The European Union needs a new foreign policy strategy


Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of Margot Wallström
Margot Wallström

Russian aggression against Ukraine, or the brutality of ISIS and the terrible tragedies claiming the lives of people fleeing war, oppression and poverty are very different issues. However, they all tell the same story: that the world around the European Union is no longer the same as in 2003, when the EU adopted a security strategy that opened with the proud declaration that Europe had never been “so prosperous, so secure nor so free”.

Against this background, I warmly welcome that EU Heads of State and Government have now responded to the suggestion by Sweden and some other countries and have tasked the High Representative Federica Mogherini to develop a new strategic concept to guide the EU’s relations with the rest of the world.

The EU’s Security Strategy of 2003 identified three strategic objectives; to address threats such as conflict and terrorism, to promote an international order based on effective multi-lateralism and to build security in our own neighbourhood. Now that it is drafting a new strategy, the EU must aim to do better and more.

First, we should upgrade our work on the current agenda. The objectives identified a decade ago remain central.

Second, we must update these objectives to reflect the changing environment. The threats we face are not only linked to conflict and terrorism but also to hybrid warfare, disease, poverty, environmental hazards and climate change. The emergence of new domains that range from outer space to cyberspace also require new global policies. With serious turmoil in our immediate vicinity, we need not only a determined enlargement process and an upgraded neighbourhood policy, but also increased engagement with the next ring of countries, the strategic neighbourhood, or the neighbours of our neighbours.

Third, we must become more proactive. Our thinking must go beyond issues of security, and beyond merely establishing global rules of the game. The next EU strategy should clearly define the EU’s interests and make it clear that the EU will stand up for its values and principles. But EU foreign policy should also assist in the development of democracy abroad as well as competitiveness at home. It should not limit itself to protection from danger; it should seek to make full use of the possibilities offered by the world of tomorrow.

We should be smart, understanding that our resources are not infinite and that the things we seek to promote are sometimes contested by others. We should be bold and make gender equality a prominent part of our foreign policy, so that the EU will be at the forefront when the full potential of half the world’s population is, albeit not without difficulties, released. We need to work together with our partners, such as the United Nations, regional organisations and the U.S., as the core of the multi-lateral order that we seek to promote.

However, most of all we need to be fully aware of the magnitude of the challenges that we will face.

Preventing new disasters in the Mediterranean will require action across a broad spectrum of issues and over a sustained period of time. Saving lives at sea is the immediate priority, but the situation will persist unless we manage to do away with the conflicts and the poverty forcing people to flee. In the same way, addressing the threat posed by ISIS can only be handled through a combination of military action, humanitarian relief and political engagement to resolve the disputes that provide fertile ground for terrorism to grow.

The EU’s relations with strategic global actors must be an integral part of its new foreign policy strategy. The EU and Russia ought to be natural strategic partners. However, given the Russian aggression against Ukraine and the direction of its foreign policy, such a partnership is currently not possible. The EU’s policy towards Russia needs to combine measures to back up its values and principles with a readiness to engage. In parallel, the EU needs to do more to support the resilience of our partners in the East, including the eastern neighbourhood.

The challenge posed by Russia means that the EU has to become more strategic. In this context, a new EU foreign policy strategy will be a timely reminder of what is at stake. Only a united EU with clearly defined interests, ready to stand up for its principles, will be able to safeguard European peace and stability, and ensure that also in future, Europe will remain prosperous, secure and free.

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