Food for Thought: "The EU's Strategic Reflection on an EU Global Strategy"

A world that is increasingly connected, contested and complex - what does this strategic assessment, presented by High Representative Mogherini in June, mean for a new EU Global Strategy?, asks Nathalie Tocci in our latest Monthly Mind column on the occasion of the MSC's Munich Strategy Forum at Schloss Elmau.

Tocci is Deputy Director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali & Special Advisor to EU High Representative Mogherini (Photo: MSC).

Last June, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission, submitted to the European Council the report "The EU in a changing global environment. A more connected, contested and complex world". The document responded to the invitation of the December 2013 European Council to the High Representative "to assess the impact of changes in the global environment, and to report to the Council in the course of 2015 on the challenges and opportunities arising for the Union, following consultations with the Member States."


The purpose of this strategic assessment, however, was not only the fulfilment of a mandate. It was also that of preparing the ground for an EU Global Strategy. That time is (over)ripe to move beyond the 2003 European Security Strategy has been a no-brainer for some time. The opening line of the ESS – "Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free" – says it all. It sadly clashes with today's realities: Greece continues in crisis, jihadists spread death at our borders and on European soil, unprecedented numbers of refugees reach our shores, the conflict in Ukraine remains unresolved, and political illiberalism woos Europeans on both ends of the political spectrum.


As a result, the June 2015 European Council, recognizing that the state of European security required a reassessment, stated that "the High Representative will continue the process of strategic reflection with a view to preparing an EU global strategy on foreign and security policy in close cooperation with Member States, to be submitted to the European Council by June 2016."


The EU's strategic assessment, published in June as a first conceptual contribution to this process, describes a world that is increasingly connected, contested and complex.


Moving forward, what does the EU's strategic assessment mean for a new EU Global Strategy?


A more connected world calls for an EU Global Strategy of engagement. Some European leaders, notably those sitting in chancelleries and responding primarily to domestic constituencies, may be tempted by the sirens of closure. They may hope that by erecting walls, terrorists, assertive neighbours, illiberal ideologies or refugees can be deterred. But the connectivity of our times means that threats cannot be wished away through closure. The unprecedented opportunities that a more connected world present can only be seized through proactive engagement beyond our borders.


A more contested world calls for an EU Global Strategy guided by a sense of responsibility. The times in which the West could dictate the terms of peace agreements – Bosnia style – are probably over. Conflicts, notably surrounding Europe, have not only multiplied. They have become more complex too. This fragile global environment calls for a strategy that pursues a decentered approach aimed at fostering the seeds of peace at local and regional levels. It must be a strategy with the stamina for protracted crisis management; a strategy that is flexible and pragmatic; a strategy that takes as its starting point the world as it is and not as we would like to see it. It must be a strategy that thinks long-term, acts local and brokers regional.


A more complex world in which old and new powers jostle for influence means that an EU Global Strategy must be a strategy that rests on solid partnerships. It must be grounded on partnerships within the EU, with the different voices around the EU table singing in harmony. In an age in which the number of challenges increases but the means to respond to them decline, internal cohesion becomes a key European interest and the prerequisite for an effective foreign policy. At the same time, the EU's relative decline in a more complex world also means that building strong partnerships at the bilateral, regional and international levels is of the essence. The EU’s chances of fulfilling its goals hinge on experimenting the solidity of its partnerships on the ground, be it in our Eastern and Southern neighbourhoods, in Africa or further afield.


An EU Global Strategy must provide an overall sense of direction that can guide action through choppy waters in the five or so years ahead. It must be able to connect with the desires and demands of EU citizens who are affected, more than ever before, by the consequences of foreign-policy decisions and dynamics. It must also be able to pinpoint the EU value-added in foreign and security policy. Presumably, such value added exists on issues viewed as important, albeit to different degrees, by all Member States; on which Member States cannot achieve their set goals by acting alone or disjointedly; on which the EU potentially has a contribution to make in light of the policies and instruments at its disposal; and on which no one else will likely do the job for us. A rapid mental scan across the global map suggests that many of the EU’s global strategy goals are likely to lie in adjacent regions, including much of the Eurasian and African landmasses. But there may well be specific goals where there could be an EU value added further afield. 


A first important step in the EU strategic reflection process was taken, ushering the way to a mandate on an EU Global Strategy. The latter will present the hardest nuts to crack  – in terms of forging internal consensus, of making hard choices, and of giving indications not only of what we would like to do, but of how we intend to do so. The task ahead is significant. But Federica Mogherini is determined to give it her best shot.


Nathalie Tocci is Deputy Director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali and Special Advisor to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini. This piece was prepared on the occasion of the MSC’s first Munich Strategy Forum. On November 22-24, 2015, around 50 participants will gather at Schloss Elmau to debate current security challenges and to develop strategic priorities for Germany and Europe.

18. November 2015, von Nathalie Tocci