EU and US: old friends, new tests

External Relations

On 20 January, the High Representative for the European Union, Federica Mogherini, visited Washington in her first trip overseas.

The choice, as the same Mogherini stated in her remarks after the meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry, has been “natural and that is exactly because we work every day on common challenges in a very united and common way”.

Indeed, several global issues and alarming hot spots require mutual support and increasing efforts from both sides.

After the dramatic events occurred in Paris, marked by many as the “European 9/11”, a great emphasis is now obviously put on how to better counteract violent extremism.
Mogherini affirmed that terrorist acts should be interpreted using different categories other than the opposition between majorities and minorities, and the integration of the latter into society, as they are aimed at “targeting people, persons, regardless of their names, ethnic background, minorities, majorities, whatever”.
Following the words of the High Representative, Secretary Kerry stated that latest events should rather lead to a careful consideration on how crucial is to pursue the strengthening of human rights and democracy.

Back in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo deadly attacks, EU and US Interior and Justice Ministers have called for increased intelligence sharing of information, a priority that Mogherini did not forget to mention also during her visit at the Brookings Institute. Tighter controls of borders and greater sharing of airline data are also asked to help security services fight terrorism.
In this regard, on 18 February a broader summit against terrorism will be hosted by President Barack Obama in Washington. Prior to that date, on 12 February, possible countermeasures at European level will have been already discussed in a dedicated summit of the EU Council.

As for the ongoing pressure on Russia, the stance of EU and US seems to endure for the moment: a lifting of the sanctions policy is not foreseen until Russia abides the Minsk Protocol, said Mogherini during the press conference, with the endorsement of Secretary Kerry.

However, some criticism has been raised to the High Representative’s approach, judged by many as too “soft”. In particular, the bone of contention has been a discussion paper prepared by Brussels bureaucracy and sent by the same EU foreign policy chief.

The paper, initially not public – as it was being circulated between the Commission and among Member States – was reported by the Wall Street Journal first and, soon after, disclosed in its entirety by the Financial Times.
The text created some disappointment because was interpreted like advocating a more conciliatory position towards Russia. A commentary published by the think-tank European Council on Foreign Relations critically reviews different passages of the report, noticing that “the most worrying problem with the paper is that it betrays a profound lack of understanding of the driving factors of Russia’s foreign policy and their relative importance”. The author, Kadri Liik, points out that “Russia’s interests are seen as largely formal and bureaucratic: they include resumption of formal dialogue with the EU, trilateral talks on a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement, and recognition of the Eurasian Union (EEU). […] It is absurd to expect that Russia will stop putting pressure on its neighbours in the hope of “resuming a formal dialogue with the EU””.

The declarations made by Mogherini in Washington, reaffirmed in the light of dramatic fighting in eastern Ukraine’s city of Mariupol, still did not exempt another prominent figure, President of the European Council Donald Tusk, to express its firm opposition to a less-confrontational policy that could dangerously resemble to an “appeasement”.

A deep heterogeneity of views thus lies in the internal debate at the European level; so far, however, this lack of consonance does not seem to have threatened the reciprocal understanding between EU and US on the Russian-Ukrainian arena.

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