It is high time for the EU to make strategic choices by David McAllister MEP, Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, European Parliament, Brussels/Strasbourg
As Europe begins its path to recovery from a major health crisis, foreign policy issues that have been temporarily out of the spotlight are bound to resurface. This comes at a time when instability and unrest characterise the European Union’s borders, and major decisions on relevant topics are being considered.
A stronger foreign and security policy
The Covid-19 pandemic reinforced the call for a stronger, more autonomous, more united and assertive foreign and security policy to step up the EU’s leadership on the international scene. Both the European Parliament and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR/VP), Josep Borrell, have addressed this topic by underlining the need to intensify the EU’s efforts to be more strategically sovereign while also strengthening cooperation with allies.
As the HR/VP recently stated, multilateralism “defines common standards and introduces stability in international relations”. By increasing cooperation with third countries, based on trust and mutual benefit, as well as building alliances with other democracies, the EU can diversify its partner base while simultaneously adding new stakeholders to common causes.
Step up action for conflict mediation
From Donetsk to Minsk to Kastellorizo and the southern Mediterranean, the proliferation of disputes and frozen conflicts in our closest neighbourhood risks becoming a permanent, endemic concern. The EU needs to step up its action concerning conflict mediation and resolution, while also promoting solutions based on the norms and principles of international law. The use of the EU foreign policy toolbox should be adapted in recognition of the idiosyncrasies and unique background of each conflict.
Crucial to enhancing stability are our partners in the Western Balkans, as well as the eastern and southern neighbourhood countries. By pursuing the strategic responsibility to foster region wide security, peace and prosperity, the EU can help promote the development and democratic resilience of neighbour countries, and therefore maintain its commitment to enlargement as a key transformative policy.
EU-Russia relations remain a serious challenge on key issues such as Syria, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, Belarus, and Ukraine. The HR/VP considers that Moscow is “progressively disconnecting itself from Europe and looking at democratic values as an existential threat”. Without any doubt, the relations between the European Union and the Russian Federation are at a low point. The recent developments in Russia force us to rethink and reframe the EU strategy vis-a-vis the Kremlin. It is therefore high time for the EU to take stock of the situation and make strategic choices.
The EU’s genuine partner: Africa
The new Covid-19 reality has also heightened the importance of the EU’s relationship with Africa. The Commission’s proposal for a new comprehensive strategy with Africa hopes to deepen existing cooperation based on shared interests and values in order to enable both sides to achieve common goals and tackle global challenges. In a recent report, the European Parliament called for more coordination of the development, humanitarian, and security strategies in the Sahel region, where the EU has heavily invested and where six CSDP missions are currently active.
Future relations with the UK and the USA
With Brexit concluded, the public debate has mainly focused on the economic implications. Cooperation on foreign and security policy might very well be the next major challenge in the future EU-UK relationship. The EU’s initial proposal for a structured, legally binding framework of cooperation was rejected, signalling that the UK might seek to prioritise bilateral relations on these and other issues. London has given some first answers in its “Integrated Security, Defence and Foreign Policy Review” which has just been released (see page 16).
The inauguration of a new administration in Washington has provided an opportunity to strengthen the transatlantic bond. As Europe strives for more strategic sovereignty, the US remains an effective partner, who is once again willing to place diplomacy at the centre of its foreign policy and engage the wider international community, as witnessed by the recent decisions to re-join the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization. I welcome the administration of President Biden and sincerely hope we can renew the EU-US strategic partnership in order to jointly address pressing global challenges, in particular the Iran nuclear deal, Russia, the southern Mediterranean, the Middle East, the Gulf and China – our biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century.
Covid-19: a wake-up call for Europe
The pandemic is a wake-up call for a more united European foreign policy and an effective multilateral global order. The EU must look within to understand what lessons can be learned from our common response to the Covid-19 crisis, and without, in order to address the shifting power dynamics that define today’s international system.