Author(s): Jeffrey Lewis
Paper number and date: WP 08-09, July 2008
Abstract: Contrary to the conventional wisdom on Europe’s divided response to the Iraq crisis, deliberations among EU foreign ministers in the first half of 2003 highlight the durability of Member States’ shared commitment to make foreign policy decisions in camera and by consensus, which tends to produce mutual compromises rather than lowest common denominator (LCD) outcomes. At first glance, Europe’s bitter discord over the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a foreign policy debacle par excellence. And when a majority of Member States publicly broke ranks with a tenuously reached common position, skeptics argued that the EU’s consultative and consensus-based process of foreign policy making was either fictitious or irrevocably broken. But in fact, the Iraq crisis triggered a normative reframing of security and defense policy and renewed a commitment to consensus-based decisions. As a result, rather than an LCD outcome, a compromise position was reached in the form of EU-coordinated economic and humanitarian assistance to rebuilding Iraq that has exceeded 200 million euros per year since 2004. This was possible because normative commitments to develop the EU as a global actor and to promote democracy and the rule of law worldwide legitimated EU action and thus constrained Member States with strong ‘no EU action’ and/or ‘let the UN do it’ preferences. The foreign ministers’ ability to reach agreement on coordinated recon aid to Iraq also displays the Union’s principled commitment to make decisions in a norm-governed and consensus-based institutional environment of cooperative bargaining.