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What Role for a Single European Voice in the International Scenario?

European Common Foreign and Security Policy

Source: Flickr

On December 9th 2021, our association had the pleasure to welcome Dr. Federico Castiglioni and Prof. Richard G. Whitman to our online event: ‘European Common Foreign And Security Policy: What role for a single European voice in the International Scenario?’. Dr. Federico Castiglioni is a researcher working in the programme “EU, politics and institutions” at the IAI and has also worked at the EU Parliament as MEP policy advisor. Professor Richard G. Whitman is an associate fellow of the Europe Programme, director of the Global Europe Center and Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. The event was moderated by Professor Catherine de Vries who is Dean for Diversity & Inclusion and Professor of Political Science at Bocconi University.

The discussion was opened by Mr. Whitman who highlighted that ‘the problem with European foreign policy isn’t that it’s too little but that it’s too much’ because of the EU's considerable complexity regarding its role in international relations. In fact, the EU has been successful in recovering from the cold war but is still facing some problems with foreign relations since it hasn’t efficiently solved some security threats. More specifically, according to Mr. Whitman, and taking into consideration some unsettled challenges, there are three large powers on the EU's door: Russia, Turkey and the UK.

But what is EU foreign and security policy? Having a foreign and security policy is having to think of when the EU has to use its forces both to preserve its own sovereignty and integrity and to deal with threats or conflicts beyond its boundaries, particularly in its neighbourhood. The ‘operating system’ of the policy is compromised by the institutions and decision-making agents, as well as treaties. However, there are three problems with foreign and security policy, as named by Mr. Whitman ‘the 3 Ls’: A) Leadership: there are smart leaders but they are not empowered enough to take forward an EU policy and exercise leadership on behalf of all 27 member states. B) Lego problem: there are plenty of assets to exploit but it’s very complex to organize and deploy them so as to tap in the capabilities of member states. For instance, the EU spends a lot on defence, but is still facing problems due to organizational issues. C) Legitimation: There is difficulty in putting collective diplomatic and military capabilities in place.

Afterwards, Mr. Castiglioni discussed the possibility of an EU army. More analytically, there will be units belonging to member states which will respond to a single EU quarter in order to execute foreign policy in a more practical way. In fact, there are two projects, the past EU Battlegroup (2005) and the EU defence community, which have not been taken advantage of and that can be used for the formulation of the EU army. Additionally, the EU army will contribute to the acceleration of the security and defence policy, since after the cold war member states are more willing to have a common voice and mark their presence on a global stage.

Mr.Castiglioni also analyzed Federica Mogherini’s Global Strategy (2016) regarding the Juncker Commission. This strategy acts along three pillars in order to achieve EU’s strategic autonomy from the US and China:

However, one common defence policy will have many challenges across several sectors:

A) Industrial: there will be rivalry between national suppliers, the EDF will be restrained and the EU will try to secure its own industrial base by having a reliable network of local suppliers, but many companies will have their headquarters in the EU and their factories abroad. Thus, a question mark will be formed with regards to whether there will be a real EU industrial base.

B) Political: it needs to be resolved whether there is going to be a single army or an alliance. The relationship with NATO also needs to be defined, while some budgetary issues may arise.

C) Operative: there are no air nor maritime assets, the chain of command is still undefined (EUMS/EUMC) and interoperability is questionable.

Another fundamental reason why the conundrum is political is that the EU lacks a real geopolitical compass. In fact, member states are not committed to battlegroups since each nation pays for its men instead of the EU covering these expenditures. There are also some external actors, such as NATO, Turkey, US and the UK-France Lancaster House, that exert pressure on the EU's common defence policy. Last but not least, the EU has the tendency to create and forget (e.g. E12, Finabel) which is an obstacle to the effective formulation and execution of policies.

Afterwards, the question that had been raised was whether the EU needs the army to save money or its reputation. An interesting point that was made was that the EU has been investing more in defence than the US but with less efficiency, as it can be seen from the large technological gap.

Therefore, the EU needs a practical common foreign and security policy that will pursue practical geopolitical ambitions and that will help it become autonomous from US’ and China’s raw materials and technology. In fact, it is essential to deploy previous plans and be careful of ‘hot pots’ such as Ukraine, the Mediterranean and North West Africa.

Finally, Professor de Vries introduced the Q&A session with a question directed to Mr. Whitman’s views on the role of NATO in EU foreign policy. In his answer, he mentioned that the relationship with the US and China is unavoidable, pointing out that the EU has focused on military security so much that it hasn’t considered many other issues. For instance, it needs to be cautious with its negotiations with China since the US has a primary role within NATO and, thus, conflict may arise. Afterwards, he highlighted the importance of the UK's future position in the EU and of Germany’s reaction to it in order to understand the impact on the relationships within NATO.

Three other questions were raised from the audience regarding the Franco-German coalition and EU’s internal disagreement issues. Firstly, Dr. Castiglioni confirmed that there is still a question mark on whether there will be a multi-speed or a united Europe taking into consideration the Franco-German duo pushing towards the adoption of certain policies. Secondly, the possibility of an EU-led coalition, with France and Germany at its core, was discussed as an alternative to NATO but it was mentioned that strategic autonomy might fail or move at a very slow pace. Last but not least, ways of overcoming the constant internal disagreements on Europe’s interests were examined, proposing either the negotiation of all member states to agree on a single mission or the reliance on the command and control structure of the EU with representatives becoming politicians who are accountable for their actions.

We would like to thank all our guests and speakers for their participation and interest in this exciting event. In particular, we would like to thank Dr. Federico Castiglioni and Prof. Richard G. Whitman for their valuable contributions and Prof. Catherine de Vries for the moderation.


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