Europe in the World


Myopic EU lacks flexibility to deal with rising powers

02 May 2017 - 15:56

Preoccupied with internal European matters and uncertainties about relations with the United States, arguably the only real EU strategic partner, is the EU neglecting relations with the rest of the world? The characteristically myopic EU needs to consider its fragile relations with non-Western rising powers. The EU Partnership Instrument (PI) has been designed to give more room for manoeuvre for EU external action. As we argue in our article in European Foreign Affairs Reviews, two years of practice have shown that it is not delivering what  it was intended to do.

Against the backdrop of the current Partnership Instrument mid-term review, the sad truth is that EU External Action Service External Action Service’s (EEAS) strategic potential is undermined by Brussels’ bureaucratic logic and lengthy procedures. National foreign ministries struggle to connect national objectives with EU interests. Here is a selection of four policy recommendations for EU governments that we propose in our article:

1. National foreign ministries in EU member states are advised to take into account strategic considerations regarding the desired role of the EU as a foreign policy actor. It is in the interests of small to medium-sized member states – like the Netherlands - to give attention to the question of how EU diplomacy provides added value to bilateral cooperation efforts.

2. EU member state officials should bear in mind that failure to support actively the Partnership Instrument may contribute to the erosion of the EEAS and EU external action, with potentially unintended consequences for a Union that is already affected by an internal legitimacy deficit and actual member state defection.

3. Paradoxically EU member states would strengthen their own national interest-based relations with strategic partners by investing in Partnership Instrument-focused dialogue with EU Delegations, and by doing so would make a contribution to the reconfiguration of relationships with emerging and big powers.

4. An objective-driven Partnership Instrument would depart from the past experience of more technocratic, process-driven dynamics. Greater agency for the EEAS is in the interests of flexible EU external action. It would therefore make sense for Commission staff and the EU Delegations’ input into the PI to address the strategic and political context, as defined by the EEAS.