• The Five Building Blocks of EU Foreign Policy

    Posted by: Jan Techau October 06, 2015

    What kind of foreign policy player is the European Union? Can one even still ask that question without everybody’s eyes glazing over? Is it not the quintessential Brussels bubble question, confirming that EU geeks are more interested in concepts and labels than outcomes? Perhaps.

    And yet, against the backdrop of a European neighborhood that is coming apart at the seams, the U.S. strategic refocus on Asia, and a Russia that now defines itself against the West, this question is more pertinent than ever. Behind it lurks the one question that really matters: what do member states actually want the EU to deliver on foreign policy?

    To find an answer to both questions, let’s look for a moment at what kind of foreign policy power the EU could be, but is not.

    First, the EU is no longer a truly transformative power. Enlargement policy, which was the EU’s biggest transformational tool, might still bring a few more Balkans countries into the union but either has been largely mothballed as a strategic instrument or is dysfunctional, as in the case of Turkey.

    The EU’s neighborhood policy, a hugely ambitious scheme to improve the politics and economics of countries on the continent’s southern and eastern edges, has been a spectacular failure. Despite great efforts made and large amounts of money spent, there is now less peace and less freedom in both regions. The exceptions to this pattern are scarce, and the prospects do not look good.

    On top of all that, the EU’s considerable spending on development assistance shares its fate most Western aid efforts in the last 40 years: its impact has been a huge disappointment. Real meaningful change was, for the most part, generated by the liberal market forces of globalization and the exhaustion of conflicting parties, not by technical assistance projects administered by eurocrats.

    Second, if the EU’s record as a transformative power is weak, perhaps the European project itself could serve as a model for others. Yet while elements of EU integration are carefully studied in Asia and Latin America, no other region in the world has emulated the European model of sovereignty bargains that are at the core of the integration project. Today, the EU’s internal weaknesses—laid bare by the euro crisis, lackluster growth, the surge of populist politics, a possible Brexit, and the failures in the field of migration—have severely eroded the EU’s soft power.

    How about hard power, then? It is obvious that the EU is not a strategic military player, and neither are its member states, with the possible exceptions of France and the United Kingdom (both of which are significantly weaker now than they used to be). But where expeditionary capabilities are systematically being depleted, the ability to back up diplomacy and issue security guarantees to third parties is lost as well. As a result, geostrategic influence evaporates and the EU will remain an insignificant military player for some time to come.

    Finally, is the EU an intellectual power? On this front, things look a bit better, but only a bit. Innovation in the fields of democracy promotion, comprehensive security, climate change, and economics tend to come from the United States and now, and more often, from recipient countries of aid themselves. The EU’s idea of “effective multilateralism” as a model for global governance was never more than a slogan and its modernization partnership with Russia remained powerless against the prevailing political culture in Moscow.

    To sum it up: the EU is not much of a powerful foreign policy player at all. Yet there are a few recent exceptions that hint at what kind of player the EU could be. Whenever the EU was successful as strategic entity in world affairs, five factors were invariably in place:

    1. Far-reaching overlap of national interests among the member states;

    2. Bargaining power created by the ability to make attractive offers (such as market access or membership);

    3. Alignment with the United States as a diplomatic and military reserve power;

    4. A strong mandate to take action given to the EU institutions by the member states; and

    5. High-level political support for the institutions from the EU’s national capitals.

    When all five elements are in place, successful EU foreign policy is possible, as was visible in the Iran negotiations, the agreements reached between Serbia and Kosovo, and the speedy creation of a fairly robust sanctions regime against Russia after the annexation of Crimea.

    When these structural preconditions for a strong EU foreign policy are not in place, the EU remains a bystander at best. Unfortunately, this lucky alignment of factors is in place only very rarely and the true nature of the EU remains that of an occasional foreign policy player.

    Those in charge of plotting the EU’s new foreign policy strategy should look out for issues where the five factors above are likely to converge. If these cases are put high on the priority list, a useful document could well emerge. The EU would still be an occasional power. But where there is a visible pattern, there can also emerge a path. It could well be the path to Strategic Europe.


  • Merkel’s Syria Trap

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, October 05, 2015

    Russia’s intervention in Syria will increase the flow of refugees to Europe, putting further pressure on Merkel’s asylum policy.

  • German Reunification: A Job Still Unfinished

    Posted by: John Kornblum Friday, October 02, 2015

    It is Germany’s turn to help the United States understand the realities of power in post–Cold War Europe, rather than the other way around.

  • Europe’s Powerlessness in the Middle East

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, October 01, 2015

    Europe has ceded all influence in its Southern neighborhood, as Russia intervenes in Syria to protect its interests.

  • Judy Asks: Is Russia Back on the World Stage?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, September 30, 2015

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • Erdoğan’s Delicate Visit to Brussels

    Posted by: Marc Pierini Tuesday, September 29, 2015 1

    The Turkish president’s forthcoming trip to the EU institutions comes at a critical time for the international community, for the EU, and for Turkey.

  • Understanding Central Europe’s Opposition to Refugees

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Friday, September 25, 2015

    Experts from the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia explain the positions taken by their governments toward Europe’s refugee crisis.

  • Refugees Could Break Europe’s Comfort Zone

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, September 24, 2015 4

    European governments have a real chance to rescue an EU that never recovered from the end of the Cold War. But which leaders will seize the opportunity?

  • Judy Asks: Will the Refugee Crisis Destroy the EU?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, September 23, 2015 2

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • Alexis Tsipras to the Rescue—Again

    Posted by: Nick Malkoutzis Tuesday, September 22, 2015 1

    The leader of Greece’s left-wing Syriza party has become the country’s only serious political player. But how powerful is Alexis Tsipras now?

  • Central Europeans Speak Out for Refugees

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, September 21, 2015 5

    Europe’s refugee crisis is provoking a much-needed debate in Central and Eastern Europe about identity and memory.

  • Cameron’s Silence and the Fallout of Brexit

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Friday, September 18, 2015 4

    The British government is leading the country inexorably out of the EU. That would have serious geostrategic consequences for Britain, Europe, and Ireland.

  • Scrap NATO’s 2 Percent Target and Go Bold!

    Posted by: Sean Kay Thursday, September 17, 2015 1

    NATO’s 2 percent spending goal is a political basis for driving the debate on burden sharing. But that debate must lead to firmer action if NATO is to remain durable.

  • Judy Asks: Should the West Work With Russia on Syria?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, September 16, 2015 6

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • Reforming the World’s Voice of Reason

    Posted by: Jan Techau Tuesday, September 15, 2015 1

    The BBC is the voice of liberty and democracy around the world. Reforming the corporation is a matter of concern not just for audiences but also for foreign policy pundits.

  • Merkel’s Refugee Crisis

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Monday, September 14, 2015 6

    Germany’s decision to close its borders to stem the flow of refugees is but a stopgap. It also reveals much about Chancellor Angela Merkel’s leadership style.

  • How to Establish a Workable EU Refugee Policy

    Posted by: Marc Pierini Friday, September 11, 2015 3

    As Europe’s refugee crisis continues, EU governments urgently need to find concrete solutions. At stake are questions of rights, dignity, and Europe’s moral stance.

  • Waiting for a New Moldova

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Thursday, September 10, 2015

    A new antigovernment protest movement against rampant corruption in Moldova might finally lead to real change in a politically rotten country.

  • Judy Asks: Can Europe Integrate Millions of Refugees?

    Posted by: Judy Dempsey Wednesday, September 09, 2015 10

    Every week, a selection of leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.

  • A Russian Intervention in Syria?

    Posted by: Jan Techau Tuesday, September 08, 2015 5

    Russian air strikes in defense of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad might be the least bad option in a conflict that offers no promising solutions.


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