Three steps for Mogherini to refurbish EU foreign policy


Peace, Security & Defence

The EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and the other European leaders are now preparing the revision of a raft of policies, ranging from the 12-year old European Security Strategy and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) to trade policy and strategic partnerships with other regional and global powers.

To be remaining relevant, the EU needs to move beyond its often predominant Eurocentric approach and to take more into account the interests and needs of others. The point of departure for Europe’s foreign policies must be much more than the EU’s own objectives and hobbyhorses with a wider perspective than its existing policy instruments, budget lines and standard operational procedures.

The EU therefore needs to devise a ‘smart’ approach that is relevant to non-European stakeholders, particularly in neighbouring regions, to the people, governments and elites of third countries, and to decision-makers of other regional and global powers. For all these stakeholders, Mogherini and all the other Commissioners in the EU’s “Stronger Global Actor” project team must give specific instructions to the European External Action Service (EEAS) that is now the EU’s chief foreign policy instrument and to the various directorates-general in the Commission.

The first of these instructions should be to examine the measures that can help to obtain effective and tangible changes in the socio-economic situations of people elsewhere, and to determine how the EU can contribute concretely to realising these. This will probably require new reforms in such cherished policy fields as trade and regulatory policies.

The EU often fails to translate its impressive foreign policy toolbox into changes affecting the daily lives of people in surrounding regions. When the EU is seen as having nothing to offer, they either turn to other actors and ideologies, such as Islamic movements and parties, or decide as frustrated individuals to enter the EU illegally, and so contributing to the ongoing dramas in the Mediterranean.

The EU’s policy priorities, its trade policy and its internal procedures often restrict Europe’s ability to tackle dramatic developments in its neighbourhood. This creates the impression, often rightly, that the EU doesn’t really care about such problems as hopeless unemployment among young people. And that’s the point, of course; the EU no longer enjoys the luxury of being able to shape its external policies to suit its own traditional, not to say maladjusted, domestic priorities. The EU must henceforth devise innovative and smart foreign policies that also benefit people beyond Europe.

Smart foreign policy that underlines Europe’s relevance is particularly needed with regard to Russia if we are to avoid the long-term deterioration of relations with Moscow

The EU must, in its second set of instructions, help to strengthen third countries’ capacity to tackle their own policy challenges. It is to some extent already doing this with its growing focus on tailor-made capacity-building, and by combining the expertise of the EEAS and the commission’s DGs and specialised agencies together with international organisations, it is on course to do even more.

This has already been illustrated by the EU’s support for security sector reform (SSR) in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, which required a smart and comprehensive policy which went beyond training and monitoring of soldiers. It has also included initiatives like a biometric census of troops and human resource management and the introduction of a transparent payments banking system for the soldiers. Not all the Congolese security force’s problems have yet been solved, but thanks to EU help structures are now in place to ensure the government’s troops are more controllable and disciplined.

‘Smart’ foreign policies that incorporate the expertise of different EU and member state bodies point to one of the top priorities of the Juncker Commission, namely the need to restructure the organisational arrangements and simplify working methods and financial procedures.

The third set of instructions is about demonstrating the EU’s relevance to other regional and global powers, including competitors and antagonists. Instead of fighting and losing battles against the ongoing geopolitical, geo-economic and geo-financial dynamics, the EU must develop smart policies that show it is a highly relevant partner.

In an increasingly instable world in which Europe is in decline, a shift from a myopic focus to a more far-sighted view of our self-interest is essential

Federica Mogherini and the relevant Commissioners responsible for trade, environment and research policies must seek to identify other nations’ interests, sensitivities and ambitions to establish the extent to which these are compatible with the EU’s own interests. The aim should be to turn zero-sum games into positive-sum ones, even if this requires structural changes for the EU policies, notably in its trade policy. A recent example is the European support for the establishment of the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. Also the Silk Road Economic Belt, proposed by Chinese President Xi Jinping, can offer opportunities for the EU to create new positive-sum games.

‘Smart’ foreign policy that underlines Europe’s relevance is particularly needed with regard to Russia if we are to avoid the long-term deterioration of relations with Moscow. While remaining firm in its opposition to Russia’s territorial expansion and destabilisation of Ukraine, the EU has to devise creative policies to turn the current negative-sum game on energy, trade and economic into something much more positive. The EU should keep in mind what a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Jack Matlock, has pointed to as one of the factors contributing to the deteriorating relations of Russia with the EU: two decades of often haughty indifference to Russia’s interests and sensitivities.

Pursuing a foreign policy that takes into account the interests and needs of others doesn’t mean policy so naïve that it neglects Europe’s own interests. On the contrary, it recognises that in an increasingly instable world in which Europe is in decline, a shift from a myopic focus to a more far-sighted view of our self-interest is essential.

The revisions of the European Security Strategy and the ENP could usefully find inspiration in the philosophy of the EU’s founding fathers. The first sentence of the Schuman declaration 65 years ago says that “Peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it’. And Jean Monnet pointed to the need to transcend national interests by adding a European dimension. Now it is up to the EU to transcend the concept of European interests by adding Mediterranean, Russian, African and global dimensions.

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