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The EU’s Bold New Strategy

BRUSSELS – When problems accumulate, as in Europe – where the failed coup in Turkey comes hard on the heels of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union – attention is often focused on the most recent issue to arise. Earlier problems, now seeming less urgent, are neglected. For many years, we Europeans have seen how this plays out: in the end, none of the problems ever seems to be resolved.

The Turkish coup appears now to be resolving itself, though no one yet knows what long-term implications it will have for that vital country. Brexit is, without doubt, a veritable blow to the European project. A member state has regrettably chosen to move ahead alone. But this mustn’t lead the EU into the most damaging situation of all: paralysis.

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The many issues that the Union must still resolve won’t disappear merely with the passage of time. And one of the most urgent is Europe’s security: each day that passes without taking joint action is an opportunity lost and leads to greater risk.

Addressing such issues effectively, rather than falling into the trap of the immediate, requires adhering to accepted strategies. By identifying challenges, establishing long-term objectives, and designing collective action to achieve those objectives, strategies provide a framework for initiatives to address problems in a more far-sighted, coherent way.

With this in mind, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, and her team have designed and presented a Global Strategy for European security that has clearly defined aims befitting conditions both within and beyond our borders. Many observers have indicated that now is not the best time to elaborate a vision that assumes that all Europeans are united by common interests. But, as the strategy clearly declares, cooperation is no longer a question of principle; it is an existential imperative.

That is why I disagree with those who call the Global Strategy ill-timed and even useless. Even though it was presented to the European Council a week after the Brexit referendum, its aim is to implement the provisions foreseen in the Treaty of Lisbon, seven years after the treaty entered into effect. It is also the result of a June 2015 mandate from the European Council itself. And it aims to develop a policy to strengthen the EU, which many citizens want. To remain immobile would have been a grave error.

The Global Strategy defines clear objectives, considers the mistakes of the past, and is deeply anchored in the EU’s present-day reality. It calls for a more responsible, united, and credible EU – the only response capable of overcoming Euroskepticism. It defines the actions Europe must take and the capacities it must have for its own defense and security. It takes into account the long-term effects of its actions and understands that the development of the EU’s member states is essential to conflict prevention. And it recognizes that only greater unity will enable Europe to confront the challenges of terrorism, migration, and climate change.

A fundamental fact should be borne in mind when assessing the Global Strategy’s usefulness: The threats to Europe’s security are not common because some treaty or intergovernmental consensus has said so. They are common because we are neighbors, and because, like it or not, the world around us is irremediably global.

One consequence of a document like the Global Strategy is the creation of a common discourse. In 2003, Europeans also needed to unite behind a common foreign policy, following the differences created by the intervention in Iraq. But the problem today is on a very different level: the European project itself is being questioned. Revealing the EU’s capacity to act effectively would help to confirm the necessity of its existence.

The Global Strategy can be useful here. European citizens perceive terrorism and the refugee tragedy as questions of vital importance and want the EU to play a greater role in addressing them and other global issues. A Pew Research Center study in ten European countries (including supposed bastions of Euroskepticism like the UK, Poland, and Hungary) found that an average of 74% of those polled supported more decisive action by the EU abroad.

In recent years, we have seen how internal and external security conditions are closely linked. That is why, in the interest of safeguarding internal security, the Global Strategy emphasizes the need for more and improved external action. It is also why the EU requires an integral approach to conflicts and crises that uses every available instrument and policy. Moreover, the manner in which we conduct external action characterizes us as Europeans. In the field of human security, few organizations can deploy missions and operations as complete as the EU’s, combining military and civilian elements, such as police or judges.

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Much has changed since the European Security Strategy of 2003: Europe must now find its place amid the competition of great powers and negotiate the conflicts and instability on its eastern and southern flanks. There have been important changes within Europe as well, and opposition to strengthening the EU seems to be on the rise, as evidenced by the Brexit vote and the position recently expressed by the Visegrad Group (the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia).

With the presentation of the Global Strategy, those in favor of moving the European project forward have placed an initiative on the table. Without it, only proposals for less Europe would have been heard. Over the coming months, we must move our foreign and security policy forward, in order to implement the strategy’s objectives. Those of us who are in favor of continuing to advance cannot remain silent.