Europe faces an increasingly unstable and dangerous neighbourhood. The continuing war in Syria, a humanitarian crisis in the region and the weakening of state structures have created a combustible environment, which has contributed to the refugee and migration crisis and the rise of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Meanwhile, the conflict in eastern Ukraine appears to have become frozen, and relations with Russia are dominated by sanctions. In such a moment of uncertainty and upheaval, the discipline of developing a new strategy is welcome.
First and foremost, a new EU foreign and security strategy must be underpinned by the recognition that the driving force in foreign policy is the Member States: it must provide the overarching framework for how Member States can act more collectively, and offer them the political framework to act within and through the EU.
A new strategy for the EU must undertake a forthright process of prioritisation, agreed by the Member States. It should set out where the EU should act, and take into account what means it has at its disposal. It must be driven by a sober assessment of the risks facing the Union, its security interests therein and a clear-sighted analysis of the resources the Union can bring to bear.
Such prioritisation must encompass a frank reappraisal of the EU’s international role. The EU has global interests—economic, climate change, the multilateral order—and must therefore have a global vision, and policy to support that vision. On the other hand, the EU is not a global security provider. In the foreseeable future, the most direct threats to the Union will stem from the instability and insecurity in the European neighbourhood and its periphery. We recommend strongly that a new strategy should focus on formulating a foreign and security policy for the wider neighbourhood.
To that end, the Union needs urgently to reassess its policies towards key countries in the neighbourhood, notably Russia and Turkey. We recommend that the EU and Member States should pursue a dual-track policy to Russia: this should encompass a coherent and credible response to Russian breaches of international law, while keeping open the potential for co-operation and dialogue on areas of shared interest. We find that the EU has not demonstrated a credible commitment to Turkey’s accession, but nor has it defined an alternative relationship. We recommend that the EU should review the relationship on the basis of first principles, and set the relationship on a strategic footing.
The strategy must also rebalance towards a more pragmatic promotion of values outside the Union. We do not recommend that the EU should pursue a purely transactional policy—such an approach would be unpalatable to many European citizens. We recommend that a reform agenda that promotes good governance, economic reform and judicial reform within partner countries is one that would support the Union’s security, and could assist the citizens of those countries to secure their political rights and improve their material conditions. The EU’s values are a component of its power, and underpin the pursuit of its foreign policy objectives. Member States should, therefore, endeavour to exemplify the EU’s values.
The EU must also improve the execution of its foreign policy. We find the option of ad hoc groups very promising. They offer Member States a flexible format which could allow for ambitious and agile action. The new strategy should consider what logistical support such groups might require, and the mechanisms to ensure that ad hoc groups can remain integrated with the EU.
Member States should use the instruments of the Commission more effectively. They are a comparative advantage in international affairs. The strategy should align the political priorities agreed by the Member States with the instruments of the Commission. It should also ensure that Commission instruments are deployed strategically, in areas of proven need and impact.
In a more threatening geopolitical context, the wariness of Member States to underpin their foreign policy with legitimate and proportionate military means has undermined the Union as a foreign policy actor. The Union has a challenge here: the demilitarisation of some Member States, due to declining defence spending and the lack of effective co-operation mechanisms between the EU and NATO, has reduced the chances of the Union developing an effective military deterrent capability. Addressing the strategic culture of the EU is beyond the scope of the strategy, but small steps to foster closer working relations and promote cultural convergence between the EU and NATO would be helpful.
We are convinced that, while Union faces daunting challenges, it also possesses formidable strengths. There have been two recent notable successes: economic sanctions on Moscow convincingly deterred further Russian aggression in the eastern neighbourhood, and the actions of the EU and its Member States were critical in securing a nuclear deal with Iran. When the Union speaks with one voice and wields its entire arsenal of foreign policy instruments, it can be an uncommon and exceptional actor.