EU must learn from misadventures abroad

Europe, the last herbivore in a world full of carnivores? From governments officials to European diplomats, we have heard this expression being rehashed as a bleak assessment of the EU’s foreign policy, and recent events are doing little to contradict this, writes Emile Fabre.

Emile Fabre is a political strategist at Volt Europa, a European federalist political movement.

The EU has repeatedly struggled to have an impact on even its neighbouring countries. This month again, it has struggled to affirm its voice against Turkey.

And while the European Parliament called for stronger sanctions against the Belarusian dictatorship, or pushed for a peaceful resolution in Nagorno-Karabakh, there is little hope for the voice of the European people to significantly come to fruition.

Perhaps even more strikingly, Europe has repeatedly appeared somewhat feeble in enforcing climate action in external relations. In times when the American resolve on the global scene is no longer granted, the EU should make itself essential regardless of the results of this month’s elections across the pond.

We should not accept this state of play, where the EU is weakened and where the voice of its population remains muzzled.

From the Russian aggression to the Chinese assertiveness, we should refuse to resign and to close our eyes on the current stakes.

That is why we need to change how European foreign policies are being decided.

Firstly, because the current decision-making process is ineffective. To do anything, our governments must decide unanimously at the Council.

A single government driven by its own political egoism can block any collective decision. Even if that government represents less than 0.02% of the European people. The European Parliament has limited power. The Court of Justice has close to none.

Thus, the EU is ineffective, it does not have the means to be externally impactful, the EU is paralysed.

Secondly, because it is dangerous.

By not uniting the member states, it isolates and weakens them, enabling external forces to prey on their division.

Individual countries such as Greece are slowly becoming a playground for foreign investments, and it is difficult to imagine a government on a drip of Chinese FDI greenlighting any Council decision that would contradict Beijing.

Even recently, Nord Stream 2 was pushed forward by Germany despite fears from other countries that it would increase our dependence on Russian energy.

We should reshape how we adopt our foreign policies so that Europe can finally deal as equals with China and the USA on the global chessboard.

Thirdly, because it is undemocratic.

The European Parliament, the only EU body directly elected by the population, has little say in all of this. In the realm of foreign affairs, it is merely being consulted, and like in all the other policies, it cannot propose measures.

Such democratic aberration means that the European Parliament is both the assembly representing the most citizens in Europe and the one with the least powers.

This trend can only be reversed by entrusting the Parliament with the legislative initiative for foreign affairs.

To be truly effective and democratic, Europe must talk with a single voice on the global scene. But to achieve this, three things must change.

The vetoes at the Council should be lifted and replaced by qualified majority voting. No single government should be able to block the other twenty-six.  This will foster convergence between the national positions but it will also better protect individual member states from external bullying.

In addition, the European Parliament must be empowered and be able to propose its own foreign affairs measures. This would even the playing field between European citizens and the Council and give real legitimacy to our collective decisions in foreign affairs.

Finally, the European External Action Service and the Court of Justice should be fully mandated to ensure those decisions become realities on the ground.

Realistically, such changes require public support and strong political will. If we trust Eurostat’s Eurobarometer, two-thirds of the Europeans are already in favour of a common foreign policy. So where is the political will?

Only through more European competences can foreign affairs decisions become truly democratic and impactful. This is the only way to incarnate the voice of the European population.

This is neither about the EU joining the pack of carnivores nor even about remaining a herbivore. It is about being able to decide over our own diet.

The author: Michel THEYS

Michel Theys, a Belgian native, began his career as a civil servant, serving the public for several decades. After retirement, he shifted gears to follow his passion for journalism. With a background in public administration, Theys brought a unique perspective to his reporting. His insightful articles, covering a wide array of topics, swiftly gained recognition. Today, Michel Theys is a respected journalist known for his balanced and thoughtful reporting in the Belgian media landscape.

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