The changing nature of European leadership: 'Big Three’ and Poland in the EU foreign policy

The public presentation of the European Foreign Policy Scorecard 2014 followed by a panel discussion.


Hans Kundnani, ECFR Research Director and co-author of the European Foreign Policy Scorecard
Christine Ockrent, ECFR Member, columnist
Jan Techau, Director, Carnegie Europe, Brussels
Jakub Wiśniewski, Director, Department for Foreign Policy Strategy, MFA


Piotr Buras, Director of ECFR Warsaw bureau

On February 11, 2014, ECFR Warsaw hosted a very insightful debate dedicated to the presentation of the newest edition of Scorecard and the changing nature of European leadership.

This year’s edition of European Foreign Policy Scorecard, the yearly ECFR publication assessing EU’s foreign policy performance, is moderately optimistic. Europe had two remarkable foreign-policy successes in 2013: the agreement normalising relations between Kosovo and Serbia orchestrated by Catherine Ashton as well as the interim deal with Iran which 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 (France, Germany and the UK), have pursued since 2002. At the same time, however, the setbacks in the Southern and Eastern neighbourhoods showed the limits of EU’s diplomacy. And 2014 could prove to be even more difficult with some of policy challenges faced 2013 likely to blow up.

If the EU is able to face up to these challenges or not, depends not at least on their big member states‘ ability to provide leadership. One of the findings of this year’s Scorecard is that the nature of European leadership and foreign policy discourses in France, Germany and UK has changed. We saw a very active French foreign policy which, however, often had few followers and acted alone. UK’s foreign policy seemed to be more commercially driven and more hesitant with regard to military engagement than in the years before. Germany was almost absent from the EU foreign policy but remarkably changed its attitude to Russia and Eastern Europe. This is why the Scorecard argues that 2013 we saw Anglicisation of France, Germanisation of the UK, and Polonisation of Germany.

„Big Three“ and Poland in the EU foreign policy

On February 11, the event addressed the issues indicated in the Scorecard. The debate very dynamic due to moderation and the composition of the panel.

Hans Kundnani comprehensively explained the major components and findings of the Scorecard publication. The key message concerned UK, France and Germany, which were portrayed as the three big leaders in the field of EU foreign policy.

Christine Ockrent agreed that France is a relevant leader, but with a feeling of isolation. It seems that French foreign policy moves are not well understood and supported by other European states. Moreover, the French role in the international field is quite significant. The French President has relatively big military power at hand (e.g. no parliament consent is required to send troops abroad), which does not hesitate to use. France under power of François Hollande has already undertaken two military interventions in Africa. She also raised the problem that some EU successes are not attributed to the whole community but to single states.

Jan Techau outlined how the foreign policy discourse in Germany is shifting from moral approach to taking responsible roles in the international environment. The morality-driven policy costed Germany its influence. The reason of such policy was the traumatization of the German public after the WWII and the resulting from that the lack of trust in the system. Most probably, we will be expecting more involvement of Germany at military level. But will this new confidence change the foundations of German foreign policy strategy?

Mr. Kundnani questioned on the UK foreign policy pointed out several phenomena in the UK such us the post-Iraq interventionism fatigue, more Realpolitik approach to China to strengthen bilateral economic ties and rising EU-scepticism.

The „Big Three” perspective was challenged a bit with Polish standing represented by Jakub Wiśniewski, who emphasized the worth of the EU itself in the context of its foreign policy. He criticised the Scorecard for no evaluation of the EU institutions' role. Despite numerous discussions about inefficiencies of Europe, the European project has been proven as a successful endeavour, especially when compared with the pre-united Europe era. Mr. Wiśniewski mentioned also the importance of transatlantic relations. Mr. Techau answered to that by pointing to a growing indifference in Washington DC circles to European issues. His piece of advice is doing things together by EU and US rather than parallel. From Paris point presented by Ms. Ockrent, transatlanticism has vanished in the discussions. Mr. Kundnani added to that a point on NSA scandal which contributed to the erosion of mutual trust.

In the Q&A session, the panellists addressed also other issues. Ukraine raised as an important issue. Jakub Wiśniewski explained that the policy choices toward the regime of Yanukovych have far more shades, which cannot be reduced to one single question on the use of sanctions. Jan Techau agreed that sanctions can be misleading as in his opinion such instruments can only work on policy issues, but not on inducing regime changes. This all depends on the people of Ukraine. EU will not bully or blackmail another country as Russia does. Christine Ockrent expressed her discontent with how EU treats the crisis in Ukraine. Europe cannot loose its moral approach on which was founded. Ukrainian people deserve more action from EU. Hans Kundnani answering other questions raised the issue of free-riders in the EU whose policy choices contribute to Europe's goals.

If you have missed the debate, we encourage you to listen to the following podcast: