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EU’s external action in the Conference on the Future of Europe
As mentioned in the joint declaration on the Conference on the Future of Europe, the EU’s external action is one of the main priorities for the Conference. Consequently, before the start of the Conference, a virtual round table has been organized with experts from different backgrounds, seeking to enrich and discuss the past, present, and future of the EU's role in the world. In this roundtable-style lecture, panellists will discuss geopolitical challenges in the post-Covid-19 global environment.
Event reportWRITTEN REPORT ON EU’S EXTERNAL ACTION PANEL DISCUSSION This written report is about the EU's external action in the Conference on the Future of Europe event organised by the UPF Lund association on 29 April 2021 at 18h in the evening. The format of the venue was digital, where participants could take part in the event via Facebook live or Zoom. The event was part of the Conference on the Future of Europe, more specifically under the area of EU in the World-Foreign Policy. For this purpose, a round table was organised with several experts in the field. PARTICIPANTS The person in charge of the moderation of the event was Koert Debeuf. Koert Debeuf is the editor in chief of the EUobserver and a research fellow at the universities of Oxford and Brussels. He is a former advisor to the Belgian prime minister and a representative of ALDE to the Arab world. As speakers we had Cecilia Malmström, Dr. Ilke Toygür and Esteban González Pons. Cecilia is a visiting Professor at the University of Gothenburg. She is a former Member of the European Parliament (1999-2006), Minister of EU Affairs Swedish Government (2006–2010), and Home Affairs (2010-2014) and Trade Commissioner (2014-2019). Ilke Toygür is an analyst of European Affairs at Elcano Royal Institute. Further, she is a CATS Fellow, SWP Berlin & Adjunct Professor at Carlos III University. Lastly, Esteban González Pons is a Member of the European Parliament (2011-ongoing) and Vice-chair of the European People's Party (EPP). He is also a former Member of the Spanish Parliament (2008-2014). PROPOSALS The event was characterised by its plurality of debate and the richness of its ideas. As the topic was holistic in nature, the panellists brought different proposals on different EU foreign policy issues. Some of the common proposals are reflected in this document as follows. PROPOSAL 1: AMBITION TO ACT STRATEGICALLY Changes in the world order follow a dramatic shift towards the emergence of alternative powers, with different political systems and external action strategies. For this, if the EU wants to be a geopolitical actor, it has to act as such. As Pons pointed out, the EU needs to adapt to the most relevant changes in world order to avoid the risk of being left out of the geopolitical board. Across the panel, there was a sense of urgency for the EU to act under a strategy and a common direction. “The sooner the EU realize, the better” was a sentence pronounced by one of the panellists, remarking the urgency of taking a strategic stance on the main challenges the EU faces. As an example, the panellists focused on the EU’s strategy towards China. The EU identifies China as a strategic partner and systemic rival (European Commission, 2019). As Cecilia expressed, there are cooperative areas such as climate or investment partnerships for a level-playing field, but simultaneously, it is essential to push EU’s values and norms, such as Human Rights or labour standards. It was followed by Pons intervention, in which he described China as a successful model of state capitalism with no political freedoms but economic prosperity. For him, it is imperative to combat the narrative for the political system, putting the accent on democratic rights. Furthermore, strategical ambition was also connected to the Neighbourhood policy and its power to make the EU a strategic actor towards its neighbours. PROPOSAL 2: CHANGING THE WAY TO POLICYMAKING: MOVING TO QMV One of the commonly identified reasons why the EU is not as effective in Foreign Policy is its slowness in taking decisions (Bendiek, von Ondarza and Kempin, 2018). The threats that emerge nowadays requires a fast response to tackle them as fast as possible. With a decision-making unanimity required in the Foreign Affairs Council, the current situation makes that the EU takes a long time whenever they have to put the 27 together in a common stance. To address this, some voices, including the European Commission president, Ursula Von der Leyen, in her State of the Union speech, expressed the following: “When Member States say Europe is too slow, I say to them be courageous and finally move to qualified majority voting – at least on human rights and sanctions implementation” (Von Der Leyen, 2020). Qualified majority voting (QMV), in contrast to unanimity, requires two conditions: 55% of member states (15 of 27) and 65% of the EU’s population. Moving to it requires a reform in the Treaties, which is not easy. The panellists agreed on being ambitious in seeking to change the way of policymaking. Although as Cecilia said, being realistic, changing the treaties is complex. However, as Ilke identified, there could be other options reflected on ART.31 TEU (Consolidated version of the Treaty on European Union, 2012), such as constructive abstention, the passerelle clause, or other alternatives. As an intermediate point, Cecilia proposed to explore a move to QMV in specific areas such as sanctions and Human Rights. PROPOSAL 3: REFORM OF MULTILATERAL INSTITUTIONS Throughout the event, the panellists tried to introduce a common message demanding reforms in the 20th-century multilateral institutions designs to tackle 21st-century challenges. Similarly, it is a shared vision with the Commission, as HR/VP Josep Borrell expressed: “We will build stronger, more diverse and inclusive partnerships to lead its modernisation and shape global responses to the challenges of the 21st century, some of which threaten the very existence of humanity” (European Commission, 2021). As Cecilia analysed, there is an important demand in modernising the World Trade Organization (WTO) for an efficient multilateral trade system and the World Health Organization (WHO) to improve coordination mechanisms in the event of future disasters. Moreover, it has to be done together with the US as there are back on track. Associated to this, but adopting a more European-based argument, Pons proposed reforming the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and give the EU a permanent voice. The underlying idea is to try to push for reforms to adapt institutions to the evolving complex reality and persuade that multilateral dynamics are efficient and necessary. In turn, to do so by incorporating the EU as another global actor, giving it a more significant presence, where it can act with a single voice. REFERENCES Bendiek, A., von Ondarza, N. and Kempin, R. (2018). Qualified Majority Voting and Flexible Integration for a More Effective CFSP? [online] www.swp-berlin.org. Available at: https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/publication/qualified-majority-voting-and-flexible-integration-for-a-more-effective-cfsp/. CONSOLIDATED VERSION OF THE TREATY ON EUROPEAN UNION. (2012). [online] Official Journal of the European Union. Available at: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/resource.html?uri=cellar:2bf140bf-a3f8-4ab2-b506-fd71826e6da6.0023.02/DOC_1&format=PDF. European Commission (2019). EU-China -A strategic outlook. [online] . Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/default/files/communication-eu-china-a-strategic-outlook.pdf. European Commission (2021). A renewed multilateralism fit for the 21st century: the EU’s agenda. [online] European Commission. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_622. Von Der Leyen, U. (2020). State of the Union Address by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary. [online] European Commission. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/ov/SPEECH_20_1655.
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