#EUGlobalStrategy 2016: A wider scope beyond security and closer to citizens?

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      The new EU global strategy will guide European external action for the best part of a decade. It is clear what is needed in Federica Mogherini’s public consultation is a holistic multi-disciplinary approach. While security will loom large – it must also be underpinned by a comprehensive approach to development. Annual conferences of the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) are in general an extremely useful barometer of the ongoing debates in the European foreign policy and security think tank community. They have impact on the rest of EU external action not least because the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy is usually present, and this year Federica Mogherini made the closing speech. This year’s conference opened the 6 month-long consultation process for the preparation of a new #EUGlobalstrategy expected to replace the 2003 European Security Strategy. It will shape European global action for the best part of a decade, although it would be revised after 5 or 7 years. Unlike the shaping of previous strategies, this consultation will have a strong connection to European citizens through two opinion polls.

      Federica Mogherini launches the EU Global Strategy

      Courtesy of the European External Action Service (EEAS)

      This conference then may be as good a starting point as any, and an interesting bellwether of where the thinking (and the debate) is headed. So, among many other topics, the conference touched upon four key debates of interest for those working on EU external action from a development perspective. (1) Values & interests Participants kept getting back to the question of the trade-off between values and interests. The main issue was whether the EU and its Member States should review the way they approach their “neighbourhood” – should it be more pragmatic? Less patronising? More realistic? Less ambitious? It was quite striking that participants could hardly link these points to public diplomacy and to external cultural relations. It was Mogherini, in her closing speech, who proved to be the most articulate speaker on this matter, stating that public diplomacy and external cultural relations go hand in hand and that Europeans have to be in listening mode with the world by exploiting Europe’s own cultural diversity. (2) ‘Security first’ VS ‘Comprehensiveness’ The challenge for EUISS conference this year was to combine two agendas - on the one hand inviting the usual suspects from the European community of “diplomacy and strategic studies” and on the other hand designing an agenda that addresses far broader topics than this community usually deals with (i.e. a “global” strategy). The security community was making the case for a strong security component in the strategy, fearing it would be underlooked. We heard the frustration of defence experts who acknowledged a lack of progress in the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). We heard EU Member States representatives worrying about the threat from Russia and instability in Europe’s wide “southern periphery”. Indeed, calls for a white book on defence did re-emerge. The rest of the participants, including defence officials like the Director General of EU Military Staff, acknowledged the need to have a joined-up, comprehensive and global approach to threats and interests. However, debates did not really go further than that and time was lacking to discuss what an integrated approach would actually mean in practice. Nick Witney for instance, as former head of the European Defence Agency, stated that the first priority for the strategy in the next 5 years is Africa’s demographic boom. Unfortunately, he did not really have time to say how this should be addressed. (3) Member States VS EU institutions There was a lot of talk about the process behind the strategy, which hints at intense exchanges between EU institutions - the office of the High Representative, the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Council and the European Commission - and Member States. To avoid ending up with a disappointing strategy that expresses a ‘lowest common denominator’ of European ambition at the end of a lengthy Council meeting, Mogherini’s wide consultation process consists of achieving “a document that everybody owns but nobody negotiates”. However, Member States clearly stated their desire to control the process - hence their role in the organisation of many of the consultations upcoming conferences and seminars - as sovereign powers with professional diplomatic corps staffed by professional diplomats, experienced hands in crisis management and realistic, politically aware policy makers. Alain Le Roy, Secretary General of the EEAS, clearly made the point that the strategy will be “an umbrella document” under which many other strategic framework papers and sub-strategies will be drafted and used to implement the global strategy. The closing session of the first day of the EUIIS conference looked closely at questions about the EU institutions themselves. In a nutshell, for these institutions to tackle the security-development nexus, development cooperation experts also matter. This was the interesting summation of Klaus Rudischhauser as Deputy Director General of the European Commission Directorate for International Cooperation and Development. (4) Revisiting existing concepts Participants timidly reopened a number of debates and questioned concepts that have so far been taken for granted, such as ‘strategic partnerships’. There will be some new thinking on these, and what they mean for the strategy in practice. A Dutch diplomat smartly asked whether Google would also be considered as a strategic partner in the future. This raised questions related to policy coherence (a term absent during both days of the conference) and to the involvement of experts from outside the diplomatic and security think tank community in the consultation process. In a breakout session covering the “South” (in parallel to one on “the East”), Nicholas Westcott (who now heads the Middle East and North Africa Directorate of the EEAS) reminded everyone that there is actually a strategy for Africa and several regional strategies for the African continent. This was a relevant point since most of the other speakers complained about the lack of an EU strategy for the Middle East.

      “Security is the fourth wheel, not the fifth one. Unless we boost it, we can’t drive towards solutions”

      Nicholas Westcott, EEAS

      Westcott warned the audience against paternalism and he said clearly that Europeans had failed to come up with a real crisis management and post-conflict response in Libya. While he underlined the important role of socioeconomic dynamics and government accountability as drivers of stability of insecurity, all the speakers agreed that with or without a European intervention in Libya, migration flows would have evolved in the same way. Many participants asked questions about the link between the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and other EU policies like trade, energy and support to democracy. Unfortunately, there was no genuine multi-disciplinary response to these questions. Let’s hope the next consultation events in the coming months will provide opportunities to gather experts with diverse backgrounds and expertise to tackle the challenge of a whole-of-EU approach to a rapidly changing global environment. The views expressed here are those of the author, and not necessarily those of ECDPM In addition to structural support by ECDPM’s institutional partners Austria, Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland, this article also benefits from funding from the Department for International Development (DFID), United Kingdom.    
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