Trade and Globalisation

How to make the new EU Global Strategy effective?
14 Jul 2016 18:00
Source: CFSP


According to Barend ter Haar (1), attending the European Union's Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy and the Western Balkans, held in Belgrade, Serbia on 14 July, the new Global Strategy (2) is an impressive piece of work that deserves to be used fully and effectively. Three subjects (migration, cyber resilience and security and defence) have already been chosen for further elaboration, but it seems useful to consider also more in general how the Global Strategy can be translated in effective policies. That is the purpose of the following seven recommendations:

1. Lessons should be drawn from past experiences.
2. Member States should adopt the Strategy as the basis of their individual foreign policies.
3. Ministers and national officials should read, accept and apply the strategy.
4. The EU should take full advantage of the widening of the foreign policy agenda and the blurring of the distinction between domestic and foreign policy.
5. Domestic ministries should contribute to the implementation of the Global Strategy.
6. Discuss the Strategy with foreign countries, not only with friends, such as Serbia, but also with (potential) adversaries.
7. Involve the citizens of current and future Member States in the development and implementation of the strategy.

1. Learn from past experiences

A balanced judgement of the success of the European Security Strategy of 2003 (3) deserves a separate discussion. However, I suggest that most will agree that the Strategy of 2003 was an excellent piece of work, but that nevertheless its practical impact was relatively small.

Why? An important reason is that most, if not all, governments have shown little ownership of the strategy. They all accepted it, but subsequently failed to adopt it as the basis for their national security policy. They treated the EU strategy as a complementary strategy rather than as their own strategy.

2. The Strategy should be adopted as the basis of national foreign policies

How to prevent the new EU Global Strategy from suffering the same fate? The answer is simple: Member States should not consider the Strategy as something for Brussels, but as the basis of their individual foreign policies. Of course, Member States will continue to have their own policies with their own priorities, but it should be clear to everybody, that they are based upon the common Global Strategy.

3. National ministers and officials should accept and apply the strategy

As the instruments to conduct a foreign policy remain in the hands of the Member States, the responsibility to implement the Global Strategy lies largely with them. Both ministers and civil servants of ministries of Member States that deal with issues that are covered by the Global Strategy should therefore know, understand and accept the Global Strategy as a basis and guideline for their work.  Because the scope of the Strategy covers also issues such as health and education, the number of ministers and civil servants involved is much wider than those of the ministries of Foreign Affairs.

4. Make use of the advantages of the wider foreign policy agenda

If I may place one critical footnote to the new Global Strategy, it is the lack of a clear view on the consequences for foreign policy in general and for the Global Strategy in particular of the widening of the foreign policy agenda and of the blurring of the distinction between external and internal policies.

New problems, such as climate change, and new instruments, such as educational exchanges and scientific cooperation, are mentioned but not fully integrated in the Strategy. The Strategy is still mainly directed at the classical security threats. (4)

However, it should be noted that the wider agenda of foreign policy provides the EU with foreign policy instruments in fields where it is has a comparative advantage. The military instruments in the hands of the EU might be small in comparison to its economic power; in the civil field its capabilities are large. In such fields as science, education, public health, social security, rule of law and culture the EU has much to offer. This provides the EU with outstanding instruments.

5. All ministries should contribute to the implementation of the Strategy.

As the responsibility for items on the international agenda is nowadays spread over all ministries, and all ministries have to some extent become ministries of Foreign Affairs, all ministries should be involved and held responsible for the implementation of the Global Agenda.

A few examples can illustrate this: Domestic policies concerning the environment, public health or biodiversity can have unintended consequences for neighbouring countries. On the positive side: scholar ships, joint research programmes and projects to protect trans-boundary natural and cultural heritage can be excellent instruments of foreign policy.

6. Discuss the Strategy with foreign countries, also with adversaries

In order to reach the goals of a foreign policy strategy it is usually essential to obtain the cooperation of at least the absence of opposition from other parties. It is possible to look for allies case by case, but it is preferable to have strategic allies, allies that share your strategic goals. Sharing and discussing strategies with potential partners can therefore be an essential part of an effective foreign policy, but sharing and discussing strategies with potential adversaries can be even more important, because the costs of misunderstandings can be extremely high.

Take for example the decision of Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait. If only the US would have in time understood that Saddam Hussein intended to invade Kuwait or if only Saddam Hussein would have understood that the US would use force to reverse that invasion, the Gulf Wars might have been prevented and the Middle East might look quite differently today.

Or take the current tension between Russia and the West. This tension is aggravated by uncertainty about the Russian strategy. What is Russia after? Would it occupy the Baltic countries if it gets a chance, or are these fears unfounded?

7. Involve the citizens

Last, but certainly not least, a major effort should be made to discuss the Strategy with a wider public. Let our diplomats and experts go to schools, to local meetings, to universities and other places to discuss the new Global Strategy. Such meetings would provide excellent opportunities to explain the background and the purpose of not only the Strategy, but also of European cooperation in general.

Just as important as explaining the Strategy would it be to listen to comments and questions. Whenever possible, this feedback should be collected and used. Foreign policy cannot be based on opinion polls, but neither can it function well without the support of a majority of the population. This is the harsh lesson we have to draw from the recent referenda and from the growing popularity of xenophobic parties.

Not so long ago, foreign policy was a matter of little concern to most citizens and governments were free to do whatever they considered to be in the general interest. That has dramatically changed. Recent referenda in the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have made clear a growing gap between a highly educated elite, that experiences the benefits of globalisation and a majority of the population that fears to be its victim.

I suppose I do not have to say anything about the Brexit crisis, but the recent referendum in the Netherlands is probably less well known. It was held in the Netherlands on 6 April 2016 on the Association Agreement between the European Union and Ukraine. However, the people who took the initiative for the referendum openly admitted that they were not interested at all in Ukraine. (5) They said that their main purpose was to destroy the EU or expel the Netherlands from the EU, a so-called ‘Nexit’.

At the referendum a substantive majority of 61% voted against the Association Agreement. It is doubtful whether these people would also vote for a Nexit, but the outcome illustrates the gap between Dutch voters and their representatives in parliament that had accepted the Association Agreement with about 80% of the votes. (6)

This is a very serious problem that cannot be solved by the Global Strategy, but going into the country to discuss the Strategy with citizens can help.


Writing a good strategy is important, but not even half the work. Without a broad and sustained action, the Strategy might end up in the drawers of policy makers as an inspiring text, but little more than that. A large and sustained effort is therefore needed, not only of Brussels, but in particular of the Member States.


(1) Barend ter Haar is Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute. Before his retirement from the Netherlands' Ministry of Foreign Affairs he served inter alia as Director of the Policy Planning Staff. This paper solely represents his personal opinion.
(2)  Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe. A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy was presented to the European Council on 28 June 2016.
(3) A Secure Europe In A Better World European Security Strategy, Brussel, 12 December 2003.
(4) The Strategy recognizes the importance of challenges such as “economic volatility, climate change and energy insecurity” (p.9). Societal links with its neighbours will “be strengthened through enhanced mobility, cultural and educational exchanges, research cooperation and civil society platforms” (p.25). It states that in surrounding regions “the EU will adopt a joined-up approach to its humanitarian, development, migration, trade, investment, infrastructure, education, health and research policies” (p.26) and with regard to Africa it states it will “work on migration, health, education, energy and climate, science and technology” (p.36).
One would expect that this would lead to the conclusion that it is impossible to draw a clear line between external and internal policies. However, on p. 50 a distinction is made between external policies “from diplomacy and CSDP to development and climate” and “internal ones regarding border management, homeland security, asylum, employment, culture and education”. This is not a very convincing distinction, because most if not all of these “internal” policies have trans-boundary consequences.
(5) ‘Oekraïne kan ons niets schelen’ (‘We don’t care at all about Ukraine’) said Arjan van Dixhoorn, chairman of the citizens committee that took the initiative for the referendum. Its founders have only one goal: destroying the European Union or driving the Netherlands out of the EU, a Nexit.“
(6) In several respects the referendum on the Association Agreement was a repetition of the consultative referendum that was held in 2005 about the proposed Constitution of the European Union. About 80% of the members of parliament were in favour of the proposed Constitutional Treaty, but in the referendum 61.6% of the voters rejected it.