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Impact of the EU on Member States

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The aim of this dissertation is to analyse how the European Union impacts on the national level of the foreign policy-making of its smaller Member States and how their role within the European political system and vis-à-vis other countries has or has not changed as a result. It will review the ways and means by which the national foreign policy-making of a small European state has been transformed by participation in a broader European political system. This topic was chosen because it relates to Malta, being the smallest country in terms of population and territory in the EU. 

This dissertation will be approached purely from a political angle. The influence of EU membership on small states’ foreign-policy making will be examined by looking at the positions and strategies small states adopt during their day-to-day life in the EU and their behaviour towards EU Member States and non-EU Member States.

The literature examined shows that domestic factors such as public opinion, party politics and history seem to have considerable influence on the intensity and the pace of the process of Europeanization in small states. The post-Cold War context has also left its imprint on European foreign-policy making while international organisations have helped bring stability to small countries.

Europeanization is defined as an interactive and ongoing process of 'Europeanizing' countries, linking national and European levels. The institutions, structures, and processes utilized by the smaller Member States in Brussels are compared with a view to discovering whether there is evidence of convergence around a common model or whether national differences persist. Also analysed is the effectiveness of national actions in achieving the small member states’ intended goals and the factors that influence or determine performance at the European level.

Chapter 1

The Europeanization of National Foreign Policy

Since the failed European Defence Community (EDC), European Member States have increasingly felt the need to come up with common foreign policy positions. Two factors helped this process in recent years, namely globalization and European integration. By bringing states together in ‘high politics’, both globalization and European integration have left their trace on the traditional and modern Westphalian notions of sovereignty.[1]

However, in the post-modern context of European integration, the meaning of what constitutes sovereignty has changed. Strang argues that this is applicable to the concept and exercise of national foreign policy which in Europe has shifted from a national foreign policy created to secure a state’s sovereignty to one that is concerned with external issues; therefore adopting positions which are homogenous throughout the European Union.[2]

The terms ‘Europeanization of Member States’ and its outcome, the ‘Europeanization of national foreign policy’ are not new but they have become more well-known in recent years, following the increasing numbers of research projects that are being carried out in this field. Bulmer and Radaelli have identified four macro-dynamics that have stimulated an increasing interest in Europeanization.[3]

The first one is the institutionalization of the single market. Although the idea of the EU’s internal market has not yet been completely fulfilled, EU directives, regulations, and jurisprudence affecting national markets increased considerably since the Single European Act in 1986.[4]

The second reason is the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). This is due to fact that EMU has not only created a single currency but it has also deepened the degree of interdependency and cooperation between other policies. Within the Euro zone, the outcomes and consequences of debates on key areas are not restricted simply to the nature of national policy but they also affect the process by which national policy is formulated.[5]

The third factor highlighting the debate of Europeanization is regulatory competition, having a direct relation to the single market. A number of European policy-makers think that “excessive regulatory competition may have already spawned a race-to-the-bottom, detrimental to the cause of the welfare state and the European social model”.[6] Europeanization could thus serve as a process by which national policies secure themselves in competitive terms within a broader EU context. 

The fourth factor is the spill over effect from the process of enlargement of the European Union. The Copenhagen Criteria of 1993 contributed to quite a large degree of Europeanization. Candidate countries had to comply with vital European Union standards in relation to the rule of law, democracy, human rights and economic adjustment. The ‘Europeanization effect’ was very strong externally before the big-bang enlargement of 2004. After that the same ‘Europeanization effect’ has turned into something internal.[7]

These four macro-dynamics have had a significant effect on the foreign policy of European Union Member States which we will go into later on during this chapter while discussing what has changed in the character of the Member States, enabling them to ‘Europeanize’ their foreign policy in such a way as to make this topic interesting to study.

1.1 Defining Europeanization

Kevin Featherstone has claimed that “‘Europeanization’… can be a useful entry-point for greater understanding of important changes occurring in our politics and society. The obligation of the researcher is to give it a precise meaning”[8]

Having explained why Europeanization is such a hot issue, one needs to have a clear understanding of what exactly constitutes ‘Europeanization’. It is a word which has been given various interpretations in Western Europe by different authors throughout recent years.

The penetration of the European dimension into the national arena is the first thing that springs to mind when one hears the term ‘Europeanization’. Robert Ladrech (1994) was among the first to delve into the explanation of this term. He defines Europeanization as “an incremental process of re-orienting the direction and shape of politics to the extent that EC political and economic dynamics become part of the organizational logic of national politics and policy-making”.[9]

Therefore, when speaking of the Europeanization of a foreign policy, one is referring to “the process of foreign policy change at the national level originated by the adaptation pressures and the new opportunities generated by the European integration process”.[10] As the term has been applied to numerous fields including International Relations and social sciences, maybe the best way to define Europeanization in simple terms is as becoming more “European-like”.

From a Foreign Policy Analysis perspective, Ben Tonra, in his study about Danish and Irish Foreign Policies, defines Europeanization as

“a transformation in the way in which national foreign policies are constructed, in the ways in which professional roles are defined and pursued and in the consequent internalisation of norms and expectations arising from a complex system of collective European policy making.”[11]

“Europeanization”, as given in Tonra’s definition, is principally made up of two components – first, a political concept and second, a theoretic instrument.[12] The first implication is crystal clear; the political concept is present because firstly the European Union is a political body and secondly due to the interdependence between domestic politics and institutional structures and those of the European Union. The second term, the theoretical tool, is used to analyze the progress and change in the national and European Union policies and institutions, the influence they exert on each other and how they negotiate and get along with each other.

There are two dimensions to Europeanization. In the dynamics of EU-Member State relationships, Europeanization represents the ‘top-down’ approach or ‘reception’. This needs to be complemented by another dimension, the ‘projection’;

“European integration is not just ‘out there’ as some kind of independent variable; it is itself to a significant degree the product of member government’s wishes. Given that the European Union has its own organisational logic, it is necessary for national political actors […] to accommodate some of that logic if the opportunities afforded by the EU are to be exploited”[13]

A problem one encounters when assessing Europeanization is the difficulty to isolate the ‘EU-effect’ from other changes in the global, bilateral and national spheres.[14] So when defining ‘Europeanization’ there is a risk of conceptual stretching.[15] Conceptual stretching is the term used by Sartori meaning “the distortion that occurs when a concept does not fit the new cases”.[16] The limits of what can be classified under the term ‘Europeanization’ can be established either by examining if the changes which have occurred are of relevance to this process, by taking into account what is the link between the observed changes and the European integration process or else by exploring the changes inflicted in the light of other processes taking place on the international stage, running parallel to Europeanization.

1.2 Four Themes of Europeanization

There are four themes of Europeanization which are directly linked to the foreign policy of European Union Member States.[17]

The first one relates to new constraints and new instruments. There has to be a balance between formal and informal constraints, i.e. on the formal level there are transferred competences such as in the case of common policies (Trade, Agriculture, Fisheries) where national governments keep no direct competence in the areas which directly affect their relationship with other countries.[18] On the informal level, there are strong pressures to reach agreements and avoid unilateral action in areas which are dealt with jointly, as in CFSP discussions.[19] This is crucial for having a plausible European Foreign Policy in the eyes of third countries but also for internal cohesion and to consolidate an acquis upon which future policies can build. As regards European instruments, one needs to study how efficient they are when compared to national ones and how successful a Member State has proved to be in using the existing European instruments.

The second theme of Europeanization is becoming aware of identity, interests and preferences. Identity is all about the understanding of oneself. Participation in the common frame of European Foreign Policy has an effect on the external identity of Member States. Therefore, “national identities are defined or re-defined in the context of EFP, even if this is just for the purpose of making a difference with the other Member States’ external identity”.[20] National interest, on the other hand, does have an objective foundation which can be traced down to geographic, economic, historical, domestic, cultural and other factors. Here one has to take a look at the evolution of the Member State’s interests in a certain area and the policy consequences of those changes. Upon EU accession, no country violates its interests but aspects of interests can change during negotiations with the other Member States.[21]

Policy-making is the third theme in the study of Europeanization. It is quite tempting for Foreign Policy Analysis academics to focus on the EPC/CFSP only when assessing the impact of EU membership on national foreign policies as this is the focus of attention of most studies on Europeanization in political sciences.[22] However, one has to take into consideration the first (EC) and the third (JHA) pillar policies as they also have an effect on external relations. An example of such would be Trade, Agriculture and Fisheries which are dealt with in the European framework and for years they have been common policies. The Commission (and in some cases the European Parliament) has a very important role in the decision-making of these policies[23].

The last theme to be explored is the domestic dimension. Changes in the weight and orientation of the domestic political actors, national parliament, pressure groups and political parties all have to be taken into account when studying Europeanization. One has to investigate whether, as Hill and Wallace claim, national parliaments have lost capacity to monitor foreign policy.[24] Public opinion is also crucial for this debate because though foreign policy studies have often concluded that most of the time public opinion is indifferent to foreign policy, there still needs to be an assessment of how Europeanization has affected the role of public opinion in policy-making.[25]

1.3 The Link between Europeanization and National Foreign Policy

“The purpose of a nation’s foreign policy should be power, strength and influence in furtherance of its interests and beliefs. That purpose never changes. But the context in which it is pursued does”[26]

The outcome of the four factors mentioned in the beginning of this chapter – the institutionalization of the single market, EMU, regulatory competition and enlargement – has left Europe wondering “what is left for national public policy”.[27] Looking at these changes in Europe, there is little wonder why there has been an increase in academic interest in Europeanization.[28] With those four key prominent areas where Europeanization is actively taking place from a continental point of view, one needs not forget to turn the attention now to the other side of the coin; the national side, where national foreign policy and sovereignty go hand in hand.

Foreign policy is synonymous with sovereignty. In simple terms it refers to the external activities and relations of a sovereign state with other states in fulfilling its aims and objectives in the international sphere. In more sophisticated terms

“foreign policies consist of those actions which, expressed in the form of explicitly stated goals, commitments and/or directives, and pursued by governmental representatives acting on behalf of their sovereign communities, are directed toward objectives, conditions and actors – both governmental and non-governmental – which they want to affect and which lie beyond their territorial legitimacy”[29]

According to Rousseau’s volonté générale concept, foreign policy can be seen as the expression of the people’s will in a sovereign state.[30] The Europeanization of foreign policy is a post-modern phenomenon which is made possible and builds upon the changes in the concepts of both foreign policy and sovereignty.

The traditional conduct of state foreign policy which has always aimed at maintaining full state sovereignty has increasingly acquired a European dimension. In spite of Henry A. Kissinger’s warning not to abandon the sovereign nation-state as long as there is no proven alternative in place, the EU Member States have ceded substantial parts of their sovereignty.[31] As in the process of European integration, foreign policy has been subjected to the impact of the factors discussed previously, it underwent considerable change.[32]

Modern Westphalian conceptualizations of foreign policy are biased in favour of the state. The theoretical assumptions of the state-centric school seem to be outdated against the developing European foreign policy-making. This is due to the fact that in this theory, there is the notion of foreign policy as being an area no one can penetrate. So could foreign policy be immune to Europeanization? This question crops up as Member States are assumed to guard this key area of national sovereignty jealously.[33]

The European idealist school, as opposed to the state-centric school, allows for non-state actors to play a role in foreign policy. It recognizes that states’ foreign policies are important though over time they are being replaced by a common European approach. This is understandable because if this were the case, there would be no sense in studying the Europeanization of foreign policy. Jordi Vaquer i Fanés claims that “there is a case for studying the Europeanization of foreign policy, despite the fact that this policy remains, by and large, at the national governments’ hands”.[34] It thus becomes clear that “foreign policy is not a special case immune to Europeanization pressures”.[35]

1.4 Small States’ Europeanization – desire of inclusion or fear of engulfment?

As foreign policy is not immune to EU membership, one needs to include in the subject of ‘Europeanization’, the national foreign policies of numerous small states making up the European Union today. Indeed, today Europe has become a “union of small states”, with our own homeland, Malta, being the smallest EU country in terms of both territory and population. But do small states wish to be part and parcel of a larger institution or are they afraid of this?

Small states like Malta that decide to join the EU do so to build a shell of protection around them and help boost their economy through trade. So, suggesting they are “weak states” first of all does not help Europe as a whole and secondly, it does not really define their nature[36].

The main foreign policy objective of all countries and especially small states, is participating in a pool of wealth to ensure the free flow of information, money, goods and services as well as the eventual free flow of people and corporations.[37] In Malta’s case, the first step was Malta’s accession in the EU in 2004, now what we are assessing are the effects of Malta’s EU membership. Though Malta has been a Member State for a relatively short period, one can still determine if any changes have occurred in the country’s foreign policy.

Malta’s ex-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Michael Frendo declares that the real challenge in the EU is getting and holding the interest of the EU's bureaucracy in Brussels; this is an ongoing difficulty for the smaller Member States.[38] According to Dr. Frendo,

“[membership] frees the mind from the constraints of a small territory and provides [Malta’s] citizens with a continent in which they can, by right, travel, study, work and reside. It provides us with the tools to influence decision-making in European policies including common foreign policy and therefore enables us to strengthen our relevance and enhances our weight to international affairs in all contexts, regional, bilateral, multilateral and/or regional context feeds strength and relevance in bilateral relations and vice-versa”[39]

The EU gives an international voice to its smaller Member States and places them on an equal platform as the other, bigger, Member States. The EU is the most important context for small Member State foreign policy-making. Keeping this in mind, one has to assess how small EU Member States are being affected by Europeanization and how they are conducting their foreign policy post-EU accession.

Chapter 2

The Influence of EU Membership on Small States’ Foreign Policy-Making

With EU membership, there are a number of areas in which the Member State in question must adapt and reform itself. When states join the European Union, their foreign policy is to a certain degree influenced by various factors such as how they are going to convey and address their policies towards existing and future Member States. Linked to the same argument, EU Member States must also develop a foreign policy towards non-Member States outside Europe. Over the years, there have been changes in the EU framework which have left their imprint on the process of European integration particularly in relation to foreign policy. From this perspective, one can say that the ever-changing European environment has had an impact on the existing Member States’ foreign policy as well as for the newer Member States. Membership has served as a milestone in the small states’ history, improving their relations with other countries.[40]

2.1 Historical Overview

In 1970, the EC Member States decided that they would strengthen their co-operation on international issues. This gave rise to European Political Cooperation (EPC). This was however on an intergovernmental level. Sixteen years later, the Single European Act formalized EPC under Title III and reinforced practices that were born through the years.[41]

In 1993 the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy was established through the Treaty of Maastricht, where for the first time the term “common foreign policy” was used. Since Maastricht, the EU has been able to express its stands on behalf of its Member States on armed conflicts, human rights and many other issues which the EU considers as a threat for its well-being or which go contrary to its values.[42]

A key step in the EU’s history with regards to foreign policy was the introduction in the Treaty of Amsterdam of the High Representative for the CFSP who is Mr. Javier Solana and of the Special Representatives of which currently there are ten. Their role is to help regions and areas which are torn apart by conflict by giving advice to the authorities concerned and ensure peace is restored whenever possible. Their political presence is essential in putting the EU on a prominent place on the international stage, acting as its “voice” and “face”.[43]

In 2003, when the Treaty of Nice entered into force, the number of areas which fall under qualified majority voting increased and the role of the Political and Security Committee in crisis management operations was enhanced. After the Nice Treaty, new challenges began to arise. One such challenge is the Helsinki Headline Goal which can be met through developing the EU’s defence policy. This is just one instance where small Member States may feel dominated by their larger counterparts, the reason being that large Member States would be keener on defence policy. Another example where small Member States would feel more controlled when compared to large Member States is in regards to the management of the single currency; the Euro. Small states may be scrutinized more than their larger counterparts, mostly because some argue that bigger economies have a larger say. So they put more pressure on small weaker states to comply with what has already been achieved.[44]

Over the years, the smaller Member States have looked up to the Commission as a “friend of the small”.[45] However, during recent years the Commission has lost part of its power and will undergo further reforms if the Treaty of Lisbon is ratified in all 27 Member States.

2.2 Small State Foreign Policy

With the end of the Cold War, the European Community looked like a fantastic idea; the ideal security organization for small states. As time went by, the integration process transformed the conditions for small state foreign policy-making in Europe. The coming together of the large powers in one single institution helped small states tailor their foreign policy according to their priorities. The dangers of conflicts and military attacks were wiped off small states’ concerns with the emergence of a larger community body and the development of the situation in Europe. The key issue on small states’ agenda by now had become how to influence large states while maintaining their own autonomy.[46]

For those states that joined the EU before the Cold War there was the challenge of adapting their foreign policy to the post-Cold War context. The bulk of small EU Member States joined in 2004, however there were some small states which were already members at this time, namely, Ireland, Denmark and Luxembourg. During this time, new tensions arose because the Member States had to learn how to interact with the world around them, as well as with each other.[47] 

The dilemma between influence and autonomy is particularly relevant to small states’ cases for a number of reasons. Small states tend to risk being exploited far more than large states and their foreign policy decisions are more likely to have an impact on their security and survival. It may also be argued that they do not even really have the choice to opt-out of the EU because that probably will only serve as a blow to their security on the international stage.[48] So, very often they find themselves going to and fro, pondering whether to risk becoming trapped or enjoy having liberty and voice through the decisions taken at the international level. Thus, between autonomy and influence, small states are more willing to choose autonomy because that is a far more realistic approach. Though in the end they may reject this course for reasons just outlined.[49]

International institutions help small countries become more stable. They provide rules and regulations for their Member States to be applied uniformly and without any exceptions, while providing a voice to small Member States. This level playing-field gives the opportunity to influence the actions of more powerful states.[50] The disadvantage is that by becoming more prominent on the international stage, small states face the problem of losing their political autonomy. This is particularly evident in the foreign policy positions traditionally taken by European small states. One such strategy was neutrality. This strategy was chosen because it was no use involving small states in conflicts they had no chance of influencing anyway. Now, that the process of globalisation is widespread and countries are dependent on each other, neutrality makes less sense than ever before. EU membership was the ultimate factor which led these countries to abandon neutrality as defined in its classical meaning; Finland, Sweden, Austria, Denmark and Ireland. In fact, today they are sometimes referred to as the post-neutral states.[51]

2.3 Balance between Small and Large Member States

By becoming an EU Member State there is the fear that a country loses its sovereignty. Its territorial size restricts it from exploiting its full potential, namely have an influential say in priority areas. The idea that big states are normally in accordance with each other over the majority of issues is not correct. Countries usually do what is in their interest, irrelevant of their size. This fact is sometimes pointed out as small states tend to be more adaptive than their bigger counterparts over international issues, the reason being that they know their security and survival would be at risk if they decide to take a stand that runs counter to what has been decided by the larger countries.

For a small state the EU can result in a challenging experience because it is characterized by a big bureaucracy. Considering the great number of small Member States that have recently joined the union, and with an effective foreign policy in place, however, a state who is willing, can manage to succeed.[52]

A Member State of a union can only have an effective foreign policy if it has voice and representation in the union it belongs to. Small states are usually known as having a good relationship with the Commission by relying on it to back them up on issues where they need support vis-à-vis their larger counterparts. The Commission acts as a mediator mostly because small states try to find a common footing, rather than wait for their large counterparts to take on a Council meeting and engulf the small states’ voices.[53]

According to Professor Esko Antola, the balance between the small and the large Member States was given priority in the founding of the European Community. This is shown through the system of weighted votes in the Council of Ministers and in the national quotas in the European Parliament. Antola therefore observes that the treaties of the European Union take into consideration both factors of population and territory rather than just the size of a state’s territory.

The Benelux countries, being the only three small states at the establishment of the European Community, were allowed over-representation in voting for reasons of balancing out the powers between the six founding states. When the Union began to expand and a series of small states began to join in, new ways of representation had to be adopted.[54]

During the 1990s, the European Union experienced tensions with regards to the composition of the Commission and the reform of the weighting of votes, as the number of small states joining it kept rising. This was seen as an important aspect in the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. In fact, the balance of power between small and large states was high up on the agenda of the following intergovernmental conferences of Amsterdam in 1997 and Nice in 2000 both of which led to Treaty Reform.[55]

Small states would rather have strong institutions in place so that constant balance of power can be kept, even if this means pooling some layers of their own sovereignty. All Member States have a right to veto, on key issues particularly in defence matters, thus giving power to small states to stop large states from pursuing their own interests instead of the union’s interest as a whole. In addition, the great number of small Member States of the EU is crucial in decisions where unanimity is necessary. Strong institutions are a key sign of longevity for small Member States. Intergovernmentalism, according to Antola, is not so positive in promoting small state interests and threatens to eliminate equality between EU Member States.[56] This could be because intergovernmentalists feel that control of the EU should be in the hands of heads of states or governments. This way, the Commission and the European Parliament would be dedicated a much smaller role.[57]

Even though we tend to put all small states in one broad category, in reality small EU Member States are different from each other in many aspects. They also differ in their views of Europe. Some support intergovernmentalism and are Euro-skeptics like Sweden, Denmark, and recently Poland. Others are convinced that supranational institutions can better represent small states such as Belgium, Luxembourg, Portugal and Finland. Then there are a group of other small Member States that have a somewhat different approach than those in the former two categories. Such an example is the Netherlands who is “not quite a small Member but has not a recognition as a middle power”.[58] In a peculiar way, such countries therefore, not being large states, have an interest in securing small states’ wishes but also a bigger interest in not expanding the EU budget, being one of the net contributors.[59] 

A few months before the historic enlargement of 2004, critics argued that “equality between states had to give way in the name of effectiveness”. The reason behind this was that according to the large Member States, both the Commission and the rotating presidency would be negatively affected if there was to be no change whatsoever. However, even if each Member State would retain one commissioner, the Commission would still be much smaller than a national Parliament. The enlargement of 2004 resulted in a change in the balance of power between big and small EU Member States. This reasoning was only brought up to defend the interests of the large members and help them keep a tight grasp on small states.[60]

2.4 Changes in the Foreign Policy-Making of Small Member States as a Result of Enlargement

When the EU Member States were fifteen, there was already a considerable number of them which were referred to as “small states”. Now, following the big-bang enlargement of 2004, the EU has practically become a union of small states, with as many as six new small states joining in, namely; Malta, Cyprus, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. This is the reason why the issue of small states has in recent times come to the fore, with many policy-makers across Europe realizing that the role of the smaller EU Member States has to be looked at with more importance and be developed for the sake of Europe as a whole.

As a direct result of European Union membership, the foreign policy of Member States is bound to change in some ways because even though a state is sovereign when it joins the EU, it becomes part of a larger supranational body. Thus, it needs to show respect to other Member States’ foreign policies and to cooperate with its fellow Member States’ foreign ministries.[61]

When states experience strong interdependence on each other’s national foreign policy, consequences may arise. This can be applied to the actual European national foreign policy situation. This interdependence causes foreign ministries and their domestic counterparts to overlap as a result of welfare issues which are increasing on the agenda. It is expected that foreign ministries’ influence will be lessened because other institutions will come to dominate the scene. They are most likely to lose their policy specialization as national foreign ministries put their effort in observing national areas, while putting aside key aspects of foreign policy such as political analysis and diplomacy. The smaller the Member State, the greater is the problem of interdependence because small Member States tend to depend more on their larger counterparts. This all leads to the new situation being faced by the foreign ministry to create lack of coordination. This shows that while European integration may have done a great deal in favour of the Member State, it may also have led to a reduction in the national foreign ministry influence and effectiveness.[62]

On the other hand, history has proved that a small state is unable to effectively coordinate its foreign policy when standing alone, because it does not have the necessary resources. Small state success stories have very much the case been accredited to membership of particular organizations or strong links with certain countries. Such are the cases of Austria, Finland and Sweden which abandoned their neutral status in exchange for a better deal offered by EU membership. An independent and neutral foreign policy is highly unlikely to be followed by a small country for a long period, the reason being that it needs to feel committed in a safer environment.

The EU is decentralized because its degree of control over its Member States is minimal. Thus, for the smaller Member States this implies that foreign policy decisions which emerge from the EU or from its more powerful members are quite vague. There are positive and negative sanctions imposed by the EU as an award or as a punishment for a country’s deeds. A positive sanction may be market access or EU membership, awarded to countries that are willing to respect EU values and which show their commitment towards ensuring stability in Europe. On the other hand, a negative sanction could result in economic sanctions or in military action. As a part of a larger union, small states are disguised under the veil of EU foreign policy making. This could work out in opposite ways. It could either help the small state take action against the country it feels is threatening it, but it could also damage its good relations with the “convicted” state.

EU enlargement has been a step several small Member States decided to take. Denmark and Sweden played an important role in succeeding to convince the EU to open negotiations with a large number of countries rather than with a small group like the tradition went. This was a huge step forward for small EU states because the bigger the number of small states, the better their voice will be heard. The 2004 enlargement, which included small states such as Malta and Cyprus, aided the EU in the process of balancing out small vis-à-vis big Member States’ interests. Closer cooperation on foreign, security and defence policy has given the small Member States an opportunity to influence the security agenda of the big as the small are often unable to act alone.[63]

The Constitutional Treaty which was drafted by Member States in 2004 and rejected by France and the Netherlands in 2005 was a product of the discussions over the balance between the small and large states in the EU institutions. Its successor, the Lisbon Treaty will be changing the context of small EU Member State foreign policy-making if ratified in all 27 EU Member States.[64]

First, the currently rotating EU presidency will be replaced by a full-time President of the European Council who is elected for a period of two and a half years renewable once.[65] Some may argue that this is being proposed in favour of the large Member States who otherwise would only hold the rotating presidency once in fourteen years due to the 2004 and 2007 enlargements. However, the six-month rotating presidency would still remain for other Council formations. Though, the six-month rotating presidency is an important place for agenda-setting by the small EU Member States, they would still have the opportunity to bring forward proposals in other Member States’ six-month presidencies. This new amendment could be looked at from a positive angle for small EU Member States as it would give each state much more time to prepare for its Presidency, meaning that states would become more effective when holding the Presidency of the European Council.

Second, the Commission’s size will decrease from 2014 if the Lisbon Treaty is ratified. There will no longer be a Commissioner from every country but from two-thirds of the Member States, so there would be a national from each Member State in two Commissions out of three. All countries would miss a turn, big countries included but in the long run this could facilitate decision-making and make it more effective. Commissioners are supposed to be independent. Regardless of this, small states still see an advantage in having their own Commissioner at EU level especially in the area of the concerned Commissioner.[66]

Third, decision-making has become more flexible. This may have an important influence on the foreign policy-making of the small. Through the Lisbon Treaty, Member States could be allowed to take decisions by qualified majority where unanimity would normally be required, according to the Treaty of Nice. There are instances where the big states would be in agreement with each other over a particular issue due to the nature of the particular issue in question. Hence this situation would exert an involuntary threat on the smaller states. This is not usually the case however as big states are hardly ever in agreement. When they do stick together, they pursue this policy through their general interests not as a result of their similar physical territory. The Lisbon Treaty, if approved, will also allow for a Member State to leave the Union.[67]

Fourth, a re-weighting of votes in the Council of Ministers has also been put down in the Lisbon Treaty. This was done because the system was said to favour small states. “Double majority” was introduced where 55% of the Member States comprising 65% of the EU’s population would make up a qualified majority. A blocking majority must constitute four or more countries. This is a prevention from the EU’s side vis-à-vis the biggest Member States because if only one or a couple of them are contrary to an EU proposal, they cannot simply block the whole process. When compared to the three above mentioned changes in the EU institutional framework, this may be the one with the least impact on small states foreign policy-making.[68]

2.5 Consideration of EU Membership for Small States

In weighing the real effectiveness of changes in the EU foreign policy framework, the impact on all big and small states has to be considered. Thus, a state that is considering the risk of EU membership would be able to conduct a better constructive evaluation of its successful survival within the EU.

This would be particularly helpful for small Member States such as Malta whose foreign policy is directly affected with such membership since they rely more on foreign countries than the bigger states do in their achievement of their respective political, social and economic targets.

Chapter 3

The Foreign Policy-Making of the Smallest EU Member State: Malta 

This chapter deals with a unique case among the EU Member States; the case of Malta. Malta is the smallest Member State in EU-27, with a population of approximately 400,000 inhabitants and an area of 315 square kilometres. It is unique because Malta is the only Member State that does not share a border with any other EU Member State, except for Cyprus. Although Cyprus is an island-state, it still has strong cultural and linguistic ties with Greece, and the Cyprus question persists. Malta is a state in its own right, and it is completely independent from all other EU Member States.

EU membership constitutes a change to some extent on all sectors of the Member States’ society. When studying how the foreign-policy making of small EU Member States has been influenced with their membership of the EU, exploring the case of Malta is essential, being the smallest Member State in terms of both population and territory.

As a small state, Malta has to mould its foreign policy accordingly and for this reason:

“Malta’s foreign policy is geared towards promoting Malta’s interests and safeguarding those of its citizens internationally, with an overriding commitment to global and regional peace and security. Over the years, and even more so today, this has meant that Malta has continually striven to maintain the best possible relations with other countries and has played an active role in a wide variety of international and regional institutions”[69]

3.1 Malta-EU Relations

In 1970, Malta had signed an Association Agreement with the EEC which was followed by three financial protocols between 1978 and 1993. In 1981, Maltese Prime Minister Dom Mintoff had asked the EC for a new agreement, making reference to a “special relationship”. During this time, the question of whether Malta should secure its future through North Africa or through Europe was still persistent.[70]

The European Parliament in 1988 stated that it “wishes to see relations between Malta and the Community become as close as possible and eventually brought to the point at which, within suitable institutional arrangements, the Maltese people will be full participants in the Community”.[71]

Eventually, Malta’s formal application for EU membership was submitted to the Council of the European Union in July 1990, marking an important milestone in Maltese foreign relations. In 1993, the Commission issued a favourable report on Malta as regards potential membership. However, a change of government in 1996 caused Malta’s application to grind to a halt as it was suspended by the Labour government.

Two years passed and Malta’s EU application was reactivated due to the re-election of the Nationalist party to government. This led to EU official negotiations being opened in 2000 and were formally concluded in 2002 at the Copenhagen Summit. The subsequent year, in 2003, the Maltese electorate confirmed through a referendum that it is in favour of EU membership. Thus, a month later, Prime Minister Dr. Edward Fenech Adami and Foreign Minister Dr. Joe Borg signed the Treaty of Accession in Athens. This Treaty was successfully ratified in July 2003.

Finally, on 1st May 2004, Malta along with Cyprus and eight Central and Eastern European countries joined the EU. A few months short of its fourth anniversary from joining the EU, Malta adopted the single currency, the Euro, on 1 January 2008.

3.2 Main Objectives of Malta’s Foreign Policy

Though Malta must adhere to EU policies, it nevertheless has done its best in the foreign policy sphere not to be overshadowed by the larger institution it belongs to. On 8 February 2006, Malta has set up its own Strategic Objectives in line with what it considers to be its priorities.

Inspired by the new realities Malta is facing in the ever-changing international arena, the Strategic Objectives of Malta’s Foreign Policy were introduced considering Malta’s membership of the EU, competition in world markets, the post-Cold War period, the United Nations, religious fundamentalism among other issues of relevance. According to Maltese ex-Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Michael Frendo, Malta has recognized that it must take an active approach and be quick to adapt to these new events.[72]

The Strategic Objectives come under twenty headings, emphasizing themes such as Malta’s geopolitical significance, EU membership, bilateral relations, illegal immigration, the Mediterranean, the Commonwealth, terrorism, and other matters of concern to Malta like energy security, climate change, small states, ageing and children. Above all, Malta must construct an organisational structure that is capable of meeting these objectives in the first place.[73]

According to the Strategic Objectives, Malta should be able to take advantage of new opportunities that have arisen as an outcome of EU membership. Membership should serve to add value to the country’s bilateral relations and in international affairs in general. Naturally, Malta will consider and follow EU positions on international concerns. It aims to construct strong and long-lasting relations with other countries and penetrate new markets. Moreover, Malta is committed to attract new investment and strengthen the private sector.[74]

Stability in the Mediterranean region is of great importance to the future of Europe as a whole. In particular, the countries of North Africa remain of real significance to Malta’s future due to their physical proximity. Therefore, Malta supports an enhanced relationship between the EU and the Arab League. Excellent relations must be kept for the sake of maximizing potential economic benefits and possibly reducing the problem of illegal immigration.[75]

Forum Malta fl-Ewropa was set up in 2005 “as the national reference point on EU-related affairs”.[76] The terms of reference of this body are explained in the Foreign Ministry’s Strategic Objectives:

“Malta will proactively participate in European Union decisions, policy and lawmaking… Malta will continue to ensure that important matters of national interest are raised high on the European Union Agenda while continuing to be a team-player in the day-to-day construction of a strong European Union built on a culture of consensus and compromise…”[77]

Dr. Michael Frendo argues that there are two things one can do with small states; either disregard them or embrace them. If the latter is pursued, small states’ resources can be tapped. Being the southernmost point of the EU, Malta is important for political reasons such as issues arising from illegal immigration coming up from North Africa. He stresses that Malta has to safeguard its own diplomatic composure, keeping in mind its Lilliputian dimension. As emphasised earlier on, Malta’s agenda revolves around Mediterranean issues, illegal immigration and environmental issues. Frendo denies that the bigger EU Member States condemn the smaller states to “diplomatic limbo”. The difficulty for small Member States lies in penetrating and influencing the interests of the EU’s bureaucracy in Brussels.

As a believer in an effective foreign policy, Dr. Frendo said that Malta will be suggesting the setting up of a document of Strategic Objectives in Foreign Policy at EU level, claiming that Malta has a valuable contribution to give in this regard. 

3.3 Membership of Other International Organisations

Malta’s foreign policy has not diminished by the fact that it has become an EU Member State. In fact, Malta is still active in a number of international organisations such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the Commonwealth.

Malta became a member of the United Nations in 1964. During these years Malta has fostered measures to sustain peace and security with its main initiatives being the introduction of the notion of the Common Heritage of Mankind and the Protection of the Global Climate.[78] There is no doubt that Malta has left a positive imprint of small states in the General Assembly and in the Security Council, also being the one to lead the way in the transformation of the Law of the Sea.[79]

In the Council of Europe, Malta has proved to be committed to its objectives since 1965. The best example of this is the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights in Malta’s legislation. Though it is a member of the Council of Europe, Malta nevertheless examines and formulates a position on every issue that crops up. In March 2008, the Council of Europe called on its Member States to decriminalize abortion if they have not already done so. In April 2008, the Maltese representatives voted against the motion, with Mr. Leo Brincat emphasizing the fact that abortion is not a matter of discussion for Malta; it is and will strictly remain a criminal offence, with common consensus from both government and opposition.[80]

The OSCE is another organisation in which Malta has played an active role since the beginning. Malta believes that the OSCE has an important task in conflict prevention, containment, peacemaking, reconstruction, peace-building and reconciliation. Within this organisation, Malta often expresses concern about developments in the Mediterranean region. The Armed Forces of Malta have participated in OSCE missions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Georgia and have attended OSCE conferences dealing with security issues.[81]

Malta has a prominent place in the Commonwealth, being one of the ten Commonwealth Member States that participate in the High Level Review Group.[82] In November 2005, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (GHOGM) was held in Malta and in November 2007, ex-Maltese Foreign Minister Michael Frendo, was a candidate for the post of Secretary General of the Commonwealth. Though he failed to be elected, ex-Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon stated that, “Malta’s positive profile globally has been raised hugely” through Frendo’s campaign for the election, and also due to the work Frendo had carried out during the two years he chaired the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) and the Steering Committee of Commonwealth Connects.[83] 

Recently, Malta has also joined NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) programme. Joining the Partnership for Peace resulted in a hot debate in Malta as a result of the Nationalist government not consulting the Opposition about its intentions. After twelve years absent from NATO’s Partnership for Peace, the Maltese government decided to take another approach in this regard. Malta’s action through the withdrawal from the Partnership for Peace programme in 1996 by the Labour-led government was reversed in April 2008 in Bucharest, Romania, with Prime Minister Dr. Lawrence Gonzi attending a meeting of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) and succeeding in reactivating Malta’s application for accession, as all heads of state and government approved Malta’s accession. Through joining the Partnership for Peace, Malta now fully participates in the ESDP operations which are carried out using NATO resources. Hence, it now has access to EU-NATO meetings related to security and military operations.[84] Reactivation of the Partnership for Peace membership has marked yet another milestone in Maltese foreign policy, regarded by the Nationalist party in government as picking off where the Labour government left the Partnership for Peace in 1996.[85] The government has claimed that Malta’s neutrality will not be affected by this measure. Even so, critics are sceptic on this assertion.[86]

3.4 Malta in the Mediterranean

Malta remains committed to the Mediterranean. The Mediterranean was one of its top priorities before EU membership, and it can be still found high up on the agenda. Malta is too small to stay alone in the midst of the Mediterranean; it needs to be carefully secured by European integration.[87] With EU membership, Malta has found itself in a better position to negotiate its needs and wants in the Mediterranean.

The Barcelona Process was born in 1995. Malta served to bring together the EU Member States with the non-member countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, mainly North Africa and the Middle East. The most important objective behind the Euro-Med Partnership is peace and stability in this area, where conflict is more probable due to a clash of civilizations.[88]

According to newly-elected Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malta, Dr. Tonio Borg, Malta has a crucial role to play in the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. Though failing in some aspects, such as the realization of a free trade area by 2010, it still represents the most important achievement of the Mediterranean for promoting tranquillity in the region.

As a Mediterranean country, Malta has always had good relations with its Mediterranean neighbours, mainly its Arab neighbouring states. This relationship between the Arab world and the EU is fundamental to both sides, so the EU Commission will be sure to keep this in mind and take initiatives on this issue in the near future.

The EU-Arab League Ministerial Meeting, held in Malta in February 2008 under the EU’s common and foreign security policy (CFSP), has brought to the forefront issues which are of particular interest to both sides. Such concerns are climate change, to which Malta has already proposed an early warning structure and the setting up of a financial institution which can help Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) establish themselves. Through this and similar initiatives, Dr. Frendo commented that Malta shows that it is capable of playing a crucial role in enhancing dialogue between the EU and the Arab world.[89]

French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposal for a Union for the Mediterranean motivated a lot of discussion in the region. Dr. Tonio Borg has stated that this is a new instrument which ought to be harmonized with the other existing mechanisms, thus not neglecting the ones already in place. This Mediterranean Union should therefore serve as a political umbrella to the Euro-Med Partnership where non-EU countries would get a real co-decision role. The European Council has in fact already given its go ahead to boost its ties with the southern countries.[90]

Malta is part of the Olive Oil group, which was organised by ex-Minister for Foreign Affairs Michael Frendo. This is an informal group made up of the Foreign Ministers of the Mediterranean EU Member States who come together to discuss Mediterranean issues of particular significance such as development, security, energy and climate change. The current Slovenian EU Presidency and the French EU Presidency in the second half of 2008 should definitely take action on the issue of immigration.

3.5 Malta’s Future Foreign Policy – The Implications of the Lisbon Treaty

Malta ratified the Lisbon Treaty in January 2008, making it one of the very first Member States to approve the treaty after the Constitutional Treaty was rejected by France and the Netherlands in 2005.

Dr. Frendo believes that European development is still applicable today. Both parties in the Maltese National Parliament were in favour of the Lisbon Treaty. Thus, this is why the Treaty was unanimously approved, with both sides recognizing that this would be a step towards greater integration. It is additional proof of how Malta always sought to strengthen itself. Insisting that a small country on its own is not effective, Malta needs to make the Treaty of Lisbon work to tackle arising challenges. Among the most important challenges for Malta we find climate change and illegal immigration, which are easier to discuss in an institutional framework.[91]

The Reform Treaty guarantees that the EU will be one of the strongest voices on the international stage, according to Frendo. This would need a stronger Europe which is ready to put its foreign policy at the forefront. Malta is ready to be an active member in the EU, putting its initiatives to potential fulfilment.[92]


Malta must be true to its legacy of the past forty years of its foreign policy, from its Independence up to this day. It must carry on playing a positive role in the development of Europe’s experiment, just as it has done in other international organizations such as the UN, the Council of Europe, the OSCE and the Commonwealth.

An effective foreign policy is not a luxury but a necessity. Foreign policy-making and domestic policy-making complement and influence each other. If one of them is not successful, the likelihood is that the other one would not be doing well either and vice-versa. A country has to be careful when formulating its foreign policy because decisions taken by a country in the international arena always have an impact on its citizens.

EU membership has in a sense given a new identity to small Member States. This can be stated because it helps colonial experiences be conquered. For Malta, in fact, EU membership has provided a chance to minimise the strong bilateral affiliation with the United Kingdom and enhancing it to a balanced one with all EU Member States.

As a European country with a Mediterranean dimension, Malta should pursue a foreign policy agenda that seeks to get the best of both North (EU) and South (North Africa). Such a strategy would allow for Malta to maximise its foreign policy potential as an EU Member State and as an international actor on the world stage.

By projecting such a strategy Malta will be able to create a win-win situation. It will be supporting the EU in formulating a more effective Mediterranean policy and it will be helping the Mediterranean countries by raising awareness of the challenges they face.

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