Is current EU foreign policy really future-proof? An analytic forecast

External Relations

Good afternoon, folks! Today NEU hits 100 so, in order to make it more joyful, we decided to launch a special issue about the future of Europe.

In this chapter I will of course discuss the EU foreign policy, its directions, loopholes, and perspectives. Therefore it will be easier to understand whether our common foreign policy is really future-proof, taking into account those major challenges the EU has to face, that arise within the framework of international politics.

If we would like to provide a psychoanalytic view of the EU conditions, we could easily state that the EU suffers from nevrosis.

A comprehensive definition of foreign policy must include, in the EU scenario, both intergovernmental policies and supranational policies. Intergovernmental policies are, essentially, all those policies in which member States accepted to devolve their sovereignty to Brussels, while keeping a de facto permanent veto power due to a decision-making process based on unanimity among different national governments.

Further, a clear-cut consequence is that every country must agree in order to make it possible for the intergovernmental institutional system to reach a decision, and governments should as well be prepared to implement those specific decisions through the allocation of decentralized resources, in order to make out something concrete from those formal agreements.

Besides, as for supranational policies, these comprehend all those areas of actions, like trade policies, that have been part of the EU competencies since the early stages of its institutionalization process. In these sectors, member States do not just take decisions with qualified majorities, but also resources are centralized and, by saying so, mainly controlled by supranational institutions, and in particular the EU Commission.

This double-system originated from several compromises adopted in years by the EU countries in order to deepen the integration process even though there were harsh rivalries among them.

Coming back to our psychoanalytic parallelism, the EU foreign policy system has been working, even in an imperfect way, until external conditions have been favorable – or, in other words, until crisis spread out with huge and immediate social and political costs to be equally shared by unwilling member States.

When describing the EU, it is not uncommon to shed a light on divisions and, quite often, on the immobilism of the Union in front of the core challenges of the recent years. Let us think about the political stall when discussing political transitions in North Africa and Middle East, or the difficulties to provide a clear answer to demonstrations in Maidan square and the Russian annexation of Crimea. Further, let us recall positive (and negative) reactions to the migrant crisis and the missed implementation of a redistributing process of refugees across the EU.

Everything we mentioned here is not surprising. The European institutional system saved deep down in its heart those compromises that have been used to tame sovranism in countries which decided to join the integration project. These compromises, necessary but fragile, have been overturned by recent multiple crisis and the disaster have been catastrophic.

It is anyway true that recent foreign policy crisis erupted outside the EU system and that their effects have been often catalyzed by normative and structural peculiarities of specific member States and, in many situations, inconsistencies of the EU building magnified the critical effects.

While reacting to crisis in southern and eastern neighborhoods, the member State, through the preeminence of the European Council, harnessed the functioning of the institutional system of the Union. Supranational institutions included the European Commission, the European Parliament and, for some aspects, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security policy have been marginalized. Inevitably, in a predominantly intergovernmental system, specific governments, more prepared or simply more stable than others, managed to impose their prerogatives over other countries. Further, they interrupted the delicate equilibrium between intergovernmental and supranational policies, while the predominant intergovernmentalism harmed the EU supranational dimension. It is crystal clear when it comes to discuss the European difficulties in the last years in maintaining stability in the Western Balkans region after the suspension of the enlargement process (now quickened) and continued divisions between member States over the issue. In the meantime, at the domestic level, clever national politicians took advantage of the EU weakness, stirring up sovranist stances for their own electoral interest.

A foreign policy that is commonly defined at the European level will be paramount in order to avoid isolation of our continent in an always more multipolar world and the crumbling of the European Union under the blows of new external pressures. For this reason, finding a new institutional model that would merge and reconcile supranational and intergovernmental aspects of the Union, even when national interest will be not aligned, this will be one of the major challenges Europeists will face.

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