Can the new EU global strategy achieve unity in diversity?

Development Policy,Sahel Watch14 Oct 2015Rojan Bolling

How will the EU develop its role as an actor in an increasingly multipolar world? Next June we will know, when the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini presents her new global strategy for the European Union External Action Service. After a review of the current EU foreign and security policy, the High Representative presented some first clues in an ambitious report that discusses the current global challenges that the EU is facing. Central to the report is the call for a ‘joined-up’ strategy that makes all EU policies work towards common goals. An admirable aim, but how realistic is such an approach in the highly diverse context of the European Union?

Set to replace the 2003 European Security Strategy, Mogherini’s proposed strategy visualizes the world as a rapidly changing, increasingly complex, connected and contested space that requires a more befitting and ambitious strategy. This strategy will determine the role that the EU will play on the global stage in the coming decades, define the interests of Europeans abroad, and shape the union’s engagement in the realms of aid, trade, security and international cooperation. The impacts of this policy will also be felt within the union, where the recent migration crisis is a prime example of how external and internal processes and policies are intimately connected.

Working comprehensively

In the report, a prominent position is given to the ‘comprehensive approach’ – a perspective on security interventions that is based on the idea that development and security are two sides of the same coin. The new strategy aims to produce synergies between its various policy instruments, as a solution to the issues outlined in the report which states that ‘Vertical and horizontal silos hamper the EU’s potential global role’. So, a ‘joined-up’ approach should be the basis for all aspects of EU external policy. The main aim is to achieve more sustainable and effective results, for instance by making trade and development policy work together.

But how realistic is such an approach in the EU context? Bridging the gaps between the various, often isolated, EU policies will require trade-offs as various policy priorities are aligned to work towards a common goal. For a start, this means bringing together development, migration, climate, energy, defence, cyber, trade and humanitarian policies on all levels. This is a difficult task and one that will need the various EU institutions and member countries to buy into the strategy. To achieve effectiveness under these circumstances requires clear priority setting, decisiveness and a clear vision on the direction of EU external affairs – something that is unfortunately often lacking in EU policy.

The various incarnations of the ‘comprehensive approach throughout Europe already show that each state has interpreted and developed the approach according to its own priorities. Likewise, experience with the comprehensive approach in post-conflict peacebuilding has shown that cooperation and coordination between security- and development-oriented goals and organizations does not always lead to enhanced results. Choices must be made when balancing different rationales, and organizational cultures define problems and solutions in entirely different ways: Do you engage with or isolate armed groups? Is a mission successful when it safeguards national security and economic interests, or when the local population has a reasonable expectation of leading a dignified life?

Integrating such approaches does not automatically make them more effective or sustainable. Their integration can only be meaningful if they are linked to a clear strategy that shows, through sound analysis of an intervention context, why and how integration will be more effective than working separately. Comparably difficult choices will now have to be made for a whole new range of interconnected European policies.

A ‘whole-of-EU’ foreign and security policy?

So, as in any type of cooperative effort, partners will need to agree on where they want to end up and why they need to do it together. This is why jointly analysing and determining priorities and end goals is crucial for the effectiveness and sustainability of the joined-up strategy proposed in this report. Our complex world no longer affords us the luxury of safely retreating to ‘policy silos’. But, as shown in a study by The Broker, contemporary frameworks guiding context analysis by international actors often lack the more ‘political’ regional, local and human security perspectives, which are based on messy realities in a world of inequality and power imbalances. Instead, institutional, national, sectoral and even ideological priorities often inform strategies. But if done well, an EU global strategy could mark the beginning of a ‘European Theory of Change’, defining part of the European identity through its vision of the problems we face and the solutions that are desirable.

Will Ms Mogherini be able to achieve the envisioned synergy while formulating clear and specific goals? It is difficult to say. If combined with broad priorities that are multi-interpretable, this trust in integrated strategies risks unravelling in the face of everyday reality, which may lead different organizational and institutional cultures to revert back to business-as-usual. However, a fragmented approach would fall short of achieving change on a systemic level. But will institutions, nations and partners buy into a strategy they might see as dominated by goals, interests and ways of working that are in conflict with their own? Indeed, the report calls for a clear sense of direction, but immediately asks how European citizens can be kept safe by promoting their interests globally. Let us hope that the migration crisis finally reaching Europe in its entirety will ensure that this opportunity for creating a truly ‘European’ vision on security will not go to waste.