The following op-ed from DOC CEO Jean-Christophe Bas was originally published in French in L’Opinion, a leading French daily, and received significant media attention across Europe, including the ‘State of the Union’ broadcast by Euronews.
The EU must avoid geopolitical “mixed messaging” and focus on its founding principle of multilateralism.
The current world order was already at a crossroads prior to the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. Beyond its epidemiological implications Covid-19 will usher in a period of dramatic political and societal change. At the very least, it adds an unanticipated dimension to the environment in which the new EU Commission was proposing to position itself as an equal geopolitical player to the US, China and Russia. In this rapidly evolving and unpredictable global context, the Dialogue of Civilizations (DOC) Research Institute offers the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy some suggestions for the formulation of a specifically European strategic tack.
The EU must be an intellectual leader here. It is still in a position to mitigate the current trend of populist leaders
In line with the DOC’s core mission of fostering dialogue across cultural and civilisational boundaries the letter cautions against the pursuit of a strictly geopolitical strategy as espoused by Josep Borrell in his recent op-ed for Project Syndicate. This approach would stray intellectually and practically from the direction the EU has strongly engaged in since its inception, namely collective action problem solving at the international level through multilateral institutions. Moreover, the eye of a storm of a pandemic is not the time to weaken collective action problem solving at the global level.
The EU must be an intellectual leader here. It is still in a position to mitigate the current trend of populist leaders, tragically boosted by Covid-19, to mobilise nationalist narratives. By reasserting the core values upon which the European project was formed, and thus avoiding an ambiguous global stance, the EU can help stem the tide of narcissistic strongmen leaders acting unilaterally. The goal should be geo-sustainability through multilateral cooperation, not geopolitics driven by nationalist assumptions of closure to the wider world. In that vein, the DOC articulates seven propositions, which can guide EU action in an increasingly competitive global atmosphere.
A future European Defence initiative and a commitment to NATO need not be mutually exclusive
In keeping with the focus of key European leaders at the recent Munich Security Conference the EU should of course pursue other avenues of defence, while seeking to preserve US security partnership. The transatlantic relationship is under increasing strain, with regard to key issues: the future of NATO, strategy towards Iran, trade and protectionism, the importance of international institutions, and global environmental policy. A future European Defence initiative and a commitment to NATO need not be mutually exclusive, while the possibility of engaging Russia, on EU terms should be pursued.
In the absence of US and/or Chinese leadership, the EU must take a leading role in the reform and (re)-strengthening of multilateralism. Multilateralism lies at the heart of the EU project. The EU must be steadfast in its continued support of a “rules-based” multilateral order. In seeking to strengthen it, the EU must adapt to the growing hybridity in international relations. Non-state actors need to be engaged, while reform of some existing tired institutional practices must take place. The current global situation makes this more important now than ever.
The strengthening of inter-regional relationships, particularly in its neighbourhood, will be of benefit to the EU. In a world drifting away from multilateralism, inter-regional relations will become increasingly important. This is of particular relevance to the EU’s relationships with Eurasia, East Asia, the MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa. The concept of Eurasia should be taken seriously by Europe while embracing a more principled, pragmatic, ‘post-colonial’ approach to its future relationship with Africa. As for China, while resisting the US “cold war” approach displayed at the Munich Security Conference the EU should nevertheless adopt a policy of cautious and strategic accommodation.
The EU needs to take a, if not the, lead in combating climate change. A holistic approach to climate policy must be adopted. It is not simply an internal affair, but also one that will change the EU’s external policy and relations with external partners. Moreover, it will need to develop policies to decouple economic growth from resource depletion and environmental degradation.
A diplomatic but strong competition policy will be a crucial instrument of external relations, and statement of European digital sovereignty, over the next five years
Dealing with digitalisation and digital disruption must be an EU priority. This too is a foreign policy and international relations question as much as a question for EU internal resolution. The need and desire of states to preserve their “information sovereignty” is a major policy issue, as questions of sovereignty and jurisdiction continue to compete more fiercely with freedom and openness. More generally, a diplomatic but strong competition policy will be a crucial instrument of external relations, and statement of European digital sovereignty, over the next five years. The manner in which coronavirus will change communications both globally and nationally makes it all the more important to minimise digitalisation’s bads and maximise its goods.
The EU must not follow the US in seeking a major decoupling in the manufacturing and industrial sectors. Integrated supply chains are still one of our best hopes for avoiding a new Cold War and are also singularly important to ensure the delivery of medical supplies at this time. Europe lacks the clout to contest US, Chinese or Sino-Russian politico-strategic power. But the EU is not alone in its opposition to US protectionist recklessness. It will find support in East Asia, Latin America, Oceania and Africa.
The EU needs to acknowledge that for many people in Europe migration is the major policy challenge. Therefore, coherent, humane and fair policy is needed. To do this Brussels must deal resolutely with the principal opponents to a sensible migration policy—populists and nationalists. Conflict is moving in a nationalist cross-cultural civilisational direction. Nationalist views of European values focus less on issues of freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights than on racial and ethnic identity politics and a privileged status for Judaism and Christianity. The EU can counter this nationalist “occidentalism” by emphasising a collective European identity that nevertheless embraces diversity. The temporary closing of borders to combat Covid-19 must not be normalised.
In order for the European Commission to avoid an ambiguous global strategy, the geopolitical road needs to be resisted in favour of a geo-sustainable strategic agenda that offers innovative ways to deal with climate change, digital disruption and migration, that strengthens multilateralism, interregional and intercultural relations and open, non-protectionist trade against the contemporary nationalist transactional tide.
The letter was supported by the following signatories:
- Jean-Christophe Bas, CEO, Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute, Berlin, Germany
- Emmanuel Dupuy, President, Institute for European Perspective & Security
- Professor Piotr Dutkiewicz, Visiting Professor, Warsaw University, Centre for European and Regional Studies, Poland
- Michael Frendo, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Malta
- Professor Scherto Gill, Research Fellow at the Guerrand-Hermes Foundation for Peace
- Emeritus Professor Richard Higgott, Institute for European Studies, Brussels, Belgium
- Shada Islam, Director of Europe and Geopolitics, Friends of Europe, Brussels, Belgium
- Professor Elena Korosteleva, Head of COMPASS project, University of Kent, UK
- Professor Luk Van Langenhove, Institute for European Studies, Brussels, Belgium
- Professor Adrian Pabst, University of Kent, UK
- Pascal Petit, Director of CNRS Economic Research at University of Paris, France
- Professor Peter Schulze, University of Göttingen, Germany
- Walter Schwimmer, former Secretary General of the Council of Europe
- Rupert Graf Strachwitz, CEO, Maecenata Foundation, Berlin
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