EUROPEAN CONSCIENCE - The Union’s new foreign policy: Global and pragmatic

In the aftermath of Brexit, Federica Mogherini presents the European Council’s global strategy. Many doubts linger over its implementation.

“Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free”. These words were not written in an ancient era of legend. They constitute the opening line of the European Security Strategy (ESS), a document drawn up in 2003 by the then high representative (HR) of the European Union, Javier Solana. The ESS represented the EU’s first attempt to develop a strategy document to steer its foreign policy, beginning with an analysis of existing challenges and threats within the international scenario. The Solana doctrine managed to get people’s attention, but it soon proved inadequate for addressing the rapid transformations taking place in the international system at the beginning of the century. It was also too closely linked to the activism of its author and principle proponent. Thus, while Europe has found itself poorer, more insecure and increasingly constrained in the intervening years, the ESS remained almost the same. That is, until now. The day after the explosive result of the British referendum, the current HR, Federica Mogherini, presented a new text for strategic direction entitled Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Union. A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy (EGS).

With the exception of Mogherini’s predecessor Catherine Ashton, whose mandate was marked by an insular realism and a clear aversion to grand schemes, few doubted that the EU needed a renewed foreign policy strategy. The world has become increasingly interconnected (borders are becoming less important, whether we like it or not), disputed (instability has only changed its form) and complex (multi-polarity offers few certainties), while the EU itself has changed in its make-up, institutional architecture and needs. A different union projected into a changed world obviously calls for a new approach. As with any strategy, the EGS is not limited to helping political decision makers determine priorities and consequent forms of action. It also delineates and communicates the proposed role of the EU to both external actors and internal public opinion, thereby representing an exercise as existential as it is political.

This explains Mogherini’s (painful) decision not to shelve the EGS – the culmination of over a year’s work and dozens of interviews with member states, EU institutions, non-EU countries, international organizations and NGOs – and wait for a brighter day but to present it anyway, one day after the Brexit vote. The HR wanted to signal a determined kick-start to the process of integration during one of the most difficult periods in European Union history. Presenting a portrait of the role the EU would like to play in the world in a moment in which many European governments and citizens are uncertain about the very existence of the Union could appear to be a gamble that risks consigning the strategy to the dustbin of history. But to not present it would have surely denied its author the window of opportunity thrown open by the British decision that many heads of state and governments have hinted at being keen to exploit (in exactly which ways remains to be seen). There are differences in both method and content between Solana’s approach and the Mogherini doctrine. In contrast to the ESS, the EGS has not received formal approval by the EU’s council of 28 governments, which simply acknowledged its receipt. On one hand, this threatens to diminish the political capital backing the EGS.

On the other hand, it has allowed Mogherini greater editorial freedom, although she has employed it in a measured and concerted manner. As far as the content is concerned, the hypnotic repetition of EU institutional jargon can be deceiving, enabling some significant additions and changes of direction to pass relatively unnoticed. The first of these changes touches on the very nature of the strategy, which is defined as “global” with a double meaning: both geographic and thematic. If the EU de- scribes itself as a global actor with a regional focus (the many crises that have erupted in the vicinity have surely heightened our awareness of our own interests), the global nature of its actions aims for consolidation across the world in synergic and coherent ways which continue to be governed by independent decision-making institutions and processes. The EGS begins by clearly outlining the common interests of the Union: the security of its citizens, their prosperity and the resilience of European democracies.

 These represent three fundamental internal interests with clear external implications. A further external interest can be added to the list, one which is a precondition for the former three: a peaceful global order based on rules, institutions, multilateral dialogue and environmental sustainability. At first glance, this might all appear predictable. But in times of existential crisis, remembering what unites us is no small thing, especially if by defining our interests we can establish clear priorities for action. In this sense, the top of the list for the EGS is security, to be achieved via greater integration and increased cooperation in the areas of military capacities, anti-terrorism, cyber-security, energy security and strategic communication.

The objective is to establish the EU as an effective security provider both internally and beyond its borders. There are numerous new features, both large and small, that can be detected within the successive priorities: a greater focus on the prevention of conflicts (now possible, thanks to the new structure of the European Diplomatic Service) and themes of migration, a deeper description of regional cooperation, more effective sharing of information and a lighter promotion of regionalism inspired by the European model, no longer considered to be a suitable export for every context. In general, what emerges from the EGS is a greater pragmatism that tries to avoid taking a position on the eternal dilemma of the dichotomy between interests and values.

 Supporting non-EU countries in the process of democratization is important, but it is no longer a priority. The EGS does not sacrifice the values that characterize the EU and the West on the altar of political realism, but it does recognise that the adoption of an exclusively regulation-based approach can no longer overlook the pursuit of the EU’s own interests. Doubts regarding the strategy are numerous and primarily concern its implementation.

 In fact, it is only in practice that it will it be possible to substantiate the good intentions of the uncertain balance between values and interests. In addition, implementation will reveal how a Union, for which the definition “civil power” has begun to feel like a poor fit, will be able to manage to deepen its military cooperation without getting bogged down by the many forms of national resistance that have already emerged in the preparatory consultations. Furthermore, it will have to provide reassurance on the subject of the availability of the necessary economic resources for the many planned actions and test the strength that the documents will provide to the HR’s attempts to avoid being squashed by the intergovernmental cooperation of the Council. The economic, diplomatic and military potential of the EU has few equals in the world, but in order to be credible, reactive and active, it is necessary to combine (alas, as always) the will to do so. Attempting to predict the future success of the EGS, which so far resembles a balanced, complete and pragmatic but not excessively detailed instruction manual, would reveal little more than our own tendencies toward pessimism or optimism. It remains to be seen whether the glass will be half empty or half full.

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