A vision for the EU’s new foreign policy strategy

As it reviews its foreign policy, the EU should decide on the areas where it can achieve the greatest results.

On Monday 20 April, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, presented her view of the global state of affairs to Foreign Affairs Ministers as basis for a new European foreign policy strategy.  The next day she travelled to Brussels with some key aides for a discussion of the EU strategy with think-tankers from around Europe hosted by the EUISS.

As ECFR has argued for a while, a new strategy is long overdue – the last one (focusing explicitly on security) was written in 2003. Its first sentence, that “Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free”, hardly begins to capture the spirit of 2015.

But the 2003 strategy had a clear purpose – allowing the member states to come together after the rancorous split over Iraq and helped heal transatlantic tensions. It also laid the foundations for one of the EU’s biggest potential foreign policy success that is coming to fruition today, the Iran nuclear deal.

Mogherini’s new framework paints a compelling picture of a world that is “more connected, more complex and more contested” than that which was described in the 2003 strategy.  It also captures a lot of the core dilemmas facing the EU.

However, the key question now is how the process which this assessment will launch will help EU member states and institutions came together.  There is a danger that the process has an ever-widening scope – taking in everything from digital policy to trade as well as covering all regions from Latin America to the Middle East – and therefore allows EU member states to avoid making real choices about their interests and how they commit their resources.

 As important as Mogherini’s assessment of the world is, what will ultimately matter is the second phase of the review process that deals with implementation. I have three suggestions for the implementation process.

 1)       Process

 Rather than having a Brussels-led process only involving EU institutions, member states need to be engaged. Working groups with four to five member states need to be set up to work on a limited number of strategic challenges. These working groups will work with EU institutions to come up with concrete strategic frameworks. The working groups should be made up of foreign ministers, or, depending on the topic, interior, economic or other ministers.

 2)    Scope

There are lots of new issues which the EU has to take seriously, such as the rise of Asia, the unravelling of the global multilateral system, and the weaponisation of cyberspace.  However there are two pressing sets of issues on which the EU has major strategic divergences and over which it can have some influence. The bulk of phase two should be focused on creating a real discussion between member states on these difficult issues in the hope of developing a collective strategy.

 The first is the fractured regional order in the Middle East and North Africa. Here the EU could play an important role in trying to change the political dynamics between the great powers, particularly in the wake of an Iran nuclear deal. While Barack Obama and some of the big European capitals will be caught in a very tricky balancing act between Tehran, Riyadh and Tel Aviv, there is much more space for the EU high representative to invest in building deeper relationships and to look into some of the interconnections between the security crises in Libya, Syria, Yemen and other places.

 Second, the EU needs to think deeply about the broken post-Cold War security order. It is clear that the immediate challenge of freezing the crisis will fall to the big member states meeting in the Normandy format (Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine). However, there is no consensus on the kind of European order that could emerge after the crisis has been resolved, and there are clearly big divergences between member states on this issue. It is thus crucial to take the year between the publication of phase one of the foreign policy strategy review and the development of phase two to have a thoughtful reflection and discussion about what kind of European order we strive for and what sort of policies are needed to achieve it.

3) There are three sets of cross-cutting questions that Europeans should reflect on collectively as part of these discussions.

 a)    Sanctions and economic statecraft are increasingly becoming the tool of choice to deal with disputes. So far, the EU has not done enough to learn the lessons from previous experiences with these tools, nor has it made sure that its machinery of governance is set up for them. It is striking how much these questions are being discussed and thought about in the US – Hilary Clinton talked about them, the Treasury and State Department are deeply involved and have special sanction units. The EU could learn from the US and think more about the growing issue of economic statecraft.

 b)    An increasing number of multilateral institutions are developing all over in the world, including in the MENA region and eastern neighbourhood. The EU needs to think about its collective approach to these new institutions and how it want to relate to them, particularly after the muddle we got into regarding the Russian-let Eurasian Economic Union and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. With the Chinese Silk Road and other projects being built it is important to have a collective reflection on how to relate to these new bodies as well as how to engage with new regional formats in the Middle East.

 c)     The UN and African Union have set up high-level panels to review their military operations – Europe should do the same with its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Given that the EU will likely work in partnership with these players and there could be demands for operations in the Middle East and North Africa and the eastern neighbourhood, it is a useful time to think about a review of CSDP operations.

The quality of Mogherini’s assessment promises a strong first step in the EU security strategy review process. Now it is time for the EU to think about where it really can achieve tangible results and where it thus needs to concentrate its efforts.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


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