The Superfluous Minister

During the late 1950s and early 60s many colonies fought for or were granted their independence by their colonial powers. One of the many things these newly independent countries did was to establish a national airline, one that would fly their countries’ colours through the sky. However, in retrospect, this was a totally worthless step. It was a costly exercise in national pride and prestige –one whose only result was the creation of a lot of iffy airlines.

This need for some sort of imagined national point of pride is a feature of many small EU Member States, such as Belgium. One of these is the Federal Public Service of Foreign Affairs (Federale Overheidsdienst Buitenlandse Zaken/Service public fédéral Affaires étrangères). It might just make more sense and demonstrate how important the EU is if Belgium scrapped this ministry and handed over its authority to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, currently led by Ms Federica Mogherini.

This move would accomplish several things. It would create a stronger bond between the EU and Belgium. It would save the Belgian state over €1.7 billion, and it would amplify the views of the country.

Currently Belgium has no voice in the world. A list of politicians who have held the post include the following:

Didier Reynders (2011-present)

Steven Vanackere (2009-2011)

Yves Leterme (6 months in 2011)

Karel De Gucht (2004-2009)

Louis Michel (1999-2004)

Erik Derycke (1995-1999)

If this group of dry, earnest (some might say dull) politicians doesn’t convince you of the need to transfer foreign affairs responsibilities to the EU High Representative, nothing will.

Belgium, on its own, will never be heard on the cacophonous world stage. With the strength, albeit diminished, of the EU to represent it in the world, it will be heard. Besides, it would be a daring, bold move for a nation generally viewed as risk-adverse. It could lead to a revolutionary movement within the EU, as the small and some big nations let the EU represent them in the world.

Admittedly, the EU’s foreign affairs leaders have not been very effective. The first, Catherine Ashton-or Lady Ashton, if you prefer-left the position even less known than when she was appointed. Even EU pundits would be hard pressed to point to any accomplishment she achieved.

The current head honcho, Federica Mogherini, follows the typical EU pattern of telling people what they already know, or as unimaginative TV sport commentators do, telling them what they already see, without any additional perspective.

It could be different. If the leaders of the EU’s foreign affairs know that they actually represent a country or countries rather than an abstract concept, they will start to realise that there is a lot more at stake. If the Belgian government can lead the pack of nations that want the EU to represent them to the outside world, the revolution to change the EU might just begin. And once again, Belgium would take its rightful place as an innovator in the area of public and European affairs.

Arthur Rubinstein

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