The EU’s position as a global foreign policy player has been impacted by the debt crisis

Without internal consolidation it will be difficult for the EU to claim its say on the world scene.  Read also ECFR’s  European Foreign Policy Scorecard 2012.


1. How much is the position of the EU as of the global foreign policy player influenced by the debt crisis? Is the EU right now mostly part of the problems than part of the solutions?

2. We have heard lot of statement how we need broader and deeper cooperation. Does it apply also to the Common Foreign and Security Policy or right now is the EU foreign policy more about the renationalisation?


Jan Gaspers, Gates Scholar, Centre of International Studies, University of Cambridge

1. The eurozone debt crisis has doubtlessly impaired the EU’s potential to shape global affairs. The preoccupation in Brussels and EU member state capitals with negotiating the modalities of bailout funds and new fiscal rules for the eurozone consumes a lot of attention and resources normally devoted to formulating common European foreign policy positions and diplomatic strategies. Indeed, the current negligence of foreign affairs in Brussels has already become increasingly obvious: the EU’s voice with regard to the developments in Syria, for example, has certainly not been as loud as it could and should have been.

However, the extent of the negative effects of the debt crisis for Europe’s ability to influence international affairs will only become fully visible in the years ahead. In this respect, it is crucial to acknowledge that the EU’s global influence has always been a function of two elements: its status as a role model of a well-governed area and its superior economic performance. However, in the wake of the debt crisis, the EU has arguably failed to lived up to the standards of a well-governed entity and it remains to be seen how the current crisis will affect Europe’s economic performance in the long-term.

Nevertheless, it would be misleading to depict the EU as the reason for a decline in Europe’s global influence. Indeed, if there is one lesson to be learned from the current eurozone debt crisis it is that we need more rather than less Europe to effectively tackle the political and economic challenges of the 21st century. We need greater political integration in Europe.

2. The state of EU foreign and security policy cooperation is rather paradoxical. The Lisbon Treaty has introduced various elements that are clearly aimed at creating a more unitary, vocal and decisive EU foreign and security policy. Two of the most obvious examples in this respect are the creation of the EU’s new diplomatic corps, the European External Action Service, and the introduction of treaty provisions, which provide the legal framework for a permanent pooling of EU member states’ military capabilities and thus the creation of something very similar to a ‘European army.’

However, over the last two years, we have seen many EU governments intentionally or unintentionally pursuing agendas that run counter to the spirit of Lisbon and that have contributed to a creeping renationalisation of European foreign policy-making. Until recently, for example, London had instructed its embassies to prevent members of the External Action Service from articulating common EU positions in various third states and even in some international organisations, like the OSCE, where precedents have long existed for the EU to speak with one voice. Significantly, even some of the strongest proponents of European foreign policy cooperation, like Germany, France or Italy, seemed largely indifferent to what was in effect a discrediting of the European diplomatic corps abroad.

Likewise, we have seen very little effort on part of the larger member states to bolster EU military cooperation, although the debt crisis has forced European governments to cut their defence budgets rather drastically in recent years, making the pooling of military capabilities rather attractive. Indeed, London and Paris seem no longer interested in assuming their traditional leadership role in the domain of European military integration, as British and French defence officials have considerable doubts about their European partners’ willingness to become credible military actors, while Germany has lost the political legitimacy necessary for promoting greater EU defence cooperation with its refusal to support the military intervention in Libya.

Timo Behr, Research Fellow, Finnish Institute of International Affairs

1. The EU’s position as a global foreign policy player has been impacted by the debt crisis in two significant ways:

First, it has diminished the material assets of EU diplomacy. Growing budgetary pressures have meant there is less space for “checkbook diplomacy”. The EU’s reaction to the Arab Spring is one case in point. Despite initial calls for a “Marshall Plan for the Mediterranean”, EU aid towards the Arab region has only moderately increased. Budget cuts are also having an adverse effect on the already stretched defense budgets across Europe. Overall, the crisis will therefore lead to a considerable decline in the material resources available to EU foreign policy.

Second, the debt crisis has undermined the EU’s “power of attraction” in international affairs. For a long time, the EU’s social and economic model has been seen as a positive alternative to the economic development models of the US and China. The EU seemed to be able to balance social justice and sustainable development, while acting as a different kind of power in international affairs. The failure of the EU’s economic model has reduced its attraction to other countries which are less likely now to endorse a leadership role for the EU.

Most BRICS countries and part of the developing world consider the EU now as a problem, rather than part of the solution, due to the risks the EU debt crisis poses to global economic growth. Many of them have also been outraged by the EU’s request that the IMF – and with that countries like China, India and Brazil – should contribute to the rescue of Greece, while richer European countries are unwilling to foot the bill of the Euro crisis. Most likely Europe’s international role will therefore decline.

2. There are some strong indications that current trends favor a renationalization of EU foreign policy. During the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, differences between the big EU member states have prevented a common foreign policy. Especially Libya has presented a severe test. The EU also finds it difficult to have a common policy towards major powers, such as China, Russia or the US. And there are clear trends in EU security policy that a renationalization might be underway: given that France and Britain now seem to favor greater bilateral cooperation over common EU solutions. While much of this is not necessarily new (remember Iraq), the debt crisis has heightened intra-European tension and made it more difficult for countries to cooperate on sensitive questions that concern national security.

However, on many other issues the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy has actually shown a positive trend. When it comes to climate change and environmental issues, EU cooperation continues to deepen. Similarly the EU has recently adopted a radical new sanctions regime against Iran, has largely spoken with one voice on the crisis in Syria and has prevented a split over the question of Palestinian statehood. On all of these issues the EU does play a role internationally. This shows that the EU remains capable of taken common action when there is a political will. Ultimately a further deepening and broadening of CFSP cooperation would help the EU to rebuild its international image. But this is unlikely to come through additional institutions, but rather will have to be based on greater trust and cooperation on between EU member states. The alternative is that European countries see their collective weight in international affairs decline, as they all pursue different agendas in foreign policy.

 Gunilla Herolf, Associated Senior Researcher, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

1. The EU’s position is very much influenced by the debt crisis since, in the EU’s search for being a global player, the euro is its biggest asset. The EU is both the problem and the solution. It is the problem because the crisis has largely emanated within its own territory and the EU has been negligent in seeing to it that rules are followed. It is also the solution. No one else can do it for the EU and the determination of the member countries is strong. Also outside the euro, countries like Sweden which are export dependent, see their own finances as dependent on a successful European economy.

2. Both of these are valid. Renationalisation certainly exists in the EU and the organisation is rarely the initiator of ideas. These are instead emanating in the different capitals. At the same time countries see the need for deepening cooperation. There are two main reason for the deepening efforts: a) the new threats are of a kind that can only be solved jointly (as the European Security Strategy rightly says): climate change, international crime, terrorism etc. b) the need to save on the military budget leads to pooling and sharing efforts. This concerns joint procurement, exercises, surveillance tasks etc. Such cooperation initiatives sometimes include countries on a regional basis (such as the latter examples) and sometimes on a European one (such as the German-Swedish pooling and sharing idea).

Hylke Dijkstra, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Political Science, Maastricht University

1. I think that the debt crisis has a serious impact on the position of the EU as a global foreign policy player. In the short run, the attention of our national leaders is primarily on economic issues. As a result, the EU has yet to formulate a convincing policy to deal with the consequences of the Arab Spring. The eurocrisis also distracts from serious dossiers, such as Kosovo, Iran, Syria and South Sudan. In the long run, the decreasing defence budgets will negatively affect Europe’s military capabilities and its ability to make a contribution to international conflicts across the globe. So yes, due to the financial crisis, Europe will be less able to provide solutions in international affairs.

2. With the Lisbon Treaty, the European Union has created a common diplomatic service. As a result, there are now 136 EU embassies around the world. Member states can benefit from this and eventually reduce the number of their own embassies, if they like. Within the EU and NATO, there are furthermore serious plans for deeper defence integration. They are called ‘pooling and sharing’ and ‘smart defence’. The idea is that European states specialize in their defence capabilities in order to achieve efficiency gains. If the Germans, for example, protect Slovakian airspace, Slovakia no longer has to invest in expensive fighter planes. Further integration in EU foreign policy is an absolute must given the financial crisis. None of the member states will be able to make it on their own.

Edmund Ratka, Associate Researcher, Center for Applied Policy Research, University of Munich

1. The debt crisis is hampering the EU’s global reputation and thus its influence in the world.  Traditionally, the ‘model character’ of the EU for other regions was one of its most important means in international politics. If the EU was not able to handle its internal debt crisis, it would lose this means.Without internal consolidation it will be difficult for the EU to claim its say on the world scene.

2. Rhetorically, all European governments support the Common Foreign and Security Policy. However, in ‘hard cases’ (Iraq, Libya and others), they regularly fall back on a national position. The transfer of competences in foreign policy is indeed illusionary. But the member states must fully be aware that they will have a greater say in the world if they better coordinate their external relations.

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