EGMONT IN THE PRESS - Source : Global Europe
04 March 2010

Key partners and shared interests.
The European convoy needs strategic guidance for fleet action

By Sven Biscop

Thursday, 4 March 2010

In his recent speech at the College of Europe, Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council, likened the EU to a convoy of 27 ships, each flying both the national and the EU flag. If the image is apt, some Member States’ ship seems to be a submarine though, for it is not always evident that all Member States are part of the European convoy. Even a submarine is useful however, provided that it does not go off on its own initiative, but acts in coordination with the rest of the fleet, coordination to be provided by the Admiral – or President.

That, as Van Rompuy rightly emphasized, requires a common strategic vision. Van Rompuy simultaneously stressed the role of the European Council in generating this strategy. Again, he probably is right that in the intergovernmental arena which the CFSP still is only the Heads of State and Government can create the political drive that is required to force the Foreign and Defence Ministers of the 27 into – joint – action. It was the European Council that adopted the first European Security Strategy (ESS) in 2003; it should now be the European Council that, with the input of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Baroness Ashton, completes the ESS by defining more concrete objectives in the priority areas that are key to Europe’s position in the world. The resulting “sub-strategies” will be the mandate for the Foreign Affairs Council, chaired by Baroness Ashton.

Van Rompuy himself already mentioned one key area: to review and strengthen our relationship with key partners – the US, Canada, Japan and the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China). As Van Rompuy stated, the EU needs more than conviction to win them over to its proposals; it needs to reflect what it can do together with them. The EU has so-called strategic partnerships with all of these, but they are often void of content and lacking in coordination. It is never quite clear who on the EU side is driving these partnerships. A European Council strategy to guide a really strategic use of the partnerships would therefore be more than welcome.

The EU could identify shared interests with each strategic partner, in order to establish in a number of priority policy areas (climate, energy, non-proliferation…) effective practical cooperation with those partners that share EU objectives in that specific domain. Overlapping clusters will emerge, with the EU cooperating with certain strategic partners on one issue, and with partly the same, partly others on another issue. Gradually, these forms of cooperation can be strengthened, institutionalized and linked up to the permanent multilateral institutions, notably the UN. Such a pragmatic approach of coalition-building and cooperation, on very specific issues to start with, can expand into broader areas, including with regard to values. If e.g. it is unlikely that we will see China at the forefront of democracy promotion, it has an economic interest in promoting the rule of law, if only to ensure that the mining concessions that it acquires are not simultaneously offered to someone else. Through cooperation on shared objectives, the EU can gradually and consensually convince the other global actors of the validity of our policies and values.

Other areas as well demand a more strategic view from the European Council. What is the desired end-state of the Neighbourhood Policy? Can only democracy create a consensual value-based community and thus safeguard our interests, or will democratization create such upheaval that our interests would be damaged? Only when our interests and red lines are clear can a true strategic partnership with Russia be pursued. What is the future of enlargement? A successful instrument so far, further enlargement is determining for relations with Russia and for the geopolitical position of the EU – and cannot proceed therefore without strategic debate.

Further, before making room for the BRICs, the EU must sharpen its view about the desired multilateral architecture, reconciling reform with increased effectiveness of EU representation. Last but not least, EU strategic thinking about conflict resolution and crisis management remains weak. A CSDP sub-strategy should define Europe’s ambition as a security actor. Regardless of whether in a specific case Europeans deploy under the flag of CSDP, NATO or the UN: which types of operations must European forces be capable of, which priority regions and scenarios require intervention, and which is the scale of the effort to be devoted to these priorities?

Once the European Council defines strategic guidelines on all of these issues, coordinated fleet action will be possible.

Sven Biscop is Director of the Security & Global Governance Programme at Egmont – The Royal Institute for International Relations in Brussels, and Visiting Professor at the College of Europe in Bruges and at Ghent University.