The last five years have not been kind to the European Union’s foreign-policy prospects. A new great-power competition is shunting aside the international rules-based order, and aspects of globalization – from trade to the Internet – are being used to divide rather than unite countries. Meanwhile, the EU’s geostrategic neighborhood has become a ring of fire.
These challenges mainly reflect a shift in the global balance of power, which has fundamentally changed the United States’ foreign-policy outlook. These global developments have left EU countries increasingly vulnerable to external pressures preventing them from exercising sovereignty. Such exposure threatens the EU’s security, economic, and diplomatic interests, by allowing other powers to impose their preferences on it. Making matters worse, the EU’s governing institutions have done little to overcome the divisions among member states, and they have not played a relevant role in responding to crises such as those in Ukraine, Syria, and Libya.
With the nomination of Josep Borrell to serve as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the EU has an opportunity to re-launch its foreign policy. Currently the foreign minister of Spain – itself one of the EU’s new power centers – Borrell’s task will be to unite EU institutions and national foreign ministries behind a common EU-level foreign policy.
Beyond that, Borrell will face three challenges. The first is to secure Europe’s strategic sovereignty. From day one, Borrell will need to start developing strategies for managing the bloc’s most vexing diplomatic and security issues, from the threats posed by Russia and China to the potential powder kegs in Syria, Africa, and the Balkans. Borrell must chart a new course forward, neither ignoring dissenting views from member states nor settling for the lowest common denominator of what all members say they can accept. To that end, Borrell should consider offering a package deal that should balance a tough stance on Russia with creative engagement on the EU’s southern flank. The EU needs new mechanisms for implementing its agenda, as well as competent leadership that can inspire confidence within all the member states.
Borrell’s second main challenge will be to re-operationalize European defense. With its operational capacity having shrunk, to reassure its Russia-facing flank, all member states will need to increase their forward presence there – simply establishing a small “Camp Charlemagne” in Poland would serve as a powerful symbolic gesture. Europeans could also take over certain military operations from the US, not least the mission in Kosovo, and with the US potentially planning a troop drawdown in some of the G5 countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger), the EU may need to increase its presence in Africa. In fact, this may be a good time for the EU’s high representative to take up the idea of a “European Security Council” that could offer a forum for honest strategic discussions among the member states, while also leading the diplomatic engagement with the United Kingdom after Brexit.
Borrell’s third challenge will be to restore trust between member state foreign ministries and the European External Action Service (EEAS). To that end, he will need a strong team and broad-based support within the EU. In appointing his deputies, he should choose members of the Commission who already have a mandate covering the key regional issues of the Sahel, the Balkans, and the Eastern Partnership. Better yet, Borrell should assign specific policy issues to individual foreign ministers, who would then have to report back to the member states and the EU Political and Security Committee. Finally, Borrell should consider appointing core groups of member states to convene workshops on divisive issues, with the goal of identifying common positions and raising the lowest common denominator.
By adopting the broad agenda outlined above, Borrell can help the EU confront the challenges of the coming years as a united bloc. His top goal should be to secure Europe’s strategic sovereignty. The EU is still the world’s largest market, comprises some of the largest national aid budgets, accounts for the second-highest level of defense spending, and can deploy the largest diplomatic corps. If it can put these assets in the service of a larger strategic agenda, it can become a player in the twenty-first century, rather than the plaything of other great powers.
‚Can Europe Become a Global Player?‘ – Opinion by Mark Leonard – Project Syndicate.