, Søvndal replies that the economic crisis has only made ​​the need for a stronger and more united Europe more evident.

"We must fight to make sure that the EU also has an impact at the global stage in the future. And there is no doubt that it requires a more efficient common approach to foreign policy. In this aspect the EEAS is our most important instrument," finishes Minister Søvndal.

The European External Action Service

  • Is the EU's Common Foreign Service handling the EU's external policies: Development policy, environmental policy and security and foreign policy in general
  • Services  the High Representative Catherine Ashton
  • Heads the EU’s delegations around the world and 30 to 40 working groups. These groups already existed before the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty 1 December 2009, but were placed under the responsibility of the Council of Ministers.
  • The main task is to build consensus among the 27 Member States in relation to the EU's foreign policy and manage the EU’s interests around the world.
  • The High Representative is Vice President of the Commission, chairs the Council of Foreign Affairs and ensures coordination and coherence of the EU’s external policy