Thursday, 12 March 2009

Does Europe have any Common Foreign Policy interests?

In my post on Neutrality and Europe, which was focused mainly on Ireland's policy of neutrality and its compatibility with EU membership, I hinted at what I thought was a basis of a possible section of common European foreign policy interests: the single market. On Grahnlaw's Blog (the post on Sweden's neutrality/non-alignment), in the discussion, Grahnlaw remarked on the tendency of European foreign policies to speak in more pacifist terms when discussing foreign policy, perhaps just to placate a more pacifist public. I think that Europe is probably home to some of the most pacifist populations and perhaps that translates into (truly) more cautious governments (I suppose that depends on both the country you're talking about, and who you're talking too), i.e. governments are actually affected deeply by the public consensus because they are part of that society, though the calculations would end up playing out a bit more differently when cold policy choices need to be made (and these can be between 2 evils).

These attitudes have both historical and contemporary reasons - and these are well known: WWII/history of destructive war, and the contemporary experience of successful multilateralism. However, I think that these attitudes and the policies that come with them are suited to the problems we face in our region (and perhaps even a mature reaction to these problems, though that would be very contentious to argue). While I've said that Europe has probably the most pacifist populations of any region of the world, I think that most people here fall into the multilateralist band - in other words strong diplomacy, and any use of force to be based on some form of the "just war" doctrine.

So what could be the common foreign policy problems that Europe faces? Sadly, this part isn't too radical, as much as I'd like to say something completely original here. It's mostly stability - stability of:

- Eastern Europe (defined here as countries east of the current member states)
- the non-EU former Yugoslav states
- North Africa
- the Middle East, especially Israel, Palestine and Iran
- energy security
- trade security (e.g. security of trade routes such as those passing by the Horn of Africa)

These would be issues for the member states with or without the EU, in a sense, because of geography. But the internal market means that we are a lot closer and our interests are less bound by coincidence: the free movements mean that we've a highly integrated economy which is adversely affected by stability on our frontiers. All member states are more equally exposed and exposed in more similar ways; northwestern member states are no longer quite so insulated. Failed states also mean more and less controlled immigration, more criminality, increased drug trade, etc. The impact of this on a free single market and our societies can be very damaging. The problemd with a lack of energy security can be seen by events over the last few winters in Ukraine and Russia. The Middle East Peace process is an issue for both these reasons and for moral reasons.

The solutions to these problems are mostly the ones which the European publics and the European states have been talking about for so long, albeit backed up with a more robust diplomacy and more willingness to take the initiative. A prime example is the Middle East Process, and indeed the Middle East in general. Due to our close proximity to the region, we suffer more than the US when things go wrong (though obviously we're not the ones that suffer the most) - it's hard to see why Europe isn't more assertive here; sure we have our differences, but we're all agreed on the goal. Even the US agrees with the European position. So why can't we be more robust in promoting the peace process? There needs to be tough love with both sides (a basic outline of some of my thoughts on what could be done here), and Europe has the resources to act effectively here. The US may handle Israel with kid gloves, but we don't have to, and we don't have to wait until the US catches up in foreign policy again.

The basic formulation of multilateralism, robust diplomacy and engagement tailored to each area is a winning formula, if done properly. Inherent in this is the recognition that foreign policy is, in a way, just like domestic policy: force of arms generally is a bad idea, and should only be used in extreme cases - and even in extreme cases, they only provide the breathing space needed for a proper political settlement. A good foreign policy is based on a drive for a legitimate international structure, based on balancing needs and interests encompassing economics, stability, participation and political recognition. In many ways a good foreign policy shapes and sustains a successful region in a way that mirrors that of domestic policy. Obviously there are some extreme cases which don't fall into this theoretical musing of mine: not all interests can be balanced or satisfied. However, I believe that such an approach is the best approach for the problems we currently commonly face.

While the US has been portrayed as a global policeman, I think that Europe is the one with the more policeman-like tendencies. The US is more like a superman, racing off to fix certain problems in special circumstances, while Europe works away in the manner of a policeman (though, still in a limited way and in a limit sphere): policing communities, building nations, acting as an administrator, a trader, etc, etc. The US has elements of this too in its policy, but these aspects are the core of how foreign policy is perceived here, if not consciously (or so it seems to me).


  1. I agree with much of what you say, but the flip side of a 'pacifist' EU is that traditional power politics have not died elsewhere in the world.

    As such, the US might be less of a problem now than some other countries and regions.

    Then we have the problem that robust diplomacy require robust decision making, which the EU member states have been unwilling to provide. Instead, the EU can be paralysed on almost any issue where a member state (or a few) decide to favour their particular interests at the expense of the common good.

  2. Well, I don't think that it's pacifist, though there is probably a bigger constituency for that here than elsewhere. I tried to change it during the post (not very well) to focus on the multilateralist strain of thought.

    As for traditional power politics - maybe you could flesh out more of what you mean? In terms of military relations with 3rd countries for bases, Europe would be in a better position than most great powers due to the oversea territories. Do you mean more bases and power projection around the world?

  3. Javier Solana has written an article about Chad in the Irish Times. Not really much that stands out, but here's the link: