As Europe prepares to go to the polls, the four leading candidates for president of the European Commission share their views on how to improve the EU’s foreign policy toolbox.


Jean-Claude JunckerCandidate for the European People’s Party

There are three main things the EU should do to improve its foreign policy.

First, the EU’s foreign policy high representative should act like a true foreign affairs minister. The Ukraine crisis shows how important it is that Europe is united on foreign policy. There is still a long way to go on this. The EU needs better mechanisms to anticipate events and swiftly identify common responses. The next high representative must combine national and European tools effectively and coordinate with European commissioners for trade, development, humanitarian aid, and the European Neighborhood Policy. These other external relations commissioners should be able to act as deputies for the high representative. As commission president, I will only accept a high representative who has the experience to fill this role to the full.

Second, the EU must be stronger on security and defense. Yes, Europe is chiefly a soft power. But even the strongest soft powers need at least some integrated defense capacities. The Lisbon Treaty provides for the possibility that willing member states can pool their defense capabilities in the form of permanent structured cooperation, engage in joint EU missions in crisis zones, and create synergies on defense procurement. In times of scarce resources, the EU needs to match its ambitions and resources to avoid duplication of programs.

Third, the EU should take a pause from enlargement. Widening the EU has been a historic success. However, the EU now needs to digest the addition of thirteen new member states in the past ten years. Under my commission presidency, ongoing negotiations with candidate countries will of course continue, but no further enlargement will take place over the next five years. Turkey is clearly far from EU membership. A government that blocks Twitter is certainly not ready for EU accession.


Ska KellerCandidate for the European Green Party

I would reject the underlying assumption of this question that EU foreign policy has failed or is in a bad state. This is not true for the Iran nuclear dossier, the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, or other important issues. Rather, the result is mixed.

The Lisbon Treaty stipulates that the EU’s foreign policy high representative, who is also a vice president of the European Commission, chairs the meetings of the 28 foreign ministers and is the EU’s number one politician responsible for foreign policy. This means that the commission has a role to play, but not a central one.

Nevertheless, the commission could do much more to support EU foreign policy. The EU needs to strengthen the “common” aspect of its foreign policy, including within and between institutions. More coordination and cooperation is needed. In the fields of trade and development in particular, the next commission president should make sure that the new high representative coordinates closely with the commissioners for these portfolios. And the next foreign policy high representative has to make full use of the fact that he or she is also a foreign affairs commissioner and, as a vice president of the commission, a member of the college of commissioners.

The EU’s principle of Policy Coherence for Development, which seeks to take development cooperation objectives into account in nondevelopment policies, has to be filled with life. In the past, this has not always been the case, and the EU’s policies toward third countries have been self-contradictory. Especially with regard to peace building, it is crucial that the high representative’s short-term crisis management measures are followed up with medium- and long-term development policies.


Martin SchulzCandidate for the Party of European Socialists

The EU must be a solid global player on today’s international scene. Europe should have a stronger voice when it comes to the advancement of peace and the fight against terrorism, global poverty, and inequality. The EU needs to take the lead with an agenda that supports democracy, human rights, and fundamental freedoms.

I support a strong and coherent foreign policy that combines diplomacy, development, trade, and defense to advance ambitious goals founded on human rights and fundamental values. I believe that greater coordination between the European External Action Service and the European Commission on these topics would give the EU great leverage.

The EU’s responsibility does not stop at its borders. The prospect of membership is one of the most important tools the EU has for encouraging reforms and creating growth, employment, and stability. The EU also needs to further develop the European Neighborhood Policy as an influential instrument for fostering relationships with its neighbors. The developments in Ukraine show that terrible things can quickly evolve in the EU’s immediate neighborhood.

The world today faces more and more conflicts that defy traditional views on war and peace. The situations in Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic were not foreseen by the drafters of the Geneva Conventions on the humanitarian treatment of war. Lines have been blurred, and the world needs new tools to address these challenges.

Finally, the EU has to fight global imbalances and poverty by promoting the principle of Policy Coherence for Development and by making the Millennium Development Goals and the UN’s post-2015 agenda a success.


Guy VerhofstadtCandidate for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Party

The EU’s ability to display unity in external relations would lend credibility to the union as a whole. The foreign policy high representative is in a position to lead the EU in the field of foreign policy and, with a combination of political risk taking and skillful diplomacy, ensure credible results for the EU’s common foreign, security, and defense policies. Those policies should be based on four S’s: strategy, security, soft power, and synergy. The EU stands to benefit from acting together, something that the ongoing crisis in Ukraine has proven. Only with a united and coherent policy can the EU have an influence in its own neighborhood and in the world.

The high representative and the European External Action Service should offer strategic choices to the member states’ foreign policies. In light of recent events, the high representative should initiate a review of the European Security Strategy and pursue the dividends of European cooperation. The EU’s defense policy should set more ambitious goals, and the union must redouble its joint efforts regarding the defense industry.

The simple maxim “United we stand, divided we fall” could not be more true for the European Union of 28 member states. For the EU to be able to withstand the pressures of globalization—from terrorism to climate change to organized crime—the union must seek synergies to ensure its responses are effective and successful.