What kind of foreign policy for the EU in the time of crisis?

With the refugee crisis there are many issues the EU should pay attention to (Syria, Libya, Eritrea…). Many of those may lead to important decisions, e. g. how we use diplomacy, are we willing to use military power, etc. Do you think that the refugee crisis will lead also to more unite EU foreign policy or not, and why? Read few comments.

Isabel Camisão, Professor, Faculdade de Letras da Universidade de Coimbra

Considering the actual crisis response I find very difficult to give you a positive answer. Let me put it this way I hope (although I’m not entirely confident) that this terrible crisis would ultimately lead to an evolution and a reinforcing of the European integration. On the negative side, instead of a most needed consensus on a common and coordinated response, the last meetings on the refugees crisis have showcased a profound European “dissensus” regarding almost every topic on the agenda (quotas; borders; who should be qualified as refugee; Schengen…). Of course, this is a particularly high salient crisis that escalated rapidly.  But could we truly say that this is an unexpected event? Perhaps if European leaders have taken the time to pay closer attention at Europe’s geopolitical environment, they would not be as unprepared for this crisis as they appeared to be. But instead of being prepared to, let’s call it, the “predictable unknown”, Europe found itself again responding to the events haphazardly as they unfold. Ultimately this puts a lot of stress in the normal operational procedures that clearly were not thought to respond to such critical circumstances. The positive note is that this crisis, and particularly the chaotic handling of the crisis in the first weeks, uncontestably showed the inadequacy of Europe’s external action instruments (including funding) and the incoherence of its migration and asylum policies. Thus this crisis opens a window of opportunity to reform and consolidate Europe’s CFSP and home affairs policy in a way that perhaps was unfeasible in normal times. It is also an opportunity to reinforce existing frameworks such as Europe’s agenda on migration and mobility. Will the EU rise to the occasion “stepping up its response to this crisis based on the principles of solidarity and responsibility and in full respect of its values and international obligations” (as the Commission puts it in its September 9 communication, p.2) remains however to be seen.

Oya Dursun-Özkanca, Associate Professor of Political Science, Elizabethtown College

I think that the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy is already facing difficult times due to the challenges of consolidating member states’ sovereign interests with EU-level interests. I foresee that the refugee crisis that the EU is currently facing will make it even harder for the EU to have a unified and decisive common foreign policy. There are already numerous complications that many EU member states are facing in their domestic politics due to increased xenophobia, and anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiments, on top of the ongoing economic problems.

Against the background of the war in Ukraine, Eurozone crisis, and the refugee crisis, the EU is having a difficult time to produce a unified voice to effectively manage or solve imminent problems for European security, as many of these issues proved to be highly divisive for the Europeans.

The EU is traditionally reluctant to use military force in response to crises and prefers using diplomatic tools to solve problems. I don’t anticipate a change in that characteristic in the short to medium run, especially given the latest military spending statistics. Only four out of 28 EU member states are expected to reach the NATO-recommended 2% of GDP this year.

Consequently, one is safe to conclude that there is reluctance to take a leading role for solving the humanitarian crises in the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere. Even the recently agreed scheme that introduce quotas has been quite controversial, as the EU implemented the qualified majority voting rather than unanimity procedure to decide on an issue that was traditionally left to individual member states.

Times are certainly tough for the EU; and tough times call for decisive action. It is up to the EU to step up to the plate and practice the principles it holds dearly.

Roderick Parkes, Scholar, Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI), Non-resident Fellow, Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM)

I’ve just published a longer report on this, arguing in favour of the EU developing a kind of ‘home affairs diplomacy’ ie integrating its internal policies on borders, migration, counterterrorism and crime-fighting with its foreign policy apparatus. The main points would probably be:

– when drawing up its common foreign and security policy, the EU at the moment is simply copying the emphasis of its member states – a mix of trade diplomacy and geopolitics. That’s been clear since Juncker reshuffled the Commission DGs when he took over. I’d argue that the EU is much better suited to pursuing home affairs diplomacy. Home affairs diplomacy is about the peaceful promotion of territorial order, combating non-state threats, building civilian border standards, and helping the free-flow of goods and services. In other words home affairs diplomacy achieves both trade goals and geopolitical ones, but in a way that is better suited to Europe’s soft, value-led approach to the world.

– over the past few years, the EU has actually begun integrating foreign policy and home affairs policy, but it has concentrated on the local and the global: It has offered neighbouring countries such as Moldova, Georgia, Tunisia and Jordan easier access to Europe’s labour market and/or Schengen Area in return for them taking on the EU’s migration and counter-terror rules; and it has drawn up global standards on things like border control, financial crime and aviation standards.

– the time has passed when the EU could simply export its internal standards in this way. The EU can no longer use access to Schengen as leverage – Schengen is in crisis. And it can’t upload its rules to the UN, because its credibility is so low. Much more, the EU needs to build up regional regimes for home affairs elsewhere in the world. There is plenty of potential for this. For instance, many other parts of the world – Latin America, West Africa, East Africa, Asean – aspire to create regional free movement zones a little like Schengen. Cooperation on free movement will oblige them to cooperate on borders, counter-terror…

– this approach should also provide a guide for how the EU combines its various policy tools – diplomacy, development, security. In the report, we looked at the case of West Africa. There the EU actually has a lot of activities pursuing home affairs goals, but they all work at different speeds and with different partners: The EU is building up a free movement regime in the region with ECOWAS. But its trade policy towards ECOWAS sets various countries off against one another. Its counter-terror policy is mainly focused on the Sahel, and ignores the other countries. Its anti-crime policy focuses on littoral states and on Latin America (where the cocaine comes from). It is a clear case of a lack of coherence – and this is the case across the world.

– moreover, the EU’s efforts to increase effectiveness have tended to create silos. In the realm of development, for instance, the EU has decided that it will choose three priorities for each country. On the plus side, this has made the EU better at pursuing narrow development goals. Sadly it also means that development policy is even less integrated than usual with other foreign policy tools. ‘Migration’ is just one of many competing development priorities.

Igor Merheim-Eyre, PhD Candidate in International Relations, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent

In 2002, Romano Prodi, a former President of the European Commission, spoke of a new world ‘opening up new opportunities but also throwing up new challenges’. Prodi’s speech captured an era when the Union was set for its largest enlargement in history and determined to achieve ‘sustainable stability and security’ not only within the EU, but also in ‘its closest European neighbours, from Morocco to Russia and the Black Sea’.

This ‘new word’, however, has thrown open more challenges than opportunities. The Union has now faced years of financial crisis, flat growth and high-levels of unemployment, while its borders have become a ‘ring of fire’ rather than ‘a ring of friends’, with instability from Tripoli in the south to Luhansk and Donetsk in the east. In 2002 Prodi anticipated the EU to become a ‘real global player’; instead, the EU of today lacks consensus, let alone projecting vision and finding solutions to the on-going crises.

The on-going refugee crisis reveals this vulnerability. It is not that the EU is divided between the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Member States – while they disagree on the question of principle with regards to the quota system, there is a general understanding the current situation is unsustainable. They also seem to agree on how to do this – strengthen readmission with third countries, reform border management in the Balkans and the Mediterranean, assist the countries with most refugees (Turkey and Lebanon, for example). Unfortunately, the will to carry through such a wide range of tasks requires three key components: determination, vision and a strategic division of labour between the Member States and the European institutions.

Firstly, the EU chronically suffers from a lack of leadership. The Treaty of Lisbon has seen an important shift in power towards the European Council, however, while the Commission is in no political position to assume any kind of leadership (not that it either wishes to) no single or a group of Member States have shown any desire to get in the driving seat.

Consequently, the EU lacks vision. Instead, it focuses too much on the process of decision-making and following established methodologies, or enhancing its ever-growing list of technical ‘instruments’, without necessarily paying attention to pressing situation on the ground. For example, ‘Arab Spring’ was welcomed with much excitement among our policy-makers and, while a lot of talking and tweeting went into supporting countries such as Libya, very little or no support was given at crucial moments that could have potentially avoided the current bloodshed. The same can be said for the situation in Ukraine. It is all very well to neither deny nor confirm Ukraine’s EU membership perspective, and to hide our undecidability behind ‘technical advise’, but leaving such important questions unanswered has a major impact on the stability of our neighbourhood.

Thirdly, there needs to be a greater division of labour. By this I mean closer harmonisation, rather than integration. It is time we realise that ‘more’ Europe (that is, deeper integration), is not an answer to all our problems. Some areas of policy are still better handled by Member States, whether individually or working in groups. For example, even the Commission is currently engaged in incentivising clusters of Member States to take leadership on policy-specific issues.

At the same time, the EU does possess an impressive range of institutions and instruments, and these needs to be utilised better. It is time Member States stop thinking in terms of competition between EU institutions and national ministries. Better harmonisation can have a major impact on the way ‘Europe’ responds to problems.

Therefore, I do not think this is a question of unity. Rather, it is about a forward-looking strategic vision that helps to bring about that confident European Union Prodi envisaged in 2002. It is time we stop thinking that new treaties, new instruments or merely focusing on the decision-making process will make the EU more capable to act as a global player in the world. Instead, the on-going problems in and around the Union have highlighted the importance of a need for a vision and more strategic thinking. Without leadership, however, this remains an increasingly distant prospect.

Federiga Bindi, Senior Fellow, Center for Transatlantic Relations, SAIS John Hopkins, Professor of Political Science and Jean Monnet Chair, University of Rome Tor Vergata

I wish it did but, frankly, I am afraid it will not.

Most likely, in Syria it will end up with the United States deciding on a common strategy with Russia – as they should have done a long time ago – and Europe following suit. The Med area is Europe’s backyard, but the EU has failed every time it had an occasion to become a leading foreign policy actor there. Mostly, it is because of the divisions within the EU: South against North, historical allegiances and alliances, different economic interests make it very difficult for the EU to act as one on the Middle East issues and policies.

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