Reports

The EU in the World

3 February 2006


Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, addressed a European Policy Centre Breakfast Policy Briefing on “The EU in the World”. The meeting was chaired by the EPC’s Chief Policy Analyst Antonio Missiroli.

External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the year was only a month old, but the EU’s foreign policy responsibilities had already covered a wide range of issues - the energy crisis over gas supplies, the threatened flu pandemic and the difficulties over the Palestinian election which saw Hamas rise as a political force.

She added that foreign policy embraced many areas: other continuing foreign policy concerns for Europe are the management of globalisation, increased global competition and the setting up of a rules-based world trade order.

To confront these important challenges and prove its worth, the EU has to be able to promote itself on the world stage. That means strengthening its foreign policy arm, something which would have been achieved under the Constitution. “I regret I am not here talking about its implementation,” said Mrs Ferrero-Waldner.

There is now strong public support for the EU in tackling foreign policy challenges, including from terrorism, poverty and migration. And what counts in the mind of citizens are results - in foreign policy as in other areas. Outside the Brussels bubble, the EU’s “institutional architecture” is irrelevant. The Commissioner said she was interested in “the political will, not the methodology”.

To deal with some of these challenges and set out ways of strengthening the EU's position in the world, a Commission “concept paper” is in preparation for this June's European Council in Brussels. It will deal with three key concerns - coherence, effectiveness and visibility.

Coherence

The Commissioner said the EU’s strength resided in the use of “soft power” - diplomatic persuasion and economic encouragement - to bring about positive change. Europe has to match the emergence of China and India as economic powerhouses while playing its part in countering global terrorism and ensuring security of energy supply. The crucial thing is to persuade emerging powers to sign up to the rule of law upon which the present international order is based.

It is equally important to use the EU's external “soft power” on internal policies too - competition law, economic and social policy, environmental issues, health and transport.

Diplomacy requires “carrots as well as sticks”, whether talking about weapons of mass destruction or improving wealth. Soft-power instruments such as financial assistance programmes are essential “carrots”, and the newest foreign policy instrument is the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) - something which is more than just old policies in new clothes.

ENP cannot be imposed on nations, because the impetus for reform has to come from within. Neither is ENP a second-best option to enlargement. It offers close European cooperation to emerging states, setting up individually tailored national action plans.

The coming year will be crucial to the success of ENP, which is still a work in progress. The momentum has to be maintained, with the coherent use of carrots and sticks.

Effectiveness

The Commissioner said she was resolved to take the axe to burdensome institutional procedures, which dog the foreign policy arena as much other areas. “Cutting red tape must extend to external policy procedures as well; procedures which are an obstacle to getting things done quickly,” she said.

The EU’s role in the world is reflected through its staff in more than 120 delegation and representation offices. They already use their excellent local knowledge in establishing good relations, but Mrs Ferrero-Waldner wants to see them reformed to make more effective use of available resources to improve their strategic “outreach”.

A particular focus this year is to establish a more flexible EU response to crisis management, and peace and reconciliation initiatives: the Union has to be able to act quickly, and speedy, effective intervention has to become the rule.

Visibility

Referring to an EPC Working Paper published last November, “Communicating Europe to the world: what public diplomacy for the EU?”, the Commissioner said communicating the EU’s message clearly - not least to its “partner countries” around the world - was increasingly important as the number of information outlets steadily grew.

Not enough people realise that the Union supplies 55% of global overseas aid and that it is the largest single market in the world. There is little knowledge of EU policies and strategies, and what the EU stands for.

The EU’s negative image has to be countered, inside and outside the Union. Not least, there has to be an understanding of why the EU has an external policy, and how it uses soft power to promote human rights and democracy to its 150 partner countries around the world.

A forthcoming “Europe Day” will help inform people about the EU’s strengthened and consolidated global role, from assistance to Iraq and Afghanistan in transition to reinforcing relations with China and India and developing worldwide solidarity.

In foreign policy, as in other policy areas, the EU's job has to be to deliver on issues of concern to citizens and make them understandable. Mrs Ferrero-Waldner quoted former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who said: “To understand the EU, you have to be a genius.”