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Europeans had two remarkable foreign-policy successes in 2013. In April, High Representative Catherine Ashton announced an agreementthat should settle the most difficult and dangerous of the problems between Belgrade and Prishtina. The agreement, the product of difficult talks facilitated by the European Union that began in 2011, paves the way for Serbia to begin accession talks with the EU and for Kosovo to take an important step down the same path. In November, the new Iranian government and the E3+3 agreed to pause the activities the other side found problematic – enrichment on the one hand and sanctions on the other – and to take some initial steps back in each area. The interim deal opens the real prospect of a solution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme without military action – an objective that Europeans, led by the E3 of France, Germany, and the UK, have pursued since 2002. In the case of Kosovo, the most important steps have been taken; for Iran the major work lies ahead. But in both cases Europe made huge progress in 2013 towards achieving its long-term objectives.

In part because of these two high-profile successes, Europe’s overall foreign-policy performance ranked significantly higher than in 2012, a year in which there were some signs of stabilisation and resilience after two difficult years dominated by the euro crisis, and the foundations were laid for this year’s successes. The neighbourhood continued to present complex challenges – in particular, the conflict in Syria worsened even further and the EU had a high-profile setback when the Ukrainian government decided not to sign an Association Agreement with the EU. Europeans were also divided among themselves on issues such as the dispute with China over solar panels. Nevertheless, 2013 was a good year compared to the previous three. There was improvement in performance on relations with China (from C+ to B-), Wider Europe (from C+ to B-), and the Middle East and North Africa (from C+ to B-). On the other hand, Europe performed worse than in 2012 on relations with Russia, and on multilateral issues and crisis management.


Figure 1: European performance on the six issues in 2013 (best to worst)
Issue in 2013 Score Grade 2012 2011 2010
Multilateral Issues and
Crisis Management
12.0/20 B- 12.6 B 13 B 14  B+ (Multilateral Issues)
11  B- (Crisis Management)
Relations with the United States 11.6/20 B- 11.7 B- 11 B- 9  C+
Relations with China 11/20 B- 9.7 C+ 8.5 C 9.5  C+
Relations with the Wider Europe 10.8/20 B- 10.3 C+ 9.5 C+ 9.5  C+
Relations with the Middle East and North Africa 10.5/20 B- 10.3 C+ 10 C+ -
Relations with Russia 11.7/20 C+ 11.0 B- 10 C+ 9.5 C+


Europe’s strategic toughness

The two big foreign-policy successes of 2013 originated in different eras. The Iran breakthrough was inherited from a different, pre-crisis Europe – in particular, from the determination of the E3 to avoid a repeat of the Iraq debacle. The initiative on Kosovo, by contrast, was taken not by the member states before the crisis but by Ashton in 2011. But though they originated in different eras and took place in different parts of the world, the two cases have many features in common. In each case, there was excellent collaboration between the EU and the member states most involved. In both cases, European policymaking challenged US approaches – but once Europeans had asserted their approach, they benefitted from excellent co-operation with the US. In both cases, many of the participants claim that the personal skills of Ashton were an important or even the indispensable factor. 

Most importantly, however, European toughness and persistence played a major role in both cases. Europeans made demands of the Serbs on Kosovo that former Serbian President Boris Tadićhad said were “impossible”. They also put in place the toughest sanctions ever against Iran – and set a standard which other countries such as Japan and South Korea subsequently followed. Europeans invested significant resources in their approaches and held reasonably firm to their conditions. Admittedly, the two agreements were also both made possible by domestic elections: Hassan Rouhani in Iran wanted to re-engage with the West; the Nikolić/Vučićcoalition in Serbia was less scared of enemies from the right than the centrist Tadić. In both cases this also reflected a popular desire to move on and improve economic conditions rather than hang on to dubious symbols of national prestige.


Figure 2: Most successful EU policies in 2013
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
22 – Relations with the US on trade and investment 4/5 5/5 9/10 18/20 A
32 - Relations with the US on Iran and weapons proliferation 4/5 5/5 9/10 18/20 A
53 – Iran 4/5 5/5 9/10 18/20 A
35 - Kosovo 4/5 5/5 9/10 17/20 A-
27 –  Relations with the US on the Balkans 4/5 5/5 8/10 16/20 A-
33 – Overall progress of enlargement in the Western Balkans 54/5 4/5 7/10 16/20 A-
57 – European policy on non-proliferation and the arms trade 4/5 4/5 8/10 16/20 A-
2 – Investment and market access in China 5/5 4/5 6/10 15/20 B+
17 – Relations with Russia on energy issues 4/5 4/5 7/10 15/20 B+
56 – European policy in the G8, G20, IMF and WTO 4/5 4/5 7/10 15/20 B+
10 – Cooperation with China on environment and energy 5/5 4/5 5/10 14/20 B+
11 – Trade liberalisation with Russia 5/5 4/5 5/10 14/20 B+
24 – Relations with the US on counter-terrorism 4/5 3/5 7/10 14/20 B+
29 –  Relations with the US on the Middle East peace process 4/5 3/5 7/10 14/20 B+
52 - Middle East Peace Process and state-building in Palestine 4/5 4/5 6/10 14/20 B+
64 – Somalia 4/5 4/5 6/10 14/20 B+

Europeans had sought to stabilise the Balkans since the NATO military intervention in Kosovo and in particular to take steps towards normalisation between Serbia and Kosovo since 2004. Ashton had invested heavily in the talks, which went through 10 rounds since they began in 2012. The agreement she announced in Brussels in April 2013 represents a huge step forward for the region and its relations with the EU. Serbia in effect accepted that the north of Kosovo would remain part of Kosovo under Kosovo law, in exchange for recognition of the rights of the ethnic Serb communities. Agreement on these issues provides hope that violence can be avoided in the future and opens up the possibility for Kosovo to establish contractual relations with the EU, though much work remains to be done to implement fully what has been agreed and to bed the agreement down in the lives of ordinary people in the north.

The interim agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme had seemed impossible just a year ago. It was part of the diplomatic approach to Iran for which Europeans pushed ever since President George W. Bush declared Iran to be part of an “axis of evil” in 2002. In order to avoid another war in the Middle East, the British, French, and German foreign ministers developed an approach of critical engagement to Iran. They first brought the rest of the EU on board and then persuaded Russia first, then China, and finally a reluctant US to support the policy. This led to the E3+3 talks, which began in 2007 and finally produced the Joint Plan of Action agreed in Geneva. The European approach was always predicated on trying to get the US to negotiate directly with Iran, and this strategy seemed to come to fruition with the tentative contacts between American and Iranian officials before the surprise election of Hassan Rouhani as Iranian president in August. A long-term, comprehensive solution still has to be negotiated over the next 12 months. But that this is now even a possibility is a huge step forward.


The unstable neighbourhood

The breakthroughs on Iran and Serbia and Kosovo can be seen as a reward for the acquis diplomatique to which we referred in the first edition of the Scorecard – that is, the collection of areas in which Europeans define common policies and collectively defend their interests in the world. Mainly as a result of these two successes, the mean overall grades for Wider Europe and the Middle East and North Africa went up. However, these two high-profile successes took place in areas – the eastern and southern neighbourhoods – in which Europeans generally struggled in 2013. The increasing instability in Europe’s neighbourhood continued as the conflict in Syria worsened and Russia competed with the EU in post-Soviet space. Though the Serbia–Kosovo deal suggests that the EU still has some power of attraction in the Western Balkans, its soft power elsewhere in the neighbourhood is increasingly contested.

Figure 3: Least successful EU policies in 2013
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
30 –  Relations with the US on the Syrian conflict 1/5 2/5 1/10 4/20 D+
50 – Syria 1/5 2/5 2/10 5/20 D+
25 –  Relations with the US on intelligence cooperation and data protection 2/5 2/5 2/10 6/20 C-
18 – Diversification of gas-supply routes to Europe 2/5 3/5 2/10 7/20 C-
23 – Relations with the US on economic issues 2/5 2/5 3/10 76/20 C-
38 - Rule of law, democracy and human rights in Turkey 3/5 2/5 2/10 7/20 C-
39 - Relations with Turkey on the Cyprus question 3/5 2/5 2/10 7/20 C-


In the southern neighbourhood, Europeans struggled either to respond to the worsening crisis in Syria or to find a longer-term approach to the region that gives them leverage. Europeans continued to be divided about how to respond to the intensification of the conflict in Syria: in May, after France and the UK pushed to arm the rebels, the EU’s arms embargo collapsed; in August, France and the UK were also the most hawkish after use by President Bashar Assad’s regime of chemical weapons (though the subsequent defeat of Prime Minister David Cameron in parliament meant that the UK could not in the end be part of any military action). Apart from its humanitarian assistance for the Syrian refugees, the EU as such remained disengaged from the conflict in Syria. Though an agreement to remove and destroy chemical weapons was reached, it was brokered by Russia and the US rather than the EU, and the conflict continues.

Meanwhile, the EU’s response to the military takeover in Egypt in July illustrated the limits of the ENP as the basis of EU policy in the southern neighbourhood. When the military staged its coup in Egypt, Ashton successfully used her leverage to secure a meeting with deposed president Mohammed Morsi. However, the military felt secure enough to reject external mediation and public statements by member states have done little to put it under pressure. The evident risk is that, faced with little and waning influence in the region, Europeans might give up and declare the Arab Spring a failure. In policy terms, this could mean abandoning promotion of democracy and human rights in the region and reverting to the old policies that put security and stability first.

In the eastern neighbourhood, Europe found itself increasingly at odds with Russia, which put pressure on post-Soviet states such as Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine to integrate with it rather than the EU. During the course of the year, Europeans were relatively united and resolute: when Russia banned Georgian wine in 2005, the EU found it impossible to offer access to the EU market to compensate; when Russia applied similar pressure in 2013, the European Commission gave Moldova special access to the Single Market – a sign that the Lisbon Treaty is helping the EU align its foreign and domestic policies. However, European hopes that Ukraine – the most important post-Soviet state from a European perspective – would sign an Association Agreement and DCFTA with the EU were dashed in November when the Ukrainian parliament voted against the agreement and the release of Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. Days later, President Vladimir Putin announced a $15 billion loan to Ukraine and a cut in energy prices. This prompted much soul-searching in Europe about the “loss” of Ukraine.

In retrospect, where Europe went wrong was to expect President Viktor Yanukovych – long seen by many as a Kremlin ally – to choose the EU over Russia, particularly when the EU was unwilling to match Russia’s offers to bail out the Ukrainian state. As Joschka Fischer has argued, Europe played for high stakes without having the cards to do so. However, subsequent pro-EU protests in Independence Square in Kiev showed many in Ukraine still see their future in European terms. Although Ukraine has not signed the agreement, Yanukovych has been weakened, and the protests have made it impossible for Ukraine to join the customs union. Moreover, the opposition is less divided and weak than it was before the Vilnius summit. A new government may be elected in 2015 and could sign the Association Agreement after all. Thus, although developing a coherent policy towards Russia remains a challenge, the situation is not as bad as it seemed in the immediate aftermath of Vilnius.


Power Europe and technocratic Europe

In the introduction to last year’s edition of the Scorecard we wrote that Europe’s ability to convert its resources into power depended to a large extent on whether the EEAS could become the effective diplomatic service envisaged in the Lisbon Treaty. The successes on Serbia and Kosovo and on Iran – and the failures elsewhere – suggest that the EU achieves results when “power Europe” (the member states) empowers “technocratic Europe” (the EU institutions). Both were significant personal triumphs for Ashton and her style of diplomacy. In fact, having been vilified for much of her time in office, Ashton suddenly found herself the object of effusive praise in 2013 for single-mindedly pursuing the deal between Serbia and Kosovo and representing the EU in negotiations on Iran. But, at the same time, neither success would have been possible without backing from member states.

These two big successes of 2013 might suggest that “power Europe” and “technocratic Europe” are coming together and that European foreign policy is becoming more coherent. But, again, the overall picture is more complex. On some other issues, member states were quite prepared to undermine the EU institutions during the course of the year. Perhaps the most spectacular – and potentially damaging – example of this in 2013 was in the dispute with China over solar panels. The European Commission has a mandate to represent member states on trade issues and in September 2012 launched its biggest ever investigation into Chinese subsidies of solar-panel manufacturers. But, in 2013, member states such as Germany and the UK publicly undermined the tough approach taken by Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht.


Activism and leadership

In 2013, EU member states seemed to devote more time and attention to foreign policy than they had in the previous three years. In December, the European Council even discussed defence issues for the first time since the crisis had begun – though, because of resistance from France, Germany, and the UK, it agreed only modest steps to improve defence infrastructure rather than military co-operation and to discuss the issue again this year. But, although member states were somewhat more engaged on international issues in 2013, foreign policymaking was – perhaps as a result of this – also more confrontational and there were fewer identifiable coalitions than in 2011 and 2012 as member states seemed to pursue unilateral foreign policies.

In the past we have often found that the most activist countries in the EU have emerged as the de facto leaders of European foreign policy. But leadership does not simply come from having good ideas and committing resources to them; it also requires other countries to want to follow. This year we have found a greater distinction between activism and leadership as many of the bigger member states have subtly changed their approach to the EU. 

France was undoubtedly the most activist EU member state in 2013. It undertook a military intervention in Mali in January, offered support for a US military strike on Syria after the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in August, insisted on concessions from Iran in the second round of the E3+3 talks the same month, and led another military intervention, this time in the Central African Republic, in December. But France was a leader that often had few followers and sometimes acted alone. Although it was willing to co-operate with European partners where they agreed with its policy (at the end of 2013, President François Hollande called for the EU to fund military operations undertaken by member states), it was also willing to operate outside the EU framework where necessary. It also took a big gamble by insisting on further concessions from Iran in the second round of talks in Geneva in November – though it ultimately paid off and produced what from a European perspective is generally regarded as a better deal.

Alongside France, the UK sought first to arm the rebels in Syria and then to support the idea of military strikes after Assad’s use of chemical weapons. But Cameron’s mishandling of a parliamentary vote on Syria in August meant that the UK could not take part in military action. Some saw in the parliamentary vote a shift away from the liberal interventionism of the Blair years that Cameron had continued, for example in the Libya intervention in 2011. But perhaps more emblematic of British foreign policy in 2013 was Britain’s apparent abandonment of its previous commitment to human rights in pursuit of inward investment – particularly its approach to China. It seemed to pursue a more modest, commercially driven diplomacy that emphasises the idea of a “global race” and bilateral trading links over more ambitious policy goals. 

Meanwhile, Germany, which had been the top leader in the previous two years, seemed to be somewhat absent from foreign policymaking this year – in part, perhaps, because of the election in September, in which Angela Merkel was elected to a third term as chancellor. There was, however, a surprising development in German foreign policy – the emergence of a more critical stance on Russia. Berlin played a leading role in European attempts to persuade Ukraine and other Eastern Partnership countries to sign free trade agreements with the EU. It also played a crucial role supporting Ashton in the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia and played a key role on TTIP – a German priority. But it undermined the European Commission in the dispute with China over solar panels. By seeking to exempt the OPAL pipeline from the Third Energy Package, it also continued to undermine European attempts to reduce dependence on Russian gas. We identified Germany as a “slacker” four times in 2013 – more than any other member state apart from Greece.

Thus each of the big three member states seemed to undergo a shift in their approach to foreign policy in 2013. It could even be argued that France became more “British” in its approach, the UK became more “German”, and Germany became more “Polish”. However, perhaps a more significant shift is the way that the big three have seemed collectively to become less central to European foreign policymaking than in the past. Three other member states have stepped into the vacuum that they have left. In particular, Sweden has shown leadership on a wide range of issues – putting it on a par with the E3 in the number of components on which it plays an active role. Its activism extends from work alongside Poland in the eastern neighbourhood, to its support for Turkish membership, and traditional strengths such as welcoming refugees, support for multilateralism, and development aid.

Italy, a country that has punched below its weight in previous years, made a remarkable comeback in 2013. In the last three years, Italian leaders have unsurprisingly focused on the euro crisis and the country’s economic problems. Thus, in 2012, Italy led on only three components of European foreign policy (though it was a “slacker” significantly less than in 2011). But, after taking over in April, the government of Prime Minister Enrico Letta re-engaged at a European and international level and led on 10 components. In particular, it played a constructive role in the neighbourhood and was an outspoken supporter of a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria. It also increased development aid for the first time in several years. The dramatic improvement in Italy’s performance suggests again that personalities can make a difference in foreign policy.

Poland is another country that has cemented its role as a leader of European foreign policy. In 2013, Poland successfully used the alliances on Russia and Eastern Europe that it has built in recent years to advance an ambitious agenda in the eastern neighbourhood. It used alliances with Sweden and Germany in particular to push for assistance to eastern partners and visa-free travel. Although Warsaw’s activism is perhaps more focused on its own neighbourhood than Sweden’s or Italy’s, the Polish government made a point of showing activism outside its immediate region. This included a role in pushing the idea of inspections for Syria’s chemical weapons with the Russians, organising trips to the Middle East and, together with Italy, Spain, and Sweden, supporting the idea of a European Global Strategy.


Figure 4: Top 'leaders' and 'slackers' 2013
Top “leaders”   Top “slackers”
France (on 12 components)   Germany (on 4 components)
UK (11)   Greece (4)
Germany (10)   Bulgaria (3)
Sweden (10)   Cyprus (3)
Italy (9)   Slovenia (3)
Poland (5)   Spain (3)
Austria (4)   UK (3)
Estonia (4)   France (2)
Slovakia (4)   Ireland (2)
Spain (4)   the Netherlands (2)
Denmark (3)   Portugal (2)
Finland (3)   Austria (1)
Latvia (3)   Belgium (1)
Lithuania (3)   Croatia (1)
Luxembourg (3)   Hungary (1)
the Netherlands (3)   Romania (1)
Belgium (2)   Sweden (1)
Hungary (2)    
Ireland (2)    
Romania (2)    
Cyprus (1)    
Malta (1)    


Two transatlantic stories

If Europe’s two big foreign-policy successes in 2013 were the culmination of ambitious policies developed before the euro crisis began, the question is whether Europeans are still capable of such ambition now. Europeans are still struggling to build institutions in response to the euro crisis and to create growth – and are therefore both less focused on foreign policy and more focused on economic objectives within foreign policy. So could Europeans produce successes like the breakthroughs on Iran and on Serbia and Kosovo in the future? Or are the two success stories of 2013 merely the “long tail” of the EU’s pre-crisis halcyon days?

In fact, just as two long-term European foreign-policy projects finally produced results, Europeans also undertook an ambitious new project that could be equally important in the long run. In his State of the Union speech in January 2013, President Barack Obama announced that the EU and the US would begin negotiations on a free trade agreement, TTIP, that would aim to reduce non-tariff barriers between Europe and the US and, according to the European Commission, could bring economic benefits for the EU of €119 billion a year (and €95 billion a year for the US). Media attention focused on France’s attempt to exempt its cultural sector but, by the end of the year, three rounds of negotiations had been completed. We gave Europe an Afor relations with the US on trade and investment.

TTIP could be the EU’s next big success story, but, like Iran and Kosovo, it could also take a decade to yield results. In particular, TTIP is unlikely to produce huge immediate economic benefits in the short term. In fact, recent research suggests that some parts of the EU may even suffer in economic terms from the trade diversion effects that TTIP is expected to produce. Nevertheless, in the long term, a transatlantic free trade area could have important strategic as well as economic benefits. Together with the parallel Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it could allow Europeans to set new standards in global trade and investment and even give an impetus to the reinvigoration of multilateral trade talks. Some even see TTIP as a way to reinvent the West for the 21st century – the geo-economic equivalent of an alliance.

However, just as European and American governments were uniting around the importance of a trade deal, transatlantic unity was undermined by former US intelligence officer Edward Snowden’s revelations about NSA surveillance and spying on EU governments. In particular, it was revealed that the NSA had tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone. This led to a serious crisis in transatlantic relations, and in particular German-US relations, and also to a intra-European split between the UK, which co-operates with the US as part of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangement, and other member states. The public outrage that the NSA has spawned could be more damaging to the transatlantic relationship than the Iraq war was a decade ago.

If it were up to leaders, it would be easy to envisage the two sides of the Atlantic kissing and making up. But governments – along with their intelligence services – are increasingly boxed in by public opinion. European publics are still smarting from the perception that US intelligence agencies are as oblivious to the rights of allies as they are scrupulous at upholding the rights of their own citizens. This could still have consequences for TTIP as fears about data privacy make it more difficult to have mutual recognition of regulations on digital services and government procurement. There will be resistance to give American companies access to European government programmes if they leave a “back door” open for US intelligence agencies. Rather than becoming the economic foundation for a new Atlantic century, the deal that emerges could therefore be so riddled with opt-outs and exemptions that it has little effect.

In 2013, we gave Europeans a C- for their performance on relations with the US on intelligence co-operation and data protection in 2013, compared to an A in 2010 and a B+in 2011 (there was no comparable component for 2012). The change in the scores represents a change of perspective that the Snowden revelations will bring about. It shows that the European intelligence services were willing co-conspirators in measures that undermined European civil liberties. This will be harder with the intensification of scrutiny that Snowden has inspired.

In other words, there were two transatlantic stories in 2013: one of intensified co-operation on trade and investment; and another of increasing European distrust of the US on intelligence and data protection. So far, European leaders have resisted linking the two stories and TTIP negotiations have not been derailed. In other words, things could have been worse in 2013. But TTIP negotiations will continue in 2014 and the agreement will have to be ratified by the US Congress and the European Parliament, which may link data protection issues to TTIP. As a result, there may be more friction between Europe and the US this year at a time when, in order to agree an ambitious and complex trade deal that goes into sensitive areas of policy, they need to co-operate more closely than ever.


The calm before the storm?

Overall, 2013 was a good year for European foreign policy with some major achievements and the possibility of strategic breakthroughs in the future. However, many of the foreign-policy challenges that Europeans faced in 2013 could blow up in 2014. Syria still has the potential to metastasise across the region; the Iran nuclear deal could still fall apart; and there is much potential for instability on Europe’s eastern flank.

Meanwhile, the increased focus on foreign policy by member states in 2013 was in part a function of the relative stability within the eurozone. Following ECB President Mario Draghi’s promise in the middle of 2012 to do “whatever it takes” to save the euro and the subsequent introduction of Outright Monetary Transactions (OMT), the euro crisis has become less acute. But there are no guarantees that this stability will continue through 2014. In particular, although a banking union was agreed at the European Council in December, it falls short of what many economists think is necessary to restore Europe’s banking sector to health and produce liquidity in the periphery. But more likely, and more worryingly, there could be a resurgence of political turmoil in 2014 – in particular, if Eurosceptic parties do well in the European Parliament elections. In this context, it seems unlikely that European leaders will have as much headspace for foreign affairs next year unless they choose to make it. Let us hope that they do.