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Perspectives on European Foreign Policy in the Context of Current EU-Russia Relations

A NORTIA workshop

1 Day Workshop in Leiden University, Netherlands (Jan 2019)

EU Foreign Policy 10 Years after Lisbon | Helene Sjursen

Professor Sjursen talks about the increased “normative uncertainty” in the current global context that the EU is struggling with, next to the often discussed increasing instability and increasing unpredictability: “there is uncertainty about the rules of the game, rules that were taken for granted seem by many actors not to be taken for granted anymore. What does that mean for foreign policy? [..] We seem to be observing the need to re-draw the normative anatomy of world order.“ The main challenge of the EU in foreign policy, according to Professor Sjursen, is understanding the normative challenge to the liberal world order, which is fundamentally different from positioning oneself in a game for power. We need to better understand how the EU can deal with the normative challenge and how to reconsider what can and what should be rescued in what we refer to as the liberal order, and what should be reformed.

But can the EU now do something in 2019 that it could not do in 2009? Professor Sjursen suggests that one might answer “yes” straight away if one looks at institutional capacity. With the EEAS, a more active and more visible High Representative, the EU is now more like an actor that can take well informed decisions and execute those decisions. But in regard of the idea of normative uncertainty the assessment is slightly different in the sense that one thing is to be a credible actor based on another thing is to be considered a legitimate actor in the global system. “And in order to get things done, actors probably need more than resources, they also need legitimacy”. And there the ongoing crises in Europe “reduce the ability of the EU to be perceived as a credible actor that promotes liberal values in the global system”.

EU Foreign Policy 10 Years after Lisbon | Tony Van Der Togt

Tony van der Togt

Tony van der Togt compares his experience with foreign policy making in the early 2000s with what the EU is capable to do now, and his reflections focus on three observations:

1. There is increasing soul-searching happening in many European capitals and beyond to the questions “Are we [Europeans] increasingly an exception”? but also “is the US still a partner”? The liberal rules-based order is indeed under threat and challenged from different sides, and many partners also wonder if the US is still a partner. What is “new” for the EU in all of this, is that for a long time Europeans could take it for granted that the others would automatically follow our example. The “EU was like the city on the hill”. This is now gone. The idea of a value-based foreign policy is increasingly challenged.

2. In principle, the EU is now much better equipped nowadays and institutionally organised. The EU can be more coordinated and more strategic.

3. But in practice, it is more complicated when one looks at the commitment of member states. To take the EU-Russia relations, there was at least a strategy in 2000. It was difficult to get all member states on board and it was a very general statement, but we had at least a common stance. And keeping this “unity in purpose, and unity in action” is now more difficult for the EU, also because the commitment of member states was guaranteed during the rotating presidency in foreign policy, and that we lost.

EU Foreign Policy 10 Years after Lisbon | Nick Wright

Dr Nick Wright takes an institutional perspective and assesses that despite the current imperfections European foreign policy cooperation is still the best example of successful multilateralism in action. It is about the protection of a rules-based system and convincing others of the added value of such a system. In doing so, the EU still struggles with various internal challenges, which are not necessarily new but remain salient in understanding the EU´s foreign policy actions. Dr Wright elaborates on following three main challenges

1. The continuing institutional tensions that arise between different centres of foreign policy power and decision-making, especially with the increasing involvement of the European Council

2. The increased internal contestation between member states, the questioned salience of European foreign policy cooperation, and the more openly visible fragmentation that challenges the finding of common positions

3. Brexit and the visible apathy and lack of political will to find a compromise

Read more about Nick Wright´s assessment of the role of member states in his most recent monograph “The EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy in France, Germany and the UK: Co-operation, Co-optation and Competition”.