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‘Why Europe?’ and ‘What Europe?’. Issues for the new EUEuropean Union Global Strategy

The preparation of a new EUEuropean Union Global Strategy is a significant opportunity to broaden the scope of security thinking, and include such issues as poverty reduction and climate change. We learned a good deal about the likely shape of the new Strategy, at the European Think-Tanks event in Berlin. We learned rather less about specific commitments, what the authors of UK strategy papers often call the ‘we wills’. This could be just a matter of discretion, with the strategy still being worked on, and due to go to the Council only in June. Or, more worryingly, it could reflect a failure (so far) to grapple with hard questions about the comparative advantage and room for manoeuvre of the European institutions. In either case, time is running out to fill the gaps.

The issue boils down to questions of ‘Why Europe?’ and ‘What Europe?’. Specifically, the conclusions are

  • First, it is really important to emphasise the screaming urgency of the problems Europe confronts - and therefore to welcome the preparation of a wide-ranging global strategy.
  • Second, a comprehensive approach has to be the right answer to dealing with external affairs, but respecting the unique mandate and role of different instruments.
  • Third, an analysis of the EU's comparative or competitive advantage has to be at the heart of any EUEuropean Union strategy.
  • Fourth, the Strategy must make choices between different approaches and make commitments with regard to legislation, mandates, procedures, competences, staffing, budgets and accountability.


The preparation of a new Global Strategy, formally the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, was mandated in June 2015 by the European Council. It is being prepared under the leadership of Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. It will replace the 2003 Security Strategy, reviewed in 2008, but not since.

There is an art to writing strategy papers, there are rules, sometimes observed and sometimes not. The main trick is to avoid writing an elegant essay on the issues without getting down to the hard choices and concrete actions. I have seen many 30-page strategy papers which spend 28 pages reviewing the topic and only turn to specifics in the last 2 or 3. My advice has always been to reverse the page distribution: polish off the analysis as quickly as possible, and then get down to business.

The ‘business’ needs to cover legislation, mandates, procedures, competences, staffing, budgets and accountability – the range of issues relevant also to the re-design of development agencies. There are big decisions involved. Think, for example, of President Obama’s ‘pivot to Asia’, or the current debate in the UK about the renewal of the nuclear deterrent, or DFID’s decision to spend half the aid budget in fragile states.

In the case of the new EUEuropean Union Global Strategy, Ms Mogherini is ahead of the game. She received her mandate following the publication of a ‘Strategic Assessment’ of the challenges facing the EUEuropean Union in a ‘more connected, contested and complex world’. The paper is short and worth reading in full, and is pasted in at the end. The 2003 Strategy focused principally on ‘hard’ threats: terrorism, WMD, regional conflicts, state failure, organised crime. By contrast, the new strategic assessment takes a somewhat broader view of the opportunities offered by globalisation and greater inter-connection, as well as noting new challenges like climate change. It points to the changing balance of power in the world, associated with emerging powers like China. It reinforces the need for a comprehensive approach, encompassing all instruments (including aid and trade); and emphasises the need for flexibility in external affairs.

The Sustainable Development Goals were approved in New York in September, after the publication of the Strategic Assessment, but arguably provide a strong foundation for a new, universal strategy. They mandate the need to achieve a combination of economic, social, environmental and political objectives, and to do so in all countries, rich and poor. The Paris Agreement on climate change also provides important context. Both agreements were referenced repeatedly in Berlin. It is not all trivial that a 'security' strategy should take account of these dimensions to policy.

We learned in Berlin that there are many different strands of work contributing to the new Strategy, and many, many events and consultations. We also learned that there will be some key themes in the text, for example:

  • Engagement not retrenchment;
  • No conflict between values and interests;
  • Conditionality in exporting democracy does not work;
  • An emphasis on partnership; and
  • A focus on multilateralism.

These generated quite a bit of discussion, as one might imagine, especially on human rights; but there were also some underlying debates, which I characterised as reflecting different positions on two key questions, viz ‘Why Europe?’ and ‘What Europe?’. There are four main points.

Screaming urgency

First, it is really important to emphasise the screaming urgency of the problems Europe confronts. The refugee and migration crises are the most obvious manifestations, but themselves reflect a multitude of problems, from poverty and localised violence, to state failure and the long-term impact of military intervention. Many other issues vie for attention, most notably the current and future impact of climate change. One speaker spoke in Berlin of ‘decades of foreign policy failure’. In this context, the preparation of a wide-ranging global strategy can only be welcomed, especially a strategy which incorporates the key objectives of the new global goals.

A comprehensive approach

Second, a comprehensive approach has to be the right answer to dealing with external affairs, but respecting the unique mandate and role of different instruments. This means acknowledging the role of development aid, humanitarian aid, trade policy, climate policy, and indeed all aspects of economic and social policy in achieving external objectives. That is why policy coherence has become such an important topic, and why ‘Beyond Aid’ has become a key focus of development policy. At the same time, different instruments are governed by different international principles and different national rules. It is important, for example, to respect the core humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence; or to abide by the rules defining what is and is not eligible as Official Development Assistance (ODA), set by the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD. The rules are constantly under review, as the recent High Level Meeting of the DAC has illustrated – and campaigners have to be vigilant in preventing the instrumentalisation of aid.

Comparative and competitive advantage

Third, and here the discussion becomes more pointed, an analysis of comparative or competitive advantage has to be at the heart of any strategy. This applies generally to all actors – and I have written about it in the context of DFID, and also with respect to development agencies more widely. In the case of the EU, the question is about what the Brussels-based institutions can and should do that Member States cannot: the ‘Why Europe?’ question mentioned earlier. The dividing lines are well-known and, again, this is something I have written about many times. Most recently, I wrote a piece a year ago about the challenges inherent in the new strategy, inter alia as follows:

‘A global vision focused on institutions and incentives requires a broad canvas. But this is where peaks come in. In our work at ODI on European development cooperation, we have often tried to make the point that collective action through the EU may or may not be the right answer to particular problems. Some people look metaphorically to George Mallory, the mountaineer who died on Everest during his third attempt in 1924. Mallory famously replied to the question of why he kept trying to reach the peak by saying ‘Because it’s there’. The role of the EU in global policy can be approached with the same philosophy, to work through Brussels ‘because it’s there’.

An alternative view is to be more transactional, to ask hard questions and issue by issue about the comparative advantage of the EU. Perhaps a common EU approach is the right one because it has exclusive competence, as for example it does on trade. Or perhaps a common approach has attractions because of the negotiating weight of the 28 members acting together, as may be the case with climate change. But, equally, perhaps, it might be more effective to work through other channels, perhaps because the Member States are not aligned.

In practice, all countries have choices about how to allocate political and material capital, some more than others. The UK, to take one example, is a member of the EU, but also of the UN Security Council, of all the main UN agencies, of the G8, the G20, NATO, the Commonwealth, the Council of Europe, and many other international organisations. Others may have fewer options; all have some. At the margin, leaders make choices. The EU may or may not be the choice they make.’

There is a conversation to be had about the scope and limits of EU-specific action in external affairs. From a theoretical perspective, there are staging points between an approach which is entirely idealistic and one which is purely instrumental: for example, we were told in Berlin about the importance of ‘generous tit-for-tat’ (GTFT) as an approach to dealing with Prisoner’s Dilemma problems. I’ve looked it up and there are over 4000 hits, but this one looks useful. It’s about luring people into greater cooperation.

Pragmatically, our work in the European Think Tanks Group has consistently explored the issue of comparative advantage. In 2010, for example, in our Report ‘New Challenges, New Beginnings’, we talked about (a) shared values, (b)  shared approaches to development policy, (c) structures in Brussels, esp the creation of the European External Action Service, (d) international partnerships, including with the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group (ACP), and (e) economies of scale in funding instruments.

In 2014, revisiting the argument in our Report ‘Our Collective Interest’, we again stressed the legislative framework, the range of instruments and the scale of resources. We were also clear, however, that there were limits to the EU’s role. In conflict situations, for example, its comparative advantage lay not in first line military response, but rather as ‘best supporting actor’, providing police missions or otherwise supporting peace-building.

In 2016, a good question to ask is ‘which are (insert name of Member State)’s problems to which the answer is ‘the EU’?’. A number come quite quickly to mind:

  • Dealing with fragile states in the Sahel;
  • A coherent reaction to the refugee crisis;
  • Climate negotiations (where the EUEuropean Union did especially well in Paris, see here and here);
  • Anything to do with trade (where, again, the EUEuropean Union has taken positive steps in its new trade policy);
  • Support to the private sector, esp blended finance with the EIB.

No doubt, there will be others, perhaps especially for smaller Member States. In our Collective Interest Report, we made many suggestions, dealing with: the global economy; climate change; peace and security; democracy and human rights; and the fight against global poverty and inequality.

Making choices

Fourth, then, we are left with the question of exactly what the strategy should say the EUEuropean Union will do: the answer to the ‘What EU?’ question, the list of ‘we wills’. Here, Berlin left us with more work to do. There were, for example, important discussions about real, practical dilemmas – for example:

  • Exactly how the EUEuropean Union should handle alleged human rights problems in fast-developing countries like Ethiopia and Rwanda – and the argument in the global strategy that there is no trade-off between interests and values;
  • Coherent joined up approaches in fragile states, esp really difficult cases like Eritrea;
  • The political framing of trade policy, including conditionality issues;
  • Climate mainstreaming post-Paris, esp related to the review of the EUEuropean Union budget, and in the context of managing winners and losers in transition;
  • Raising accountability standards for the private sector;
  • The refugee crisis (esp linking DGs Home, Near, ECHOEuropean Community Humanitarian Office and Devco, as well as EEAS); and
  • What exactly a boost to conflict prevention would look like.

It would be useful to have boxes in the final strategy document on some of these.

It is probably not difficult to add to this list; nor to imagine what approaches might be suitable (many of them identified in our Collective Interest Report). For example, on climate change, I have recently written about how the problems of transformation can be understood as classic development issues with which development studies is familiar and in which it has experience. The point remains, however, that there are choices to make, and the Global Strategy must make them.

It will be important in making choices to remember the resource limitations of the EUEuropean Union External Action Service, to identify the areas where the HR/VP has licence to operate from the Member States, and to choose a limited number of initiatives. I’ve written earlier about all this, distinguishing ‘must do’, might do’ and ‘could do’. Frankly, the migration/refugee crisis probably looks like offering quite an in-tray for some time to come. But if I were Ms Mogherini, I would also want a few high-profile positive and forward-looking initiatives. The green transition?

It will also be important in finalising the strategy to cover the range of issues identified as central to implementation of the strategy: legislation, mandates, procedures, competences, staffing, budgets and accountability. For example, how can the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa be made more agile, or the Migration and Mobility Partnerships be improved? What should be the priorities for the review of the various aid instruments in 2017?

Effective decision-making

A final point is that the strategy needs to be owned by all the EUEuropean Union institutions, including the Council of Heads of Government. There is too often ambiguity in EUEuropean Union policy-making, with confusion about the hierarchy of decision-making. For example, the ‘services’ may propose a policy and the Council of Ministers may ‘welcome’ it but add a gloss, leaving everyone uncertain about what exactly is the new policy. My view has always been clear, that the Council trumps the Commission or even the EEAS, and should say explicitly what the new policy is supposed to be – requiring a formal revision of the original submission. In this case, given the importance of the topic, it is also surely necessary to involve the European Parliament.


The European Union in a changing global environment A more connected, contested and complex world

Executive Summary

Since the 2003 Security Strategy, the EU’s strategic environment has changed radically. While much has been achieved over the last decade, today an arc of instability surrounds the Union. Further afield, we see conflicts in Africa and security tensions in Asia, while climate change and scarce natural resources harbour the risk of more conflict. At the same time, global growth, interdependence and technological progress enable ever more people to escape poverty and live longer, healthier and freer lives. The EUEuropean Union must confront both the challenges and the opportunities that come with its changed environment. We have a responsibility to protect our citizens while promoting our interests and universal values. The very nature of our Union – a construct of intertwined polities – gives us a unique advantage to steer the way in a more complex, more connected, but also more contested world. The very nature of our Union – a construct of intertwined polities – gives us a unique advantage to steer the way in a more complex, more connected, but also more contested world.

  1. A Changing Global Environment

A more connected world: Globalisation has been the dominant force shaping our world for the best part of the last century. Today it is giving rise to an unprecedented degree of global connectivity, with a surge in human mobility, compelling us to rethink migration, citizenship, development and health. The exponential spread of webs not only opens opportunities for political participation, it also favours economic and financial crime, terrorism and trafficking. Markets too are increasingly connected, as shown by China’s efforts to develop infrastructural ties with Central and Southeast Asia (as well as Europe) or the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations. Greater connectivity is a European phenomenon too: the Eurozone crisis has highlighted both the density of interconnections within the Union and the need to tackle the resulting economic problems through deeper integration.

A more contested world: Fragile states and ungoverned spaces are spreading. To the east, the EU’s neighbours suffer from economic, political and energy supply fragilities. Across the Mediterranean, the spread of ungoverned spaces has enabled criminals and terrorists to thrive. Further south, instability and violence are the product of poverty, lawlessness, corruption and conflict-ridden electoral politics. More than 50 million people are now displaced. Ideology and identity drive tensions on different continents. In Europe and beyond, new narratives challenge the open society model. In the Middle East, identity politics fuels old and new cleavages. Demographic trends and growing inequalities also threaten more conflict, despite the emergence of a global middle class. Climate change and resource scarcity drive conflicts across Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Finally, technological progress is changing the nature of conflict, revolutionising the defence industry while generating new threats. The EUEuropean Union too is more contested, as internal forces increasingly challenge the European project. Yet a more contested Union can also spur decision-makers to better connect foreign policy with citizens’ expectations and inject fresh momentum in the European debate.

A more complex world: We live in an age of global power shifts and power diffusion. In the years to come, the United States will still enjoy a comprehensive global reach, and the EUEuropean Union is set to retain one of the highest per capita incomes in the world. Still, the age of dominance by any single country is over. Prime amongst the ‘new’ powers is China. Across all continents, emerging powers are rising in global rankings, but they are unlikely to form a single and cohesive bloc. Moreover, different regions display different configurations of power, while globally power is diffusing beyond the nation state towards a network of state, non-state, inter-state and transnational actors. Traditional multilateralism is losing steam as emerging countries want to reform the post-World War II architecture – yet opposing existing global governance mechanisms has been easier than creating new ones.

  1. Challenges and Opportunities for the EUEuropean Union

In the emerging global environment, the EUEuropean Union faces five broad sets of challenges and opportunities.

European Neighbours: The EUEuropean Union needs to continue to support reform in the Western Balkans, Turkey and the Eastern partners through integration and association policies, respectively. We also need to develop foreign policies that engage Turkey on issues of common interest; that strengthen the statehood of our Eastern partners; that respond firmly to destabilising actions on our borders, while also engaging Russia to restore a sustainable European security architecture and address global challenges.

North Africa and the Middle East: The EUEuropean Union needs to tackle the immediate challenges in its South by sharpening its tools in the internal-external security nexus and addressing immediate humanitarian crises. We also need to respond to old and new conflicts and help address the root causes of resentment through tailor-made responses.

Africa: The EUEuropean Union can help unlock Africa’s potential by developing the right mix of migration and mobility policies; by bolstering security cooperation with the United Nations, the African Union and other African partners; and by bridging fair trade and economic integration objectives.

Atlantic Partnerships: The EUEuropean Union needs to continue investing in a strong and sound privileged relationship across the Atlantic through closer cooperation between the EUEuropean Union and NATO and through the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. At the same time, we need to deepen relations with Latin America and the Caribbean through bilateral partnerships and inter-regional arrangements.

Asia: The EUEuropean Union can offer consistent but also customised support to regional cooperation efforts in Asia. We also need to foster a rules-based approach to conflict management and respond to the opportunity presented by various developments in Asian connectivity.

  1. Implications

The EUEuropean Union needs to tackle the challenges and seize the opportunities which the global environment presents. An effective response depends on the Union’s ability to make choices and prioritise areas where it is willing and able to make a difference. It also depends on whether the EU’s external action instruments are fit for purpose. Five key issues need to be addressed in this context:

Direction: In recent years the EUEuropean Union has started updating the direction of its external engagement: in several areas, however, adaptations are necessary. In the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the EUEuropean Union has lost salience and momentum in a few areas – for instance, the ‘strategic partnerships’. In disarmament and arms control, the EU’s approach, conceived in a post-Cold War environment, needs to respond to 21st century realities. Similarly, in the Common Security and Defence Policy, although the December 2013 European Council underlined that ‘defence matters’, the current level of ambition and capability targets are not tailored to the degraded strategic environment. Humanitarian assistance also needs to adapt to humanitarian crises becoming the ‘new normal’, with ever growing needs. Enlargement is a policy whose sense of direction is openly contested. At the same time, there is no credible alternative to EUEuropean Union enlargement in the Balkans, and a fair accession process remains the most promising channel to support reforms in all candidate countries. In trade policy, the EUEuropean Union still needs to find effective ways to manage tensions that may arise between trade and non-trade objectives. And cyber and counter-terrorism policies need to find a sustainable balance between freedom and security, while remaining committed to both.

Flexibility: As the largest global combined donor, the EUEuropean Union is a leader in development cooperation and humanitarian assistance. But insufficient flexibility reduces the effectiveness of aid on the ground. Likewise, in counter-terrorism, implementation is hampered by heavy procedural requirements.

Leverage: In trade and development policy, the EUEuropean Union potentially wields significant power. Yet, the EU’s declining economic dynamism, the high demands it makes on its trading partners, and what it is willing to offer may be hampering its leverage. Likewise, sanctions hinge on economic strength and the extent to which the EUEuropean Union can embed its efforts within a wider multilateral framework. Leverage is a challenge also within the European Neighbourhood Policy, particularly when it comes to neighbours that have little interest in endorsing EUEuropean Union standards.

Coordination: In diplomacy, a number of initiatives by various groups of Member States have complemented efforts made within CFSP: if well-coordinated, these can make our collective action more effective. In development policy, greater coordination with Member States’ own policies will increase impact, but in this as well as other policy areas better implementation requires overcoming the fragmentation of financial instruments both across Commission services and between the EUEuropean Union and the Member States. In the cyber domain, Member State buy-into a common EUEuropean Union approach is still limited, and coordination both among EUEuropean Union institutions and across the public-private divide is insufficient. Unlike in climate policy, in external energy policy the EUEuropean Union is too often unable to speak and act with one voice, thus facilitating divide-andrule efforts by some supplier countries.

Capabilities: In the field of migration, mobility partnerships and visa facilitation remain underexploited. In light of mounting migration challenges, the EU’s capabilities need to be strengthened by assigning additional resources to its Agencies and by integrating the external and internal dimensions of migration management, as well as by tackling the root causes of the phenomenon in the long-term. In security and defence, CSDP has developed from scratch since 2000 and its modus operandi in partnership with international and regional organisations works well. Yet it still faces difficulties in force generation and access to early and common financing, enablers, intelligence and logistics. The Battle Groups have never been deployed and the Lisbon Treaty’s Article 44 has never been implemented. Defence budgets have been slashed in an uncoordinated and uneven manner, with spending on R&T taking the greatest toll. While the EUEuropean Union is not a military alliance, it cannot ignore the ‘D’ in its CSDP.

The case for joined up EUEuropean Union external action

CSDP pioneered the “comprehensive approach”, more relevant today than a decade ago. A joined-up approach is now needed not only in external conflicts and crises, but in all aspects of the EU’s role in the world. This puts a premium on various actors and instruments of EUEuropean Union external action coming together to work in synergy. Vertical and horizontal silos hamper the EU’s potential global role. And in a world of mounting challenges and opportunities this is a luxury we cannot afford.

In a more connected, contested and complex world, we need a clear sense of direction. We need to agree on our priorities, our goals and the means required to achieve them. We need a common, comprehensive and consistent EUEuropean Union global strategy


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