An overdue ‘return’ to European strategic thinking
On 28 June 2016, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini, officially presented the text of the “EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy” to the Heads of State or Government in an (urgent) European Council meeting largely devoted to the outcome of the British referendum.
The EU Global Strategy (EUGS) represents the final and hard-won result of a two year-long reflection, prompted by the European Council Conclusions back in December 2013, and coordinated by Mogherini’s Cabinet and the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic corps. It did so by involving extensive, ‘uphill’ consultation with EU Member States and institutions (notably the European Commission and the Parliament), European experts and third countries representatives.
The need for an analytically solid and meaningfully prescriptive analysis of the regional and global strategic landscape surrounding Europe was, in fact, largely overdue. A deteriorating geopolitical environment in the Southern and Eastern neighbourhood, politico-security turbulence in regions at ‘strategic distance’ such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia and the Far East, the rise of increasingly transnational challenges like terrorism, climate change and cyberattacks, and the very crisis of the European project itself, all dismissed the comforting incipit of the 2003 European Security Strategy: “Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure, nor so free”.
A realistic assessment of the Union’s external action
The 50-page long EUGS kicks off by listing what it considers EU’s (overlapping) values and interests, namely peace and security, prosperity, democracy and a rules-based international order, which the EU aims to promote both within Europe and in its ‘global abroad’. Acknowledging the inherent difficulty of balancing realpolitik and idealism in its foreign policy conduct, the EUGS defines “principled pragmatism” as the polar star of its external action, based on the principles of unity, engagement, responsibility and partnership.
It then defines the five priorities of EU’s foreign and security policy. First, the Union’s (own) security, focusing on security and defence policies, counter-terrorism, cyber and energy security, and strategic communications. Second, state and societal resilience in the Eastern and Southern neighbourhood ‘writ large’, covering a geographic perimeter bounded by the Western Balkans, Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia and involving a more effective migration policy focussing on origin and transit countries of migrants and refugees. Third, an integrated EU approach to conflicts and crises founded on pre-emptive peace, security and stabilisation, conflict settlement and addressing the “political economy” of insecurity. Fourth, a flexible and contingency-led support to cooperative regional orders in Europe, weighing opposition to Russia’s actions in Ukraine with selective engagement on other global and regional dossiers, the Mediterranean, Middle East and Africa, the Northern and Southern Atlantic, Asia and the Arctic. Fifth, a renewed commitment to a multilateral, rules-based system of global governance, guided by transformation rather than preservation of existing forums such as the UN and ‘Bretton Woods’ institutions.
In order to translate such vision into action, the EUGS finally calls for a collective investment in the EU’s credibility, notably but not solely via increased defence and security capabilities, responsiveness, via more reactive diplomatic, security and development tools, as well as a joined-up approach based on institutional and policy innovations, including the role of the EEAS and EU’s “comprehensive approach” to conflicts and crises, and through better links between EU’s internal and external policies, as required by the migration and terrorism phenomena.
A cautiously aspiring way forward?
Overall, the EUGS represents a cautiously aspiring attempt by the EU foreign policy leadership to steer Europe’s external action in an increasingly demanding (geo)political context, both domestically and internationally.
Admittedly, the EUGS may appear stylistically burdened by occasional overuse of EU jargon and some length unbalance across sections, and remains substantially vague in some of its prescriptions, for instance on the expected revitalisation of its struggling enlargement and neighbourhood policies, or as to how it could concretely secure the financial (and human) resources needed to match EU’s truly global ambitions.
However, it retains the undeniable merit of providing some precious building blocks for the possible evolution, and the potential empowerment, of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), starting perhaps with a much-needed upgrade of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) in its institutional, capability and industrial components. Importantly, it also foresees a multi-phased implementation process, first revising existing sectoral strategies, then framing additional work strands according to the Strategy’s priorities.
In times of great uncertainty for the very future of the European project, the EUGS still risks to remain unnoticed (and thus unread) by policy makers and the wider public alike, both in Europe and beyond. Yet, its potential contribution to stronger foreign policy cohesion across the ‘Old Continent’ might provide a useful sectoral contribution for Europe’s political integration to restart on new foundations. A robust and audience-tailored communication and dissemination campaign on the EUGS’s key messages thus needs to be prioritised in the months to come.
Andrea Frontini is Policy Analyst at the European Policy Centre (EPC: www.epc.eu), a leading Brussels-based think tank.