The EU finds itself at “the most perilous moment since the Second World War”, French president Emanuel Macron said earlier this year. And in May, the EU elections resulted in a political landscape more fragmented than ever. Still, though, despite numerous setbacks in the last two decades, the EU stands as a unique example of international understanding and cooperation in the world. The founding principle of the EU remains to promote peace, and to offer freedom and security beyond national borders.
Yet, more than ever, today this founding principle is under pressure. Not only have the EU’s internal conditions changed, but also the external environment: allies are turning away and new emerging powers are shaking up standards of international cooperation. The EU therefore needs to redefine its role and goals in this challenging, new international context. In order to offer new prospects on how it could develop new strength in foreign affairs, and build on old and new partnerships, the Robert Bosch Academy brought together leading experts from Turkey, Russia, China and the U.S.
Middle East: Finding answers to changing power relations
“No region has been as crucial in the making of the current Middle Eastern state system as Europe”, says Galip Dalay, nonresident fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, Research Director at Al Sharq Forum and future fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy. In the Middle East, Europe was always seen within the U.S.-centric foreign and security policy framework that today no longer exists. In fact, the U.S. is undermining European interests in the region by specific actions like withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, Dalay states. The current situation is compounded by the fact that “the Middle East has been more engaged in transforming the European domestic politics than the other way around”, says Dalay, mentioning terrorism and migration as examples of this shifting of power.
"The EU has an important role in helping shape the domestic political order to prevent new emerging authoritarian regimes."
So what should future relations in the Middle East look like? Due to several crisis and rising mistrust of the people towards their leadership, no country in the Middle East is currently capable of creating a sustainable regional order, Dalay states. This is why, Dalay says, it is crucial to shape the domestic political order of the countries. By engaging with governments as well as civil society, the EU can play a role that other major players cannot.
U.S: From allies to opponents?
“One of the chief American complaints when it comes to the EU is inaction”, states Julianne Smith, former Deputy National Security Advisor to former Vice President Joseph Biden and Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow. Considering the negative view of the current U.S. administration on Europe and the lack of “concrete policy proposals” on behalf of the EU, Smith does not expect major changes in the EU-U.S. relationship. “This is a pity. There is a missed opportunity in tackling important transatlantic challenges together,” naming disinformation campaigns as one example.
"You need a group of leaders to push the European project forward."
On a global scale, international cooperation needs to be fundamentally reconsidered, she believes: “How do we make today’s order more inclusive for those that were not present at the creation 70 years ago – like China – and yet ensure that it adheres to our values? How do we modernize our institutions but hold onto the values that serve as their foundation?” As a best-case example for order, the EU needs to formulate answers to these essential questions – especially if it wants to play a role in shaping the global order. However, Smith stresses that the EU does not have the capacity to protect and preserve the European project nor the ability to focus its policy actions – particularly in light of Brexit and rising populist tendencies. She is convinced that the EU needs strong leaders: “You need leaders or a group of leaders to push the European project forward.” To do so, partners are equally important: “The EU needs partners to the extent that it wants to pursue or protect the existent order or strengthen it. Europe can’t do this alone.”
Russia: Climate change as new opportunity for cooperation between Moscow and Brussels
Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, emphasizes the role of Russia as an important partner for the EU. However, the relationship between the two is ambiguous: “There is a difference between what Russia needs from Europe and what Russia wants from Europe”. On the one hand, Moscow “definitely needs a stronger EU” to become an independent power in the multipolar world Russia envisions. But it also needs a strong partner able to “stand up to U.S. pressure on issues like Nord Stream 2”. On the other hand, as Kortunov explains, “a weaker Europe is a better option” because it confirms the Russian narrative of a failing world order based on liberalism and Western values.
"Climate change can be an opportunity for cooperation because it cuts across political divisions."
Reflecting upon potential areas of cooperation, Andrey Kortunov identifies a chance of Russia-EU rapprochement in the field of environment and climate issues: “I personally consider climate change to be an opportunity because it cuts across political divisions. Such issues can turn your opponents into your partners”. Given a Russian “interest in climate change on the very top level”, as Kurtonov states, Russia’s engagement in the Arctic Council stands as an example for existing modes of Russian cooperation on climate and environmental issues. This kind of cooperation would go beyond standards and norms, and could possibly involve economic policy and civil society, he states.
China: Institutionalizing the bilateral partnership with Europe?
At times of global disruption and challenged traditions within the international community, Huang Jing, distinguished professor and dean of the Institute on National and Regional Studies at Beijing Language and Culture University, emphasizes the idea of strengthening alliances between partners that do not initially seem to share the same principles. Obviously, China and Europe take different stances on trade and human rights issues, but “China and Europe realize substantial common grounds between themselves through the existing international order based on multilateralism”, the Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow explains. “Both realize that – no matter how deep this division between them is – they are willing to manage it through compromise instead of confrontation”. The development of Europe from an American ally into a more independently-acting force has been extremely beneficial for EU-China relations, he believes. In this vein, China hopes that “the EU will play a role as stabilizer in this world of great uncertainty”, because from a Chinese perspective “a stable world is good for a rising power”.
Elaborating future options for a common European-Chinese engagement in international affairs, Jing introduces the idea of institutionalizing the bilateral relationship between the two powers. As “Europe and China do not share the same values on many issues”, the creation of a rule-based institution between the two will define common interests, set up rules, and guarantee the compliance of the regulations. “China is willing to make substantial compromise”, Jing states, as it needs Europe in the current confrontation with the U.S. “A common challenge to all of us is that the so-called international order, which has been established with tremendous efforts in the past 70 years, is under unprecedented challenge. Especially because the challenger is no one else but the creator of this order, the U.S.”
The discussion took place in the framework of the Debate @Academy: “After the European Parliament Vote – International Expectations on the EU in Foreign Affairs” at the Robert Bosch Stiftung in Berlin.
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