EU global strategy under threat from division at home

​The new Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy provides a pragmatic vision for the EU’s external relations. But the loss of the United Kingdom and divisions among the remaining 27 may undermine its success.

As the European Union reeled in the first shock of the United Kingdom’s Brexit decision, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini carried on with what should have been a transformative moment for the EU: the unveiling of the EU Global Strategy. On 28 June, Mogherini presented her draft, titled “Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe”, to the European Council; the document is intended to replace the outdated European Security Strategy, which has nominally guided European external strategy since its launch in 2003.

The Global Strategy’s central vision is less expansive, more humble and more realistic than its predecessor. Context matters, and in a time of interlocking crises for the Union, the Strategy stresses the need for consolidation and unity rather than presupposing that problems abroad and at home can be solved solely by the attractiveness of the EU’s model. The watchword is “principled pragmatism”, walking the line between “a realistic assessment of the strategic environment” and “an idealistic aspiration to advance a better world.”

The Strategy is permeated with an awareness of the disintegrative forces at work within the EU, exemplified by the Brexit decision that overshadowed Mogherini’s moment: presciently, the Strategy says: “Never has our unity been so challenged.” The resurgence of nationalism and antipathy to the EU’s supra-nationalist nature, which was partly responsible for the UK’s vote, is addressed forthrightly: “There is no clash between national and European interests. Our shared interests can only be served by standing and acting together. … The interests of our citizens are best served through unity of purpose between Member States and across institutions, and unity in action by implementing together coherent policies.”

Mogherini is right: The priority issues at the heart of the Strategy (the Security of the Union; State and Societal Resilience in the East and South; an Integrated Approach to Crises; Cooperative Regional Orders; Global Governance for the 21st Century) can best be addressed at an EU level, and no member state working alone can achieve as much as the EU can working together.

But it has never been more apparent that the EU is the sum of its constituent parts, and each country has its part to play. The EU and its member states have work to do if the EU is to achieve the aims set out in the Strategy – and the loss of one of the most important actors in external policy, the UK, will threaten the Strategy’s success in a number of ways.

Mogherini is right: The priority issues at the heart of the Strategy can best be addressed at an EU level, and no member state working alone can achieve as much as the EU can working together.

Stabilizing global finance

The Strategy sets out as one of its aims the promotion of Global Governance for the 21st Century, committing the EU to a global order based on the rule of law, and to this end, to the reform of the global institutions such as the United Nations and its International Financial Institutions.

The Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Sustainable Governance Indicators (SGI) “Global Financial System” indicator measures whether countries actively engage in policymaking to restructure international financial architecture. In 2015, the EU countries taken together scored 6.3 out of a possible 10, below an OECD average of 6.8 – so there is work to be done if Mogherini’s goal is to be attained in this area.

The eurozone crisis has clearly been to blame for some of the instability in global finance, and with division among the eurozone members on bailouts and debt servicing, the Strategy’s goal of working “towards an increasingly unified representation of the euro area in the International Monetary Fund” may seem optimistic.

The potential loss of the City of London as a key EU financial hub may also impact EU capacity here: some would argue that the Libor scandal, among others, provides evidence not only of the need for greater regulation but also of the City’s aversion to playing by the rules, but it cannot be denied that the City in particular and the UK in general has provided important expertise on international finance. The SGI 2015 report notes that “The United Kingdom has had substantial influence on EU financial reforms, both through government action and in the form of initiatives from the City of London.” This contribution could be lost in the aftermath of any Brexit.

Fostering resilience instead of democratization

In dealing with partner countries, in line with the overall precept of principled pragmatism, the Strategy replaces the old focus on democratization with a new emphasis on resilience. “A resilient society featuring democracy, trust in institutions, and sustainable development lies at the heart of a resilient state,” the Strategy states. Representing a recognition that not all states are right now tending towards democracy, this frees the EU to emphasize human rights and to do business with civil society actors, while giving up the aim of regime change where this would be impossible and destabilizing both for external countries and for the EU itself.

Development policy is to be aligned with these strategic priorities, and the Strategy reaffirms the EU’s commitment to the UN’s goal of devoting 0.7 percent of Gross National Income to Official Development Aid. In 2015, the EU managed just 0.47 percent. On the SGI 2015 indicator Global Inequalities, which measures both global social policy and ODA towards addressing global inequality, the EU scored only 4.8, below the OECD average of 5.3.

The circumstances of its birth could be better, but the Global Strategy provides a new and much-needed vision for the EU’s future external relations.

Of the EU-28, only Sweden, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the UK managed to beat the UN target of 0.7 percent ODA/GNI. The loss of the UK, which as the Bertelsmann report points out has “continued to champion the development agenda at G8 and G20 meetings,” will bring down the EU’s overall capacity to push for change as well as reducing the budget available for effective ODA.

The circumstances of its birth could be better, but the Global Strategy provides a new and much-needed vision for the EU’s future external relations. However, the member states must be on board if it is to work, and it remains to be seen whether they too see the future of Europe as being in “shared vision and common action.”

With the UK’s impending exit, the credibility of the European project has been damaged – and the Strategy’s success depends on external partners believing in the EU as a credible, unified actor. European unity must now be rebuilt at home if the EU is to speak with a coherent voice abroad.  

Justine Doody writes for the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s SGI News and BTI Blog. She has also been a freelance editor for ECFR since 2008.

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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