As I am writing these words, the European External Action Service (EEAS), which is the European Union’s (EU) diplomatic department, and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (High Representative) are working on the final details of the EU Global Strategy that is due to be submitted this month. The aim of the document is to provide the reference point, the guidelines, for the EU foreign policy for the following years.
Even though the role of the EEAS and the High Representative seems very relevant, many European citizens do not know much about EEAS and might not even know the name of the High Representative, Federica Mogherini. This lack of knowledge is explainable in the sense that diplomacy and international affairs in the EU are generally perceived as a national affair.
There have been efforts to change the current political framework and achieve a more coordinated Foreign Security Policy (FSP) among EU countries. For instance, the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in 2009, represented the start of a serious commitment to this goal. Under Article 10 of the Treaty, it establishes that the Union shall define and pursue a common strategy and ensure consistency in external action. Article 13 supplements the role of the High Representative with a new organization, the EEAS. The Treaty also settled that the High Representative would automatically become the Vice President of the European Commission. It is within this legal framework, that the EEAS and the High Representative are entitled to elaborate the next EU Global Strategy.
With the Lisbon Treaty, the EU built the structure and the tools to achieve a Common Foreign Security Policy (CFSP), but the reality is that if we compare CFSP with other fields, such as trade or development, CFSP is still in the initial stage. Most of the EU members have always been eager to retain most of their sovereign rights and powers. As a consequence, EU countries preserve their national representatives in most international organizations and forums, vote by unanimity for foreign policy decisions, and have not created any common military force.
Recent events, cast even more doubt on coordination and strategy in FSP. Just to give a few examples, in October 2015, Angela Merkel called for an open-door asylum policy, but some months later, after not achieving the expected collaboration from the rest of the European countries, the EU signed an agreement with Turkey to send migrants from Greece back to Turkey. In March 2016, Balkans countries, including Slovenia and Croatia (which are EU members), decided to limit unilaterally the number of refugees in transit. Also in March, the Brussels terrorist attacks highlighted the lack of coordination among the national security agencies.
The evident contradiction is that these events highlight the need for a coordinated strategy, but also show that the EU is very far from this objective. For some people, the past examples support a pessimistic view about the EU FSP, for others, these examples are the evidence that the current strategy (or lack of common strategy) cannot continue indefinitely.
The refugees’ crisis and the jihadist terrorism attacks have given visibility to an obvious truth; that threats cannot be contained in a specific area and they have the potential to spread. EU is part of the Eurasian continent and geographically very close to Africa, so instability in the surrounding areas translates into instability in Europe, too. Once in the EU, there are no border or passport controls, so all EU countries are in the same boat. Maybe it is time to start rowing in the same direction.
Individual countries have tended to put emphasis in the conflicting interests on foreign policies among EU countries. But the reality is that the EU is a geopolitical power, and European countries share relevant common goals such as the stability on the Middle East, ensuring that EU energy resources needs are covered or counterbalancing Russia increasing assertiveness.
It is not only that EU countries share common goals and that a common strategy would be beneficial, but also that EU countries do not have enough power to tackle most of the current crisis individually. The most powerful countries in Europe – Germany, UK and France – are not powerful enough to influence on a global scale, whereas if the EU were to be seriously considered as a single player it will be a major one.
So far, most of the EU countries have tried to ignore the fact that their power to implement effective Foreign Security Policy individually is decreasing and that there is the need for a common strategy. Only time will tell us if the “EU Global Strategy” is a significant step to achieve a Common Foreign Security Policy or only pretentious words that do not translate into real action.