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Europe’s Foreign-Policy Resilience

RIGA – For decades, people have bemoaned the waning of Europe’s global political power. To add some precision to the debate, in 2010 we helped to write the European Council on Foreign Relations’ first Foreign Policy Scorecard. Back then, we wrote – rather mildly – that Europe had been “distracted” by the euro crisis. By the end of 2012, the crisis could be considered less acute. Nevertheless, European leaders have continued to devote more time and effort to financial and institutional questions than to geopolitical issues.

Europe’s image and soft power have undoubtedly continued to fade around the world (thought such a trend is difficult to quantify), while member states continue to cut defense and development budgets. The good news, however, is that European foreign policy has not unraveled in the crisis. Indeed, it has even shown some signs of progress.

The European Union managed to preserve the essence of its acquis diplomatique. In fact, the Scorecard’s assessment of European foreign-policy performance in 2012 shows modest signs of stabilization and resilience. Although the EU had no high-profile successes comparable to the military intervention in Libya in 2011, it performed surprisingly well in its external relations – especially given the deep crisis with which it continued to struggle.

For starters, the coherence of Europe’s policies toward Russia improved: the EU threatened to use the World Trade Organization’s dispute-settlement mechanism when the Kremlin announced new protectionist measures in late 2012. It also launched an antitrust probe against Russian gas giant Gazprom, and criticized human-rights abuses during the crackdown on demonstrations that accompanied the March election that returned Vladimir Putin to the presidency.