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Europe’s Place in the World and Britain’s Place in Europe

Speech by Lord Hannay of Chiswick to the Federal Trust: 16 December 2010

The issue of Europe’s place in the world, how best to define it and how best to secure and to xxx it, was at the heart of the negotiations of both the constitutional and the Lisbon treaties; and the external policy content of both documents was nearly identical.  So, with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty just over a year ago, these provisions – the double-hatting of the Special Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Vice-President of the Commission for External Affairs, the chairing of the Foreign Affairs Council by that same person, the establishment of the international legal personality of the European Union, the setting up of a European External Action Service, and a number of other, less significant changes – became operational realities, not just words on paper. 

Secondly, it is important to remember that those foreign policy innovations were not simply imposed out of federalist zeal but was a response to a general feeling among the twenty seven governments of the member states that Europe was punching well below its weight in this policy area and in response also to much evidence from opinion polls, such as Euro-Barometer, over a considerable period of time that peace and security was one of the fields in which people generally felt that they wanted more European action, not the same amount or less of it. 

A third general point about the Lisbon framework was that, although it did bring about the dismantling of the three pillar structure established by the Maastricht Treaty and the incorporation of Justice and Home Affairs within what is usually known as “the Community method”, it effectively left the Common foreign and security policy as a separate pillar – not actually called that, but nevertheless subject to quite different procedures involving almost all decisions being taken by unanimity and with much less involvement of the European Parliament and only minimal oversight by the European Court of Justice.

Since the entry into force of Lisbon, Europe’s first tentative steps to give effect to the new external policy structures have produced more sarcasm and ridicule than praise.  The original appointments were judged to be underwhelming; the agonisingly slow process of setting up the EEAS, revealing all too much traditional turf-fighting between and within institutions, has been distasteful; much lamentation was provoked by the cancellation of a US-EU Summit meeting.  Modest successes such as the brokering at the UN of a resolution encouraging dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo and the package of strengthened sanctions directed against Iran's nuclear ambitions, were largely overlooked.  And the media spotlight's focus on the travails of the Euro-zone underscored the relative shift of power away from Europe and the Atlantic and towards the emerging economies of Asia and Latin America.  An absurd juxtaposition is frequently posed between Europe's evident lack of capacity to become a global super-power, which it never had the will or the intention to become, and a drift into total irrelevance and marginalisation, which no entity of Europe's size and economic weight could possibly represent.  It is surely time to bring the debate about Europe's role in the world back into a proper perspective and to concentrate on what it could and should be doing, not on what it cannot, and does not aspire, to do.

Europe's external policy objective have to start, as any individual country's do, in its own back yard, in the Balkans, in the countries around the fringe of the former Soviet Union, covered by what is now called the Eastern partnership, and in the Mediterranean region.  It cannot possibly afford to duck, or to postpone until the Greek calends, the question of further enlargement, however loud the sighs of enlargement fatigue emitted by many in Brussels and in some other European capitals may be.  The Balkans cannot and will not be sustainably stabilised if all the countries in the region, and that must include Serbia and Kosovo, all aspirants for membership, are not kept moving steadily forward along the path to accession.  To the east, giving Ukraine and also Moldova and Belarus, if they seriously and irreversibly set out along transition towards democracy, the rule of law and market economies, the chink of light represented by the eventual possibility of accession would surely make sense and strengthen their motivation to continue in that direction.  And Turkey, already negotiating for accession, needs to be helped and encouraged and not subjected to a deluge of pessimistic signals and analyses and blocked chapters, if Europe is not to make a major strategic error, with many probable de-stabilising and negative consequences.  To those who argue that a line must be drawn somewhere on accession, it is hard to avoid the commitment in the original Treaty of Rome to open the door to any European state and it surely makes no sense to turn back now that we are more than half way across the river towards a union which includes the whole of Europe.

To those countries in our immediate vicinity which either do not aspire to membership, like Russia, or which are not a part of Europe, like those on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean, Europe clearly needs to develop a more coherent set of policies and to speak with a single voice.  The prospects for developing a genuinely European policy towards Russia would seem better now than at any time in the recent past, when Russia's "divide and rule" policies and EU member states' bilateralism frustrated any such hopes.  If Europe can develop a properly integrated energy policy and a properly diversified approach to energy security, an important condition for negotiating a balanced EU/Russia relationship could be met.  In the Mediterranean a "one size fits all" approach, such as seemed at its outset to be the aim of the Union for the Mediterranean, will certainly not work, particularly if progress becomes a hostage to resolution of the Arab-Israel dispute; but building up the bilateral links between Europe and the individual countries offers plenty of scope for mutual benefit.  And we should not forget Israel, with whom a deeper and stronger relationship could become a sheet-anchor for a two state solution of the Palestine problem if that can be achieved.

Europe has a major role too to play in Africa, where the United States never has aspired to such a role and is not likely to do so in the future and where China is a great deal more active than in the past, sometimes causing, perhaps excessive, alarm by so doing.  Europe cannot possibly afford to ignore Africa, and that not just because of the colonial past - although it is welcome that the two principal former colonial powers in Africa, Britain and France, do seem to be working more closely together and to be damping down their old rivalry - but also because so many of what Professor Paul Collier has eloquently called "the bottom billion" are to be found in Africa and because any hope of achieving the Millennium Development Goals, to which the EU is committed, therefore requires active engagement across the whole of that continent.  The Europe Union needs to step up further its efforts to strengthen the African Union and the work it does on peace and security in places like Somalia, the Ivory Coast and Darfur; it will need to be active in the handling of the forthcoming referendum in South Sudan and the aftermath to it; and it should be encouraging the African Union's work on human rights, in particular by ramping up its support for any country which willingly submits itself to the AU's Peer Group Review Mechanism and which implements its recommendations.  I often think that too much attention is given to criticising and even punishing poor human rights performance and too little to rewarding improvements in that field.

That reference to the MDGs is a reminder of how much of Europe's efforts and influence needs to be directed towards the major global challenges whether they be in finance, in trade, in climate change or in collective peace and security.  That is what was meant when in 2003 the first European Security Strategy set "effective multilateralism" as one of its principal objectives.  Achievements may have fallen short since then, but the objective remains as valid as ever it was.  No player on the world scene has more to gain from the spread of rules-based solutions to these challenges than the European Union, none has more to lose from a failure to move in that direction or, worse still, from a drift towards a new world disorder.  Achieving effective multilateralism in specific instances will require European leadership and willingness to commit resources, but it will also require an acceptance of the need to give the main emerging developing countries - China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico and others - a greater say in the shaping of solutions.

So, in practical terms, Europe needs to ensure that the new forum of the G20, whose earlier promise showed signs of faltering at the most recent meeting in Seoul, really does become a focus of international problem-solving and not just a glorified series of photo opportunities.  France's forthcoming chairing of the group offers an opportunity here which the whole of Europe should support.  The aftershocks of the 2008 financial crisis are still being felt and the global disciplines needed to avoid a future crisis are not yet in place.  Equally Europe, which was so much in the vanguard of the effort to check and to reverse climate change, needs to resume that role if it is not to go by default.  It is no good moping over our marginalisation in the final stages of that chaotic meeting in Copenhagen; we need to learn and apply the lessons, and to press forward with efforts to get a legally binding set of agreements, to increase the ambition of the carbon emissions targets, to commit finance to checking deforestation and to encouraging the spread of green technology.  The recent Cancun meeting has made some progress.  And on trade, where Europe has for so long spoken with one voice, we need to lead the resumed effort to complete the Doha Round of negotiations which was called for by the Seoul G20 Summit.  The risk of protectionism has not gone away, and continuing high levels of unemployment in the developed world will feed it.  What is encouraging are the signs that the main developing countries, China, India and Brazil, seem more aware than they were of that risk and more aware of their own national interest to avert it.  So there could be scope for progress. 

To achieve any of these objectives the European Union will need to operate more effectively than it has managed to do hitherto, not just by speaking with a single voice, although that is certainly essential, but by projecting its views and influence in a manner which takes account of the views and positions of others.  Too often in the past the European Union has agonised at inordinate length internally over the drafting of a common position and then left too little time and energy to persuade other parties to a negotiation of its validity.  That is where the new European External Action Service, together with better coordination in Brussels could, and must, make a difference.  Of course we should not fall into the trap of judging the EEAS by instant results or their absence.  It will take years, not months or days, for the benefits to be fully felt.  But here are one or two benchmarks by which we can begin to judge its success or the lack of it.  Firstly does the new post-Lisbon system result in a reduction of the turf-fighting between and within European institutions?  Secondly are we achieving greater coherence between the European Union's different policies, between the agricultural policy and our development aims, for example, or between concern for human rights and developing trade and investment?  Thirdly is the EEAS achieving a greater degree of professionalism than the Commission's network of external offices has ever managed so far to demonstrate so that the diplomatic networks of the member states can appreciate real added value from the new service's establishment?  And fourthly is the EEAS getting better at outreach to other governments and at public diplomacy than has been the case in the past?

Well, so far I have concentrated on answering the first part of the question posed in the title to this talk - Europe's place in the world.  Now let us look at Britain's place in Europe, not so much in general terms - that would take too long - but in the specifics of its place in Europe's external policies.  The first point to make is that in these fields Britain really does matter.  We may be a marginal player in Eurozone politics or in the evolution of the Schengen System, but without a Britain prepared to play a positive and active role, the Common Foreign and Security Policy simply will not prosper.  That is not just because decisions there are taken by unanimity but because Britain, with France, is one of the only two member states with both the capacity and the will to project power and influence world-wide.  But, as the government's recent defence and security review revealed with brutal clarity, our ability to act in that way on our own is steadily shrinking, indeed has almost vanished.  So in general terms Britain needs Europe if its external influence is to be maximised and Europe needs Britain for the same reason.  That is what makes the recent Anglo-French defence agreements so encouraging.  If you look behind the veneer of bilateralism which has been applied here to appease the Eurosceptics, these agreements must be good news for Europe and they seem to have been welcomed as such by other member states.  It is, after all, hard to imagine to what purpose the joint capacity of our aircraft carriers or the rapid reaction capability would be put which did not have wider European support and which would not serve wider European objectives.

If one looks now at the external agenda for Europe which I have sketched out there is nothing in it which conflicts with the objectives set out in the coalition government's initial agreement and in the policy objectives it has pursued since it took office.  In some cases, for instance the decision to ring fence our aid spending from the budget cuts and the added resources earmarked, as part of the security review, for conflict prevention and resolution we are actually ahead of the European game.  What does seem to be lacking so far is any willingness at the highest level of government to set this out in a coherent and compelling way, perhaps for fear of stirring up the Eurosceptics.  But, if we cannot speak out on our vision of Europe's role in the world, we will not persuade others of its validity.  Pragmatism is all very well as a precept for policy - up to a point; but it can become a purely reactive approach, responding only to the initiatives taken by others.  And that I believe would be neither in Britain's nor in Europe's wider interests.

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