Every week leading experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the international challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Rosa Balfourhead of the Europe in the World Programme, European Policy Centre
If lazy thinking and lack of ambition were the European Union’s real foreign policy problem, academics and think tankers would have trouble justifying all their work explaining why the EU continues to punch well below its weight after two decades of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. So far the EU has moved forward on foreign policy (and other policies) when pushed by events, external shocks, and friendly facilitators, but also when driven internally by pioneers pushing and persuading others of the need for integration. The others may tag along for fear of being left out, or negotiate some concessions in return to pander to eurosceptic public opinion, or may see the EU as a way of promoting their own national interests. These compromises have prevented the EU from disintegrating.
Today the euro crisis, the Arab Spring, and the United States prodding the EU to take more responsibility should all lead to more commitment. If these are not a big enough push, what is? Internal structural conditions are not favorable. The constituency pushing for a stronger and more united foreign policy is too small, disunited, and lacking ideas. The supranational EU institutions, supposed internal drivers for greater integration, have shown resistance to change, as the first months of the European External Action Service illustrated. Despite incremental integration through treaty reform, the member states have not budged on getting rid of national vetoes in foreign policy. So long as the logic of diversity persists among member states, EU foreign policy will be stuck between good intentions and starker realities. The crisis has cultivated mutual distrust among member states. Stigmatized stereotypes, and austerity gnaws at ambitions and creative thinking. But going backwards is not possible.However slow it may be in confronting the crisis, the EU is not crumbling.
Ambition will not come out of a magician’s hat, it needs the conditions to develop. As an elite-driven process, the EU needs pioneers to develop its ambitions. It has the talent, within its institutions and amongst its citizens, which can be better put to use in thinking about the future. And it has elections, which can change leadership. Pioneers of the near future are welcome.
Jonas Parello-Plesnersenior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations
European foreign policy has been overshadowed by the euro crisis. The Lisbon Treaty was supposed to mark the birth of the EU as a global actor. But this didn't happen.
Instead, the EU has become, as we at the European Council on Foreign Relations noted in our foreign policy Scorecard, a global problem rather than global problem solver.
Thus the bandwidth for foreign policy is simply occupied by economic survival.
The other day, a group of foreign ministers spearheaded by German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle gathered drafting proposals for the future of Europe.
Reading their joint paper, I was surprised to see that even when foreign ministers meet, they also talk about the economy. It is mainly about extending the economic and monetary union. Foreign policy seems relegated to perfunctory statements of the need for it, or it’s treated as a luxury good that Europe would be able to afford again in later and better times.
There is truth in this logic, in that Europe needs to be at least floating above water in economic terms to have foreign policy credibility. A large part of Europe's soft power also hinges on this.
Still, the challenge is that the world moves on without waiting for Europe. Arab uprisings continue (where the EU, after a slow start, has done fairly well), confrontations with Iran loom, and the United States is pivoting to Asia.
Thus, the economic turmoil also becomes a cover-up for the lack of an ambition to see Europe play an active role.
Paradoxically, and in different ways, Switzerland is seen by some in both Germany and in the UK (in the euro debate) as an aspiration: Rich, self-enclosed, and neutral.
Those characteristics could become the epitaph of European foreign policy.
Eugeniusz Smolarsenior fellow at the Polish Institute of International Affairs in Warsaw
Before the war, two elderly Jews travel by rail. After an hour, one of them sighs. One hour later, the second one sighs. After two hours, the first says, “Dear sir, can we stop talking about politics?”
I suggest: Let’s sigh together in silence while thinking in despair about European foreign policy.
Stephen Szaboexecutive director at GMF, Transatlantic Academy
There are certainly Europeans both in Brussels and the member states who have ambition and vision. However, the euro mess, the gloomy economic environment, and the lack of strong political leadership, which are all tied together, have focused attention on domestic politics. There is little political incentive for leaders to spend a great deal of time on foreign policy and those who do are likely to weaken or end their political careers, often being relegated to a political ghetto. At the same time, national leaders remain concerned with keeping as much sovereignty as they can in foreign policy and are reluctant to cede real authority to the EU level.
As in the case of the euro crisis, this is a time, if there ever was one, for more Europe. As Timothy Garton Ash recently pointed out, the main argument for more Europe has been transformed to one of scale. How can a collection of small to medium-sized states matter in a world of continental powers and global finance and commerce? It can’t. The question of ambition is also one of what might be called èlan vital. Does Europe still have the will and dynamism to want to matter beyond its geographic borders? Does it have the confidence to see itself as a model or leader? Does it have values it believes in and believes are worth defending and spreading?
Lazy thinking may be a manifestation of this lack of ambition for it is unlikely that people will give serious time and thought to issues that are not seen as central or amenable to European will. Here I think de Gaulle was wrong. Europeans rather than French, German, or other national leaders will have to be the sources of the new èlan vital of Europe. Otherwise the continent is in danger of falling ever deeper into a self-reinforcing downward spiral of indifference and irrelevance.