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08 february 2017

The EU Global Strategy: Is It Global and Strategic?

Alexey Gromyko Doctor of Political Science, Director of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences (IE RAS), RAS Corresponding Member, RIAC member

Strategies are many. Life strategies, business, career, family, educational, military, economic, technological and many other varieties. Strategies differ in their scope and duration. There is a hierarchy of strategies in terms of number of people and organizations they influence. Its upper layer is represented by grand strategies, which reflect aspirations and expectations of nations.

Since the collapse of European empires, nation states have been key players in generating this highest form of abstraction in long-term planning - strategies. The reason is obvious - since the 19th century, nation states along Empires became the building blocks of international relations. Since then, they have been the most equipped and resourceful entities to develop and realize strategies. In this regard nation states have been unrivaled, especially after the collapse of Empires.

Hyper globalization, which has engulfed the world since the 1990s, has put the supremacy of nation states into doubt, including their ability to play a leading role in shaping the regional and global political, socio-economic and military landscapes. For some time, the idea that nation states and their borders wither away, disappear, become irrelevant in the face of global megatrends seemed to turn into conventional wisdom. Until recently, it had been taken for granted that new actors in global politics, like TNCs, NGOs and supranational institutions were overshadowing nation states. However, the course of events in the beginning of the 21st century demonstrated that the news about the death of nation states were premature.

Indeed, contemporary history has witnessed some states fail and collapse. Nevertheless, it has not confined to the dust bin of history the very idea of a nation state as a building block of IR. Moreover, in the last decade this concept went through a certain renaissance; many nation states, both old supremos (the US, Russia, China, Germany, etc.) and young pretenders - some of them in fact ancient civilizations (Brazil, India, Turkey, Iran, South Africa and others) restated their willingness and ability to manage domestic, regional and sometimes global affairs on their own terms (at least, within the boundaries of strategic autonomy of different intensity).

The case of the European Union is a special one. It is not a nation state but at the same time it is not a conventional international organization. It is a unique invention, which is buttressed by two pillars of inter-governance and supranationalism. These two counter-forces are so intricately intertwined that a collapse of either will be a collapse of both. Indeed, on the surface the EU is composed of nation states. All of them preserve most attributes of formal sovereignty: monarchs, presidents, prime-ministers, parliaments, constitutions, political parties, judiciary, armies, anthems and flags. But since the launch of this integration project in the 1950s their nature has undergone significant transformation, which changed our traditional views and presumptions of how the EU member states function. On the voluntary basis, for better or for worse, they delegated a part of their national sovereignty upwards. But there have been areas ring-fenced from dilution of sovereignty. Security and defense is the domain where an average EU member state still resembles its traditional sample.

From this point of view, the Global Strategy (GS) for the EU's foreign and security policy is a remarkable document keeping in mind that a significant part of it is about security and defense (CFSP overlaps with the EU Commission's European Defence Action Plan and the Warsaw Joint Declaration signed by the President of European Council, President of European Commission and Secretary General of NATO). It should be underlined that the first plan to implement GS, presented by F. Mogherini to the Council of EU on November 14, 2016, was on security and defense component of the strategy.

On the one hand, it is a document, which traditionally is a product of a nation state activity. Indeed, an area of national affairs, which is most jealously guarded by the EU member states, is exactly security and defense (for example, 80% of defense investment in Europe is still spent nationally). On the other hand, GS reflects dualism of its two pillars, mentioned above, and simultaneously a push to shift CSDP to the communitarian domain.

The result can be different, depending on the future of the EU. If in the aftermath of Brexit the interstate pillar of the EU becomes dominant, then any kind of common strategy is bound to be no more than the lowest common denominator, in other words - feeble and ineffective in comparison to national strategies. If further federalization of the EU as a result of Brexit and other setbacks of the last years strengthen its supranational pillar, than CSDP will be getting less declaratory and more tangible. However, even in this case any «global strategy» of the EU will be hamstrung with opt-outs, qualified majority voting and veto rights. The EU even after tentative Brexit is going to stay too diverse and polycentric to generate a strategy, which in its consistency and cohesiveness resembles a strategy of a major nation state.

This is not to say that the EU cannot become a significant global political force without a strong CSDP. But the range of its communitarian approaches to solutions in international relations is bound to be limited in comparison to the world's most influential states. This circumstance would not be so uncomfortable for the EU federalists if the soft power dictum had retained its previous dominance. Because soft power was not so much about CSDP. The latter is mainly a collection of tools, which border or belong to hard power politics. In its turn soft power was designed to involve a different spectrum of means to promote norms and interests of the EU - economic, social, cultural, normative, in other words, the spheres where policy and decision making process in the EU are truly communitarian and boast almost unrivaled gravitas. However, the return of hard power politics to the global and European affairs in the end of the 1990s, partly imposed on the EU from outside and partly the product of a deliberate decision of some European capitals, has given additional impetus to CSDP.

There is a paradox due to a certain internal contradiction of this approach. In designing its global strategy, based more on hard than soft power, the EU is trying to resemble a powerful nation state while lacking its cohesion. Simultaneously, it puts on the back burner its soft power competitive advantages, which are truly in its disposal (single market, single currency, etc.). The EU is not a permanent member of the UN Security Council, nor a nuclear power, it does not have an army, military headquarters, general stuff or a chief commander. Theoretically, it could acquire these attributes, but that would demand a genuine revolution in the setup of the European integration. There is no sign that the UK or France have any inclination to cede their seats as permanent members of the UN SC to the European External Action Service. Even more exotic would be to expect Paris and London even in the distant future to delegate their nuclear status to Brussels.

The announcement of GS, which had been long time overdue, coincided with one of the worst conjunctures in the EU history. The first attempt to design a global vision for the EU was undertaken in 2003 in the form of the European Security Strategy. Was it a successful document? Indeed, it was, as it was an undeniable success to draft and persuade all member-states to pass one. It was a successful document, if to keep in mind the political and economic context of that time. Was it visionary? It was, as it was aligned to the long-held aspirations of the EU - a heavyweight beyond economics. Was it practical and justified by reality? Hardly so, because merely two years later - the year 2005 ushered in the constitutional crisis, which was followed by further troubles of daunting proportions.

The ratification of the European constitution, which collapsed due to objections of the two «founding fathers» of the EEU - France and Netherlands, was the necessary condition for the successful implementation of the 2003 Strategy. The Lisbon Treaty in 2009 partly overcame this problem. However, the situation deteriorated further because of the world economic crisis, then destabilization of the South and South-East periphery of the EU, then the migration crisis and the fallout with Russia.

Finally, as if that was not enough, the European integration project per se, not to mention its upgrading to the next level of global competition, has been endangered with two more daunting factors: Brexit and substantial transformation of party-political systems in Europe and the United States. Both factors to a large extent are of the same nature - growing disparities within societies in the post- industrial states, ensuing crumbling fortunes of the Western middle class and re- emergence of the national state identity. The middle class for several decades since World War Two had been the bedrock of the affluent society and welfare state. Due to its ascendency in the 1960s and 1970s as the dominant socio­economic force, the class politics was replaced by the center Left - center Right mainstream consensus, and the catch-all (universal) parties replaced their class predecessors.

In 1980s and 1990s the situation for the Western societies improved further. The affluence,

acquired during previous decades, now received new drive with the collapse of the Soviet Union and opening of huge new markets. These favorable circumstances enabled Western societies to enjoy the unprecedented period of growth and wealth creation up to the beginning of new century. The general framework of that development received a well-known label - the neoliberal phase of globalization (or hyper-globalization). However, this mechanism of market economy harbored not only sophistication but imperfectability. Challenges of the Soviet style socialism were in the past and the dominance of neoliberal market economy seemed to be perpetuum mobile. But this time not socialism but capitalism in its neoliberal embodiment has been exhausting itself. Its main failure has been the slow but steady dilapidation of the middle class for the benefit of the upper strata and as a result - the rise of populism and class party politics. The poor have been becoming poorer, at least in relative terms, and the rich - richer. These megatrends closely correlate with the surge of nation state identity. As a result of this set of factors, we have Brexit, the victory of Donald Trump and numerous challenges to traditional mainstream parties, both from the Left and the Right.

Against this backdrop of problems, the announcement of GS was a challenge in itself. The High Representative F. Mogherini was under pressure to postpone it, but decided to go forward in the «now or never» move. Obviously, that was the right decision to make, as the momentum for a new EU strategy could have evaporated altogether. At the same time, the text of GS was partly outdated the moment it went out of print. It is clear that the issue of Brexit was reflected in the document shortly before its publication (just several days after the British referendum). Beyond the reach of GS authors' imagination was also the poor luck of TTIP and TTP, which, after D. Trump's victory, seem to be shelved for a long period of time, if not derailed altogether. Even CETA in October 2016 was signed by a whisker due to opposition from Wallonia regional parliament.

GS manages to look both progressive and obsolete. For example, on the surface it is forward looking in its defense of the global free trade with a «true level playing field». However, there is no mentioning of the burning necessity to redistribute votes in IMF and WB according to the lines of G20 discussions, nor any ideas on how to modernize the global trade and financial architecture to adjust it to the global shifts in economic and political power. One might think that GS is more a defender of status quo than a harbinger of substantial changes in the world order. There is only one place in the document, where its authors are bold enough to state that the EU commitments to upholding international law should be about transformation rather than simple preservation of the existing system. (P. 39)

Perhaps, the same inertia of the conformist thinking along the lines of the «end of history» and Eurosphere did not allow GS authors to envisage, besides scenarios, based on continuity, new challenges to the Euro-Atlantic area as a result of the outcome of Presidential elections in the US. In these and some other respects GS is behind the curve. Of course, it is not reduced to wishful thinking because of Brexit and Trump, but it will have to adjust to the changing international environment.

The document, produced in June 2016, is a worthwhile reading, which contains a lot of novelty and food for thought (besides repetition of the official narrative, for example, in equalizing notions «EU» and «Europe»). In many ways, it is in stark contrast with the 2003 European Security Strategy (ESS). One just needs to compare opening lines of the two papers to feel the difference. The ESS starts with «Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free». Whereas the opening phrase of GS introduction is: «The purpose, even existence, of our Union is being questioned».

This is a candid reflection of the fact that internal and external circumstances of the European Union development have changed radically. The European security has diminished, the centrifugal forces inside the EU are as strong as never. Problems of deflation, secular stagnation, public debts, unemployment, democratic deficit, lack of leadership are entrenched. At the same time, it should be recognized that the EU has demonstrated a lot of resilience and adaptability in the recent years. In general, it has weathered the storms of financial and Euro zone crises thanks to the policy of ECB and against the grain of austerity dictum of Berlin. It has launched the European semester procedure, Banking Union, new border agency. It has withstood the first wave of migration tsunami.

F. Mogherini's introduction is a rallying cry for unity and solidarity. On barely two and half pages the overall number of words «our», «together», «we», «common», «unity/united», «collectively» and «shared» is 54. "Strategy/strategically» and «globe/global» is also all over the place. Interests are discussed much more often than values or principles. Soft power is not any more a catch phrase yielding place to deliberations about hard power, strategic autonomy and resilience. GS is a robust attempt to promote the EU interests, first of all, in security sphere.

Semantically GS is an ambitious document and, indeed, it introduces quite a few strategic elements in the EU thinking. However, unlike ESS, which in the beginning contains the analysis of security environment, in GS there is no serious attempt to outline the state of play in international relations, its undercurrents and the place of EU in the world, no references to ESS to highlight achievements and failures in the EU policies since 2003. Still, some phrases hint at the significant expert underpinning of GS: «Conflicts, such as those in Syria and Libya, often erupt locally, but the national, regional and global overlay they acquire is what makes them so complex». (P. 29)

In spite of the alarmism, imbedded in some parts of the document, mostly it is designed to address problems in other regions, notwithstanding the fact that the EU itself is vulnerable to many of them as homegrown not imported risks. For example, in «Conflict Settlement» (P. 30) GS states the need and its intention to assist in rebuilding social contract in each conflict country, although, in order to be successful in its external strategy, the EU, first of all, needs to repair its own internal social fabric. There are some places in the text which betray the half- hidden understanding that main threats to the EU are not only external but internal as well. It is said that GS «starts at home», and among challenges to the EU security the third place is occupied by economic volatility, which, one may assume, is a reference to major problems in the EU economy. (P. 9)

Still, there is a lot what draws attention in the document's assessment of modern trends. It touches upon the increasing importance of «regional dynamics» and its complexity in the «de-centered world» and prospective nature of cooperative regional orders. (P. 32)

Moreover, GS manages to get rid of the idea of the exemplary nature of the EU, stating instead that, in place of exporting its model, it will «seek reciprocal inspiration» from other regional projects. It is noteworthy that for a long time this approach in its essence has been promoted by Russia, which for many years has been against imposition of a certain model of regional integration on near and far neighborhoods. Moreover, Moscow has put forward the concept of «integration of integrations» and repeatedly offered the EU to start consultations with Eurasian Economic Union. It seems that so far Brussels has been unable to convince itself that different integration processes from Lisbon to Vladivostok provide practical opportunities to apply the ideas of cooperative regional orders and reciprocal inspiration.

In general, GS is written in the robust and ambitious language, which in a peculiar way can be accompanied by strategic timidity. Perhaps, this asymmetry can be explained by the contradictory nature of certain topics coupled with the collective and therefore contradictory nature of GS. For example, it is obvious that one of the most dangerous challenges to the EU security is the arch of instability, spanning its South and South East neighborhoods. It could have been expected that GS put forward solid explanation of this phenomenon and a view on how to tackle it within a desirable time frame. Instead, these expectations are dashed with the following single phrase: «The Mediterranean, Middle East and parts of sub- Saharan Africa are in turmoil, the outcome of which will likely only become clear decades from now». (P. 34)

However, judging by some observations, scattered across different sections of the text, it can be concluded that instability, even growing instability, is seen by GS authors as a long term trend, which is different to stem: «We increasingly observe fragile states breaking down in violent conflict». (P. 28)

GS introduces several conceptual points, which may define for a long time the way the EU approaches international problems. Among them, is the formula of «principled pragmatism», which changes the balance between realism and idealism in CFSP for the sake of the former; thorough integration of internal and external European security; consistent reinstatement of the «strategic autonomy» principle (along repeated pledges of allegiance to NATO); acknowledgment of the highly competitive nature of a «more complex/connected/contested world», within which «the multilateral order» is not any more a goal, but an instrument to gain competitive advantage. All this pragmatism is welcome as a demonstration of the slow process of the EU getting more mature in terms of its political subjectivity and therefore autonomy in pursuing its truly CFSP.

Also welcomed is GS emphasis on the central role of the United Nations in global governance. For Russia, which is the permanent member of the UN Security Council, as well as for other countries of the «big five», this is a commitment to be fully supported.

At the same time, there is a lot that is worrisome from the point of Russia's national interests. Firstly, GS in effect puts soft power on the back burner («soft power is not enough») - the move with uncertain strategic consequences for the EU project, which for many years boasted its soft power attractiveness.

Secondly, Russia is treated as a key strategic challenge. This poverty of thinking endangers the very pretension of the EU to sound and look strategic. Quite amusing is also the attempt to redefine the European security order as in fact the EU security order. Page 33 of GS can be described, at best, as grand posturing and, at worst, as not a smart piece of propaganda. Encouraging is the fact that such a style is an exception rather than a rule in GS.

Thirdly, according to GS, the EU is expected to promote resilience in its surrounding regions, which on the surface is quite a legitimate task, driven by the desire to provide more stability in the neighborhood. For Russia, it is equally desirable to be surrounded by stable and friendly neighbors. The EU aspiration for stable partners would be especially important in light of the fact that so far the ENP has failed to provide stability, both within the Eastern Partnership (EP) and in the Mediterranean. Moreover, in some cases, most vividly in Ukraine, the design of EP contributed to problems instead of solving them. Unfortunately, the idea behind «resilience of the surrounding regions» is in fact a continuation of the same logic, which has set the EU at loggerheads with Russia. If to decipher it, the plan is to work through NGOs in those countries in-between the EU and Russia, which political establishments do not suite some EU member states or non- European countries, to «hold governments accountable». It seems that this might be a creative way to describe a regime change from within with a support of outside well-wishers.

It remains to be seen to what extent GS will be able to contribute to major reparation works, which the EU requires. It will fail in its global aspirations, if it is incapable to overhaul itself before trying to better the outside world. In this respect, the last sentence of the document is revealing and honest: «Our citizens deserve a true Union, which promotes our shared interests...»


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Alexey Gromyko, “The EU Global Strategy: Is It Global and Strategic?,” Russian International Affairs Council, 08 February 2017,

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