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EU global strategy: concrete or irrelevant

, by Juuso Järviniemi

Last summer EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and the European External Action Service she leads were tasked to craft a new global strategy for the European Union. The latest such strategy is from the year 2003. Even though the 2003 strategy was considered successful in its time, it has obviously grown outdated. In a "more complex, more connected, but also more contested world”, it is necessary to craft a new strategy.


The global strategy should identify the common foreign policy interests of EU Member States. It should also list a reasonable number of priorities and lay out the practical steps to be taken in order to reach the goals determined. Combining the views of 28 countries into one document featuring concrete solutions to major issues like the refugee crisis, the war in Ukraine and the political instability of the Middle East and Northern Africa is a great challenge. If the strategy is to have genuine political influence, the EEAS will have to succeed.

Common interests and priorities

Jan Techau, the director of Carnegie Europe, writes that defining the common interests of EU members isn’t simple. According to the treaties, the European Council i.e. heads of states and governments should determine the objectives of EU external policy. However, the European Council is an institution where individual nation-states and their strategies have a strong presence. On the other hand, the European External Action Service, which is in charge of shaping the new strategy, is better positioned to view global affairs from a European perspective.

A briefing paper by the Finnish Institute of International Affairs proposes some priorities and guidelines to be included in the new global strategy. Security and stability in one’s own neighbourhood is paramount to any state actor and therefore Ukraine and the process of democratisation in the neighbourhood of the EU are mentioned in the text.

The FIIA document acknowledges that the EU has a history of cherishing democratic values and it therefore suggests value-based political moves like enhancing support for countries like Tunisia and Ukraine, which are working to develop their democratic structures, and fostering relations to other democratic countries like the United States. As for dictatorships, the briefing paper reminds that red lines have to be drawn in relations to (quasi-)authoritarian regimes like Erdoğan’s Turkey so as to stay true to European values.

The European foreign policy toolbox

The European Union may still not have sufficient military resources of its own. The post-Bataclan mutual defence clause experiment has yet to provide satisfactory results, which highlights the biggest deficiency that the EU has in comparison with independent states. Nevertheless, that is not the whole picture. If its members allow it to, the European Union will have sufficient resources to act efficiently, researchers at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs argue.

The FIIA briefing paper emphasises that the EU could achieve more by adopting a more comprehensive approach to foreign policy. As an example, it describes a possible set of actions to alleviate the refugee crisis – it involves pooling European resources to improve border controls, diplomatic efforts with transit countries, and civil and military operations as well as economic means to tackle the root causes of mass migration. FIIA also notes that trade and enlargement (though Richard Youngs from Carnegie Europe says enlargement is no longer a relevant tool, which he considers “a major problem for EU strategic influence”) are instruments exclusive to the European Union, which will ease reaching common goals if they can be identified.

Pleasant or bold?

Even though there are values or goals that every country in the EU agrees with, shaping an efficient strategy is difficult. For instance, it would be rather audacious of an EU leader to publicly oppose the goal of promoting human rights but there are different positions as to what and how much exactly should be done to that end. In a diverse continent, unanimity concerning issues as delicate as Russia or the Middle East is hard to reach.

Jan Techau from Carnegie Europe states that the new strategy is bound to get a negative reception from some national capitals, partially because not everyone regards the EEAS as an institution with a mandate to undertake such a project. It is, of course, essential to create a paper with which European governments can identify but perhaps one could think that guaranteed criticism would encourage the EEAS to present a sufficiently bold and detailed strategy.

As Techau writes, the strategy will be rather a suggestion than an order. There have been a number of courageous proposals on the table lately and an ambitious strategy to call for a united European foreign policy could well be the next one. The emergence of a paper that systematically provides answers to ’how’ questions will surely provoke discussion, which would in itself be a valuable step towards a more integrated EU foreign policy.

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This piece was reproduced with permission of the author. The original can be found on Undivided Europe