THE TOPIC AND THE APPROACH
The “EU as a Global Player” Roundtable was meant to discuss the role of the European Union in the current global scenario from a geopolitical perspective with a special focus on the diplomatic and trade relations of the Union with two of the main global players in the international playground, namely the United States and China.
The opening of China towards the end of the 20th century led to a massive transformation in the international equilibrium which was, since the end of the Second World War, dominated by Western countries, in particular by the United States and the European Union. The arrival of this new challenger was particularly felt by the US, leading to the recent tensions between the Eagle and the Dragon. On the other hand, the European Union, despite the risk of being marginalized in this race, has made its position in the most important international policy areas even firmer.
Therefore, the Roundtable’s objective was to design concrete policy proposals to increase the effectiveness of the EU in the global arena considering three macro-areas of intervention, as presented in the Roundtable Guidelines: the diplomacy area in the framework of the United Nations, the international trade’s one in the context of the World Trade Organization, and lastly the field of environmental measures, which are acquiring more and more importance at the global level to fight the worldwide pressing challenge of climate change.
THE ROUNDTABLE WORKS: THE DISCUSSIONS AND THE POLICY PROPOSALS
Given the Covid-19 pandemic, the Roundtable discussions were held online on the Zoom platform; the event started on Friday the 16th of April and, having learnt from the past edition of the European Youth Debate, the first one delivered completely in a digital fashion, everything went smoothly from a technical point of view. The only problem which at first we Chairs had to solve was the “camera shyness” of some of our Roundtable Members, but with a little encouragement we managed to see all the smiling faces of our diverse group of participants. For sure the online modality solved the issue of distance and gave us the chance to work with young Europeans from all over the Union, in the true spirit of the event.
After the presentation of the Chairs, we started the first real discussion session with the participants which was more of a brainstorming session, in which the content of the Guidelines that was prepared by us and the Research task force was recalled; in this occasion, the participants presented their views and opinions on the points mentioned.
Content-wise, following the Roundtable Guidelines, we started the brainstorming discussion talking about the diplomacy area and the diplomatic relations of the EU in the United Nations framework, reviewing the UN system origins, structure and mandate. We then proceeded discussing the role of the European Union within the UN framework, especially looking at the voting behaviour of the EU in the UN General Assembly to see whether or not the Union acted as a single actor in the UN framework. We noticed that the EU voting behaviour at the UNGA does show high levels of coordination among the Union Member States which demonstrates that the Union indeed acts as a single player at global level. However, this coordination among the Union MSs is not perfect and we soon arrived to the first core issue of the EU in the UN framework (and not only), meaning the convergence of the EU MSs’ interests, which is not always (not to say rarely) achieved and that highly impacts the overall effectiveness of the European Union.
On the second day of debate, the participants were divided in two distinguished breakout rooms, one for the Diplomacy group and one for the Trade and Environment one.
In light of this issue of coordination among the interests of the Union MSs, the Diplomacy Group participants proposed a reform of the External Action Service of the EU whose performance is nowadays impacted by an excessive bureaucratization. This reform would comprehend the creation of a monitoring task force specialized in performance management with the target of lightening the bureaucratic structure of the EEAS and promoting a clearer role definition of the institution’s staff to increase the overall effectiveness of the agency in coordinating the MSs interests firstly at the Union level and then in the global arena. Moreover, the reform of the EEAS would include more foreign policy discussion among the Foreign Affairs Ministers at each European Council meeting, always to improve interests’ coordination, and tailored training programs in order to increase the efficacy of the Temporary Agents’ work that are part of the EEAS staff rotation system, to avoid diplomatic incidents.
Another issue highlighted during the brainstorming session on the first day of discussion in the diplomacy area was related to the UN Security Council and its structure in which its five permanent members - United States, China, Russia, United Kingdom, and France - have the veto power. In the roundtable was therefore discussed the possibility of giving the European Union a seat at the UNSC to give to the Union an actual chance of competing with the other main global players who do have a seat. In front of this scenario, the participants debated that since the European Union is not a country after all, and this is at the same time its strength and weakness, the Union should not have a seat at the UNSC and moreover the participants agreed that the fundamental problem, even if the EU could have the opportunity to vote at the UNSC, would have been its own internal fragmentation and lack of a single voice. Therefore, coming back once again to the core issue of internal fragmentation among the Union MSs and lack of coordination among their interests, the participants resolved to urge the Union to ask to amend and enhance the already “enhanced observer” status of the European Union at the United Nations adding to it the right to directly initiate policy proposals. This way the European Union could be more effective in the UN framework and be an advocate of its core values in the global arena.
Then, remaining in the diplomacy area, but moving a little away from the Roundtable Guidelines path, between the first and the second day the participants discussed the fundamental importance of human rights for the European Union and therefore they came to propose the creation of an Index for Human Rights Compliance within and outside the Union. Moreover, this index should be used in the context of trade relations between the EU and all the other main global players to uplift the human rights standards worldwide. And this latter proposal shows an example of the high level of intersectionality among the macro-areas designed for this Roundtable (Diplomacy, Trade and Environment).
Furthermore, focusing on the relationship between the European Union and the United States and recalling the strive for digitalization shared between the parties and prioritized by the Union, the participants proposed the initiation of a Transatlantic Agreement on Artificial Intelligence to set a global standard in the field, facilitate dialogue and data flow among the parties.
Now addressing the trade and environment macro-areas of discussion, in the Roundtable Guidelines the origins, structure and current dynamics of the World Trade Organization and the EU-US and EU-China trade relations were recalled and analysed. After that details about the history, features and objectives of the Paris Agreement and the main global players’ positions on environmental matters were given, the participants tackled jointly trade and environmental matters following the intersectional perspective that was given in the Guidelines.
In fact, even though in the Paris Agreement there is no specific reference to trade and investment since each participating party has the freedom to decide on how to achieve best the set targets, trade and investment instruments can be used as an indirect means to achieve respective national climate objectives as well as to enforce environmental compliance. Therefore, participants discussed and came to propose a gradually implemented Carbon Border Adjustment mechanism focused on the carbon footprint of the industrial sector to avoid carbon leakage and diversified for raw and necessity goods. Moreover, this mechanism should be differentiated for the least developed countries to avoid unnecessary burdens on their economies. An independent control mechanism should also be implemented to ensure the adherence to the EU standards.
Keeping the focus on the industrial sector, the participants also proposed a Supply Chain Law at European level in order to make companies responsible for systemic ecological and human rights abuses.
Concerning the recent Comprehensive Agreement on Investment between the European Union and China, the participants recommended the prioritization of environmental and human rights considerations in the trade relations with China agreeing that the Union’s core values should always be respected.
THE CHAIRS’ OPINION
Overall, the 2021 EYD was an amazing experience, not only for the participants, but also for us, the Roundtable Chairs, we all had the great opportunity to meet and discuss with (even though just online) fellow young Europeans with the most diverse backgrounds and this was the real value added of such a debate which permitted us to challenge the ideas and opinions we had. Of course we had some technical difficulties, unpredictable last minute organizational changes and loss of someone along the way, but the fact that we managed to overcome them made them growth experiences and they gave us a little grasp of how things work in the real world. Moreover, the entity of the topics discussed and the practicality of the debate made the experience even more real, a real taste of the splendid complexities of the democratic processes that characterise the European institutions. The 2021 EYD proved to be an intense, challenging and inspiring experience which made us all feel like true Europeans shaping an Europe which is all ours.
Picture 2: Pixabay