BRUSSELS – The purpose – and even the survival – of the European Union is being questioned as never before. In fact, Europe’s citizens and the world need a strong EU now more than ever.
Europe’s wider region has become less stable and more insecure in recent years. Moreover, the crises within and beyond the EU’s borders are directly affecting the lives of all European citizens.
In challenging times such as these, a strong EU is one that thinks strategically, shares a vision, and acts together. In the wake of the United Kingdom’s vote to “Brexit” the EU, we Europeans will indeed have to rethink how our Union works; but we know very well what we need to work for. We know what our principles, interests, and priorities are. This is no time for political uncertainty. The EU needs a strategy that marries a shared vision to common action.
None of the EU’s member states, acting alone, has the strength to address the threats that Europe faces. Nor can they seize the opportunities presented by today’s global economy alone. But as a Union of more than a half-billion citizens, Europe’s potential is unparalleled.
Our diplomatic network is broad and deep, covering every corner of the globe. Economically, we are in the world’s G3, alongside China and the United States. We are the top trading partner and foreign investor for almost every country in the world. Together, the EU’s member states invest more in development cooperation than the rest of the world combined.
It is also clear, though, that we in Europe are not making full use of this potential, at least not yet. A vast majority of our citizens understands that we need to take collective responsibility for our role in the world. Our partners, too, expect the EU to play a major role, including as a global security provider.
The EU can deliver on its citizens’ needs and make its partnerships work only if we all act together – EU institutions and national governments, at all levels, united. This is exactly the aim of the Global Strategy for European Foreign and Security Policy, which I recently presented to the leaders of the member states and to the European Commission and European Council.
This Strategy, the EU’s first in over a decade, focuses on defense capabilities and anti-terrorism as much as on job opportunities, social inclusion, and human rights. It deals with peace building and the resilience of states and societies in and around Europe.
The EU has always prided itself on its soft power – and it will continue to do so, because we are the best in this field. But the idea that Europe is an exclusively “civilian power” does not do justice to an evolving reality. For example, the EU currently conducts 17 military and civilian operations around the world. In places as far afield as Afghanistan and Congo, Georgia and the Sahel, Moldova, Somalia, and the Mediterranean, thousands of men and women serve under the European flag. For today’s Europe, soft and hard power go hand in hand.
The Strategy nurtures the ambition of strategic autonomy for the EU, which is necessary to promote our citizens’ common interests, as well as our principles and values. Yet we know that such priorities are best served when we are not alone, and in an international system based on multilateralism and rules, not on global policemen and lone warriors.
This is why the EU will continue to deepen the transatlantic bond and our partnership with NATO, while also connecting to new players and exploring new formats to advance our Strategy. The EU will invest in regional institutions, and in cooperation within and among regions. And we will promote global governance reforms that can meet this century’s challenges.
As we do this, we will engage in a practical and principled way, sharing global responsibilities with our partners and contributing to their strengths. Two decades of spreading global uncertainties have taught us a clear lesson: my neighbor’s weaknesses and my partner’s weaknesses are my own weaknesses. So we will move beyond the illusion that international politics can be a zero-sum game.
Acting with resolution in this way will make each of the EU’s member states – and each citizen of our Union – better off. But all the goals outlined here can be achieved only by a truly united and committed Europe. Joining all our cultures together to achieve our shared goals and serve our common interests is a daily challenge, but it is also our greatest strength: diversity is what makes us strong.
Our interests are indeed common European interests, and the only way to serve them is by common means. That is why all Europeans, and all EU member states, have a collective responsibility to strengthen our Union.
The people of Europe need unity of purpose and action among our member states. A fragile world calls for a more confident and responsible EU, equipped with an outward- and forward-looking foreign and security policy. The new Global Strategy will guide us as we work toward a Union that truly meets its citizens’ needs, hopes, and aspirations; a Union that builds on the success of 70 years of peace; and a Union strong enough to contribute to peace and security in our region and worldwide.