This page was archived on October 2020.



In 2014 Europe found itself surrounded by crises. To the east, Russia annexed Crimea and war broke out in eastern Ukraine. The 2013 landmark agreement between Kosovo and Serbia finished 2014 on much less firm ground, with a worsening of the political and economic situation in both countries and in neighbouring Bosnia. To the south, the self- proclaimed Islamic State made stunning advances across Syria and northern Iraq. Civil war continued in Syria, generating a refugee crisis on a horrifying scale, and began in Libya. And the authoritarian regime in Egypt continued its brutal crackdown against opposition, eliminating any residual hope Europe may still have harboured of democratic progress for the country. The conflicts in the neighbourhood also resulted in an immigration crisis in the Mediterranean, as greater numbers tried to cross to its northern shores, and, sadly, more lives were lost in the process.

Within Europe, too, there was plenty to worry about. Economic recovery remained elusive and member states continued to disagree about how to spur growth. The combination of low growth and low inflation is particularly troubling for high-debt countries such as Greece, Italy, and Spain. The French economy could not climb out of its slump and the situation in Greece was again critical by year’s end. Even the eurozone’s economic driver, Germany, performed below expectations. The European Parliament election results in May highlighted the extent to which concerns about the impact of austerity policies and immigration have fuelled the rise of the far right and of anti-European Union parties across the continent.

Standing up to Russia was the make-or-break issue in 2014. Despite the EU’s traditional divisions over Russia and strong resistance from some European companies, the EU pulled together around a sanctions policy. Thus, this year’s Scorecard gives higher marks on relations with Russia in 2014, with particularly high marks for unity. Overall, Europeans were united and invested significant resources on the most critical issues of the year. However, everything else was secondary to dealing with the Russian threat in 2014, so, while improved unity brought up scores for relations with Russia and the Eastern Partnership countries (especially Ukraine), the EU paid less attention to the Western Balkans and saw lower scores for outcomes. In MENA, the main story of the year was the EU’s relative powerlessness to counter the influence of the GCC states, Iran, and Turkey. While the scores for EU unity and resources were respectable and often higher than last year, the low scores for outcome brought overall marks down. Closer to home, EU institutional transition and concern about the growing domestic popularity of extremist parties prevented member states from finding the political courage to develop a solid response to the refugee crisis in the Middle East and the immigration crisis in the Mediterranean.

The end of partnership with Russia

Russia’s overt aggression forced an awakening to power politics in Europe. The events of 2014 have shown that the sceptics about Russia were right, and that the meaningless compromise phrases on which EU policy had been based over the last decade were just that: meaningless. The “Partnership for Modernisation” had brought neither modernisation nor partnership, and European and Russian visions for the common neighbourhood had little in common. Europe was unprepared for Moscow’s retaliation against Ukraine’s European choice and ill-equipped to deal with Vladimir Putin’s use of force and explicit rejection of the post-Cold War European order. In retrospect, there were enough indicators that our policies were based on illusions and were not succeeding, as some member states forcefully argued. Surely a sober analysis should have pointed us in the direction of a more reality-based policy than the “partnership and cooperation” between the EU and Russia in the last few years.

In part, the story of Europe’s dashed illusions and re-engagement with power politics is a German one. Moscow’s strongest ally in the EU has been Berlin, where the belief in a “partnership” with a “modernising” Russia and a policy of “change through rapprochement” was deeply entrenched, for historical, political, and economic reasons. As irregular Russian forces began invading Ukraine in early 2014, Berlin initially held to the hope that more communication with Putin could resolve the misunderstanding and ease tensions, and banked on its sway with the Kremlin. It took until the end of the first half of 2014 for Berlin to fully abandon the idea that Russia’s aggression could be countered with diplomatic means alone. But, once it did, Germany asserted impressive leadership to get agreement on a sanctions package and persuade reluctant countries such as Spain and Italy.

The findings of this year’s Scorecard present an even fuller picture of Germany’s growing foreign policy profile. This year, Germany, which has been rising through the leader rankings in the four years that the Scorecard has been tracking, led more than any other member state (17 times) and across all regions – it was categorised as a leader at least once in every chapter. Within Germany, too, 2014 was the year of foreign policy, with President Joachim Gauck and Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen prominently proclaiming the need for Germany to assume more foreign policy responsibility at the Munich Security Conference early in the year. Shortly afterwards, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier launched a review of German foreign policy. [see box BELOW]

Part of the reason for Germany’s leadership is its economic power within the union – notably in the development of sanctions on Russia and in TTIP negotiations with the United States. But Berlin has displayed important political leadership in both these cases. German leadership has also been noteworthy on issues unrelated to its economic power: it supported democratic transition in Tunisia, prevented deteriorating political conditions from derailing the Kosovo-Serbia deal, and spoke out on human rights abuses in China. 


Germany’s Foreign Policy Review

In early 2014, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier launched the “Review 2014 – A Fresh Look at German Foreign Policy”, a process of self-assessment and critical analysis. The process was meant to generate a debate within Germany’s political community and wider society on the prospects, interests, and objectives of German foreign policy. ECFR cooperated with the German MFA to organise a series of events in all six non-German ECFR offices in collaboration with the local German embassies. The events focused on the European dimension of German foreign policy, creating platforms for dialogue between senior representatives of the German MFA and important stakeholders of the national (foreign) policy communities, media, and civil society. The debates covered issues such as the current Ukraine crisis, the future of the Eastern Partnership concept, and Germany’s relationship and influence on Russia, as well as Berlin’s role in European security and defence policy and Germany’s perception of the current challenges in the Middle East and North Africa.

Some of the recommendations that came out of the events were that Berlin should be more vocal in NATO, show more defence leadership in the EU, commit to common energy policy, pay more attention to North Africa, and work as a bridge between western and eastern member states. The central take-away from all events was that the EU is ready for more proactive foreign policy leadership from Germany, though other member states also hope Berlin will be a cooperative, consensus-building type of leader.

On 21 November the Berlin office and the German MFA hosted a closed-doors workshop with ECFR senior staff and the policy planning staff and senior leadership of the Europe department in the German MFA to present and discuss the key results of this joint project. This was followed by a final public event on Germany’s foreign policy leadership in Berlin with State Secretary Markus Ederer, his Polish colleague Tomasz Orlowski, and other European experts.


European security

German leadership in EU foreign policy may be novel, but the overall security picture in Europe in 2014 saw us going back to the future. The threat of Russian aggression in Europe’s east has reanimated NATO in Europe. In a post-Cold War Europe supposedly absent of any threat, NATO seemed to be an anachronism that was searching for a new role. For a while, the answer seemed to be “out-of-area or out of business”, as US Senator Richard Lugar put it, but the past decade made that look like a dead-end as well. Meanwhile, as the US “pivoted” to Asia, it was perceived to be less engaged in Europe’s security. But ultimately, when states on the EU’s eastern periphery were clamouring for reassurance, they turned to NATO, which delivered, causing Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite to publicly thank God that her country – unlike Ukraine – was a member. Russia’s continued provocations in Ukraine and elsewhere have even led to increased public consideration of NATO membership in Finland and Sweden – a debate hardly imaginable two years ago. Nonetheless, the re-emergence of the “old” NATO may be short-lived; as the immediate crisis abates, a transatlantic divergence on how to deal with Russia is likely.

Though CSDP seemed to play no role in responding to the Ukraine crisis, member states did launch initiatives to increase security self-reliance outside of an EU institutional setting. A UK-led joint expeditionary force will work with the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as with the Netherlands, Norway, and Denmark. Britain will focus on operations and will train small units, drawing on its experience in forming a joint expeditionary force with France. The British plan runs in parallel to a German framework nation initiative, in which Berlin will work with some ten East European partner nations to boost their capabilities. By contrast, and partly in consequence, 2014 was a dismal year for the EU's ambitions to play a distinctive security role abroad. As in Mali in 2013, Europeans largely ducked the challenge presented by the crisis in CAR, leaving the heavy lifting to France and the UN. Similarly, the West Africa Ebola epidemic elicited some efforts by individual member states but unfolded without any coordinated EU response commensurate with the crisis.

The EU also struggled to find its role in the southern neighbourhood, where crisis followed crisis. After the high hopes raised by the Arab Awakening in 2011, only Tunisia currently shows realistic prospects of consolidating its nascent democracy. Germany and Sweden have been most active in propping up its efforts. The EU scaled down its programmes in Libya as the country descended into civil war in 2014. The EU and member states largely watched from the sidelines as Yemen’s transition appeared to collapse, and General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi’s government in Egypt now surpasses its pre-Arab Awakening predecessors in authoritarianism. Both the US – which has been drawn back into leading airstrikes in the region against ISIS in the year in which it was trying to complete its withdrawal – and the EU states have been faced with the limits of their power (and appetite) to solve the intricate problems in the troubled MENA region, compared with the preeminent role of regional players. Nevertheless, this does not excuse a lack of strategy for containing a conflict that has created a humanitarian crisis of horrific proportions, and has had spillover effects that are destabilising the region and beyond.



Figure 1: Top ten policies in 2014
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
1 – Sanctions and trade with Russia 5/5 5/5 7/10 17/20 A-
20 - Relations with the US on Iran and weapons proliferation 5/5 5/5 7/10 17/20 A-
55 – European policy on non-proliferation and arms trade 4/5 5/5 7/10 16/20 A-
24 - Visa liberalisation with the eastern neighbourhood 5/5 4/5 7/10 16/20 A-
25 –  Relations with the eastern neighbourhood on energy 4/5 4/5 8/10 16/20 A-
41 – Iran 4/5 5/5 7/10 16/20 A-
63 – Somalia 4/5 4/5 8/10 16/20 A-
2 – Visa policies in Russia 5/5 5/5 5/10 15/20 B+
22 – Rule of law, democracy, and human rights in the eastern neighbourhood 4/5 3/5 8/10 15/20 B+
5 – European security reassurance 5/5 5/5 5/10 15/20 B+
6 – Response to Russian actions in the eastern neighbourhood 5/5 4/5 6/10 15/20 B+
11 – Relations with the US on NATO, arms control and Russia 3/5 4/5 8/10 15/20 B+
23 – Relations with the eastern neighbourhood on trade 5/5 4/5 5/10 14/20 B+
51 –  Relations with China on energy and climate change 5/5 3/5 6/10 14/20 B+
12 - Relations with the US on counter-terrorism 4/5 3/5 7/10 14/20 B+
14 – Relations with the US on the Balkans and Eastern Europe 4/5 3/5 7/10 14/20 B+
16 - Relations with the US on trade and investment 3/5 4/5 7/10 14/20 B+
13 - Relations with the US on intelligence cooperation and data protection 3/5 4/5 7/10 14/20 B+



The West and the rest

If Russia shattered the European order in 2014, the world’s reaction to Western sanctions against Russia has revealed cracks in the global order. The “rest” did not side with the West.Some regional powers have shown sympathy with Russia’s justification of its actions in Crimea, comparing it with Western interventions in Kosovo and Iraq, and others have simply turned a blind eye to Russian aggression. Since the EU imposed sanctions, both China and India have strengthened energy ties with Russia – India signed both oil and nuclear reactor construction deals. However, although Japan had courted Russia as a potential allyin its island disputes with China and South Korea had sought Russian cooperation against North Korea, both countries signed up to the sanctions regime against Russia. Turkey, on the other hand, did not – in fact, Putin came to the country on an official state visit in December and began energy talks. In the Middle East, states close to the West such as Egypt, Iraq, and Israeldeclined to condemn Russia’s invasion of Crimea, while solidifying ties with Moscow.

Although the UN General Assembly passed a resolution on the Crimea crisis in March, the large number of abstentions and absences suggested that many countries see this as a struggle between power blocs rather than as a fundamental question of international order. The EU performed worse than in previous years in international institutions, which suggests that the EU is struggling to counter indifference from other regions towards the challenge it now faces from Russia.


Weak EU role, strong member state unity

Five years after the Lisbon Treaty created a new architecture for EU foreign policy, the European voice continues to make itself heard largely through the member states rather than the EU institutions. The ongoing problems in the eurozone and the long transition period following the European elections in May are, perhaps, partly to blame for the low profile of EU institutions in 2014. While EU efforts have been prominent in advancing UN climate change negotiations, in the ongoing negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme, and in the anti-piracy missions off Somalia’s coast, leadership in 2014 was centred around the large member states, and, above all, Germany – although French leadership fell and Sweden shared second place.

EU foreign policy leadership by big member states presents both opportunities and challenges for the EU’s foreign policy structures. The new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, appears keenly aware of this and has emphasised a role for the EEAS in working with member states’ diplomacy. Interestingly, member state dominance of EU foreign policy-making in 2014 did not result in a failure to take decisions collectively. In last year’s Scorecard, we noted that, while France, the UK, and others were rated leaders the highest number of times, this was activist leadership – taking decisions and putting national resources behind them, but not necessarily taking other member states along with them. Leadership this year was much more about coalition building – perhaps reflecting the style of two of this year’s top leaders, Germany and Sweden.

The UK played a counterintuitive role in 2014. While debate on a possible withdrawal from the EU has reached fever pitch – anti-EU party UKIP polled higher than any of the major parties in the European Parliament elections in May and won two seats in the House of Commons in 2014 – the Scorecard shows that, at a working level, British diplomats have continued to engage constructively. The UK led on 11 issues, the same as in 2013 – which puts it in second place alongside Sweden – and was a “slacker” once fewer than in 2013. However, on issues of immigration and a rescue mission in the Mediterranean, narrow party-political concerns caused Britain to adopt a self-defeating isolationist policy. While some areas of leadership, such as the military response to ISIS, are undoubtedly unilateral, others, such as pushing for a positive conclusion of TTIP negotiations and supporting sanctions on Russia despite the likely impact on the City, spotlight those areas in which the UK has far more clout as part of the EU collective than it does alone. This runs directly counter to the government-level rhetoric on avoiding the constraints of European cooperation.

Sweden’s high score is linked to its activist diplomacy and its commitment to playing an important role in shaping and supporting collective European decision-making. This is notable on themes such as coordinating an EU position towards China, supporting the policy of democratic reform in wider Europe, and supporting a strong European position on climate change. Sweden also remains attached to a values-based European foreign policy. For example, it led in speaking out on human rights abuses in China, was one of the few remaining active supporters of democracy in the MENA region, and was also one of only two member states (the other being Germany) to make significant efforts in 2014 to offer to resettle refugees displaced by the conflict in Syria. This commitment was not across the board, however: Sweden was notably absent from the list of countries who continued to push, even in small ways, for media freedom in Russia.


Figure 2: 'Leaders' and 'slackers' among EU member states
Top “leaders”   Top “slackers”
Germany(on 17 components)   Malta (on 3 components)
Sweden (11)   Austria (2)
UK (11)   Czech Republic (2)
France (8)   France (2)
Poland(6)   The Netherlands (2)
Estonia (5)   Poland(2)
Latvia (5)   Romania (2)
Lithuania (5)   UK(2)
The Netherlands (5)   Belgium (1)
Slovakia (5)   Croatia (1)
Denmark (4)   Cyprus (1)
Ireland (4)   Denmark (1)
Italy (4)   Estonia (1)
Romania (4)   Hungary (1)
Austria (3)   Ireland (1)
The Czech Republic (3)   Lithuania (1)
Luxembourg (3)   Portugal (1)
Spain (3)   Spain (1)
Belgium (2)   Sweden (1)
Finland (2)   Bulgaria (0)
Portugal (2)   Finland (0)
Bulgaria(1)   Germany (0)
Cyprus(1)   Greece (0)
Hungary (1)   Italy (0)
Croatia (0)   Latvia (0)
Greece (0)   Luxembourg (0)
Malta (0)   Slovakia (0)
Slovenia (0)   Slovenia (0)

France fell from the top of the leader board last year to third place, leading eight times instead of 12. As in 2013, French leadership tends to be of the trailblazer variety – that is, taking action unilaterally – rather than investing significantly in creating coalitions of European states. There is a clear pattern of responding to perceived threats to France’s strategic interests, which often coincides with other European member states’ views of where action is required (for example, investment in bilateral aid in Eastern Partnership countries, remaining engaged in Libya, or halting the advance of ISIS). But sometimes, rightly or wrongly, France’s priorities are not widely shared – for example, intervention in CAR. Also, while London and Stockholm both offered significant levels of humanitarian and development aid in 2014, Paris, perhaps because of France’s economic troubles, did not show leadership on these issues. France also refrained from challenging China on human rights abuses.

Overall, Europeans were united on and put significant resources into critical issues in 2014 (see figure 1). For example, we gave a score of five out of five for unity and for resources on sanctions on Russia, four for unity and five for resources on the Iran nuclear talks, and five for unity and four for resources on dealing with the eastern neighbourhood countries. Another high-scoring component was policy towards Somalia, where the EU’s tenacity in the Horn of Africa appears to be paying dividends in terms of combating the pirate problem and weakening al-Shabaab: we gave four for unity and four for resources.

In some of the least successful components, scores on outcome played a strong role in bringing the total down (see figure 3). This was notably the case in components on Syria and Iraq; Libya; Egypt; Yemen; the Sudans, DRC, and CAR; and Bosnia, reflecting the fact that the EU was operating in an extremely difficult environment. However, the juxtaposition of a high score on unity and resources and a low score on outcome raises a question about the effectiveness of some of the policies (or non-policies) around which member states rallied. Egypt might be a case in point here.

Among the components in which Europeans performed worst, the response to the immigration crisis in the Mediterranean stands out. The EU’s failure to grip this issue displays an alarming lack of solidarity with southern member states, which are both most directly impacted by the immigration crisis and also under the greatest economic pressure. Europe’s failure to respond more effectively to the influx of refugees and migrants also has far-reaching negative consequences in terms of Europe’s claim to be a humanitarian actor. The UK, with its very public announcement in October that it would not take part in future search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean, in part because of what it described as an unintended “pull factor’’ created by trying to save lives of migrants on wrecked ships, was the most guilty of both these charges.

Similarly, in its response to the refugee crisis in the Middle East, EU member states have, with some honourable exceptions, lacked the political courage to offer asylum to significant numbers of the desperate people currently in camps in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere, to some extent undermining generous aid donations. It is worth noting that these two components in the Scorecard, and others which feature in the bottom ten policies this year (including Yemen, Syria and Iraq, regional security in the MENA region, and supporting rule of law, democracy, and human rights in the MENA region) have major implications for European security and play a role in the narrative used by those within Europe who seek to radicalise young people within Muslim communities. In light of the horrific attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris at the beginning of 2015 and the heightened level of alert for terrorist attacks in other major capitals around the EU, this is a sobering reminder of the interplay between Europe’s foreign policy, instability in the neighbourhood, and major challenges at home.

Figure 3: Bottom ten policies in 2014
Category Unity Resources Outcome Total Grade
35 Regional security in MENA region 2/5 2/5 1/10 5/20 D+
58 Response to immigration crisis in Mediterranean 2/5 1/5 2/10 5/20 D+
39 Syria and Iraq 2/5 2/5 2/10 6/20 C-
64 The Sudans, DRC and CAR 2/5 2/5 2/10 6/20 C-
37 Libya 2/5 2/5 3/10 7/20 C-
4 - Political freedom in Russia 4/5 2/5 1/10 7/20 C-
29 - Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia 3/5 2/5 2/10 7/20 C-
32 - Relations with Turkey on the Cyprus question 3/5 2/5 2/10 7/20 C-
43 - Yemen 2/5 2/5 3/10 7/20 C-
3 - The rule of law and human rights in Russia 4/5 2/5 1/10 7/20 C-
31 - Rule of law, democracy, and human rights in Turkey 3/5 2/5 2/10 7/20 C-


More strategic patience

Since President Putin’s actions in 2014 surprised almost everyone, including Russian insiders, we should not blame ourselves for not foreseeing them. They demonstrated that even Russia pessimists were over-optimistic. Europe, however, should at least have been more pessimistic. Starting from where we are, the first step for Europe ought to be to recognise its collective failure. The second step is to reach a common understanding of where we went wrong, and to make sure we avoid repeating our mistakes. The third is to work towards a policy based on the realities of the new situation. This should start from the question of whether there are any circumstances under which we might trust commitments from Russia again. The next question is how to transform the sanctions policy into a new Russia strategy.

If Russia ceases to destabilise eastern Ukraine, it will be hard to renew EU sanctions, which will begin to expire in March – not least because of the economic impact on European economies that were already struggling as a result of the euro crisis. Even if EU member states can hold together, sanctions were a tool (perhaps the only one available) to show Moscow that Europe meant business and was taking aggression against Ukraine seriously. For 2014, at least, it did the job. But now, Europe needs to develop a strategy to deal with Russia. The EU will need to engage Russia without abandoning its responsibility to protect the “European choice” where it has been made (Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and the Western Balkans).

The year 2014 was one of crises, both internal and external. There is little reason to hope that 2015 will be better. Fighting in Iraq and Syria will continue, with the EU largely a bystander but nonetheless facing blowback. Insecurity throughout North Africa also looks likely to continue, and to worsen – at least in Yemen, where the government fell at the beginning of 2015. The rise of China, the escalation of territorial disputes between it and its neighbours, and the unpredictability of North Korea keep tensions high in Asia.

Last year we argued that the “strategic patience” of the EU had paid off in Kosovo and Iran. Looking forward, Europeans will need similar resilience and strategic patience to make continued progress on most of the big challenges it now faces. In particular, the European Commission and EU member states’ governments will need to make a fresh start in winning public support for TTIP, which faces opposition on both sides of the Atlantic. European leaders will also need to keep working on the two big achievements of 2013, Kosovo and Iran, which were looking more fragile as 2014 drew to a close. At the same time, Europe must grapple with the crisis of the European order and develop a proactive policy towards Russia – which will remain the make-or-break issue for European foreign policy in 2015 as it was in 2014.