A Federalist Journal for World Citizenship

Strategic compass. Some considerations on the EU’s role in the world

March 13, 2022
by Antonio Longo

By Antonio Longo

The Strategic Compass aims to cement the foundations for a shared vision for EU security and defence among European Union Member States. This Member State-led process was initiated in 2020 and finalized  on end of March 2022.

This document is a schematic contribute to the debate on the “strategic compass” issue, in particular as regards to the relationship between the concepts of security and development. It has been written before the war was triggered by Russia on Ukraine. 

 Some points under discussion

  1. The world faces a choice between:
    • a “global system of continent states” engaged in a struggle for hegemony or equilibrium, as was the case for the European system of states, for centuries.  From time to time one state or another (Spain, then France, and lastly Germany) would attempt to unify the continent using military power (the sword of Satan, as Spinelli called it). These attempts were always defeated thanks to the intervention of “lateral” powers (Great Britain or Russia) which, through a coalition of states, managed to restore balance in Europe. Now a similar system seems to be emerging, with a struggle for world hegemony (China/US) taking place in the economic arena, offset by military tensions in the Pacific (US/China), the Middle East (US-Russia-China), Africa (Russia-China-US-France) and Eastern Europe (Russia/US/EU);
    • a “multilateral system of states” (starting with the largest) in which the struggle for hegemony is replaced by a conscious choice to cooperate on common objectives, none of which can be achieved by any state individually: environmental protection, the health of the human species, the scientific and technological revolution, global economic development, safeguarding the values and identities of the earth’s peoples.
  2. The European Union must work to ensure that the world progresses towards a “multilateral system of states”. This is in its interest, as well as its DNA (given that it was established with the aim of overcoming the absolute sovereignty of states) because:
    • The EU is an economic power, but not a military one
    • Only in a “multilateral system of states” can the EU play an important role, and make the most of its leadership in some crucial sectors, such as safeguarding the environment and health, establishing universal standards to manage the digital and technological revolution, and defending the rule of law.
  3. In order to pursue a political approach that works towards a “multilateral system of states”, the European Union must decide on the guiding principles of its policy towards the rest of the world, starting with the neighbouring areas (Eastern Europe / Middle-East and Mediterranean / Africa).
    Once these strategic decisions are in place the EU will be able to determine its relations with the US, Russia and China.
  4. When it comes to the neighbouring areas, the EU faces two major issues:
    • Security:
      • Russia is not secure because the breakdown of the USSR weakened it politically and it now feels squeezed between two superpowers (China/US). After abandoning Gorbachev’s plan for a “common European home”, Russia is intent on achieving security using power politics to weaken and divide the EU, applying the political paradigm of the past (that of the old European system of states). Russia’s insecurity also spells insecurity for Europe, in terms of pressure on Ukraine and the potential destabilization of the Balkans (Serbia).
      • the Middle East is insecure: the old confrontation between the US and Russia has now been replaced by a direct confrontation between “regional” powers: Iran, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt … which are reproducing a check and balance system similar to that in place in Europe in the past. This insecurity has repercussions on Europe, in the form of uncontrolled migration, religious radicalization, terrorism, the nuclear threat.
      • Africa is insecure because it is politically divided and therefore open to hegemonic interference from the superpowers (China / Russia / US) and pressures from some of the old European states (France, Italy, the UK…). This scenario will continue until the African Union takes shape by establishing an “African common market”, as Europe did in the 1950s. Insecurity in Africa affects Europe in terms of uncontrolled migration, internal destabilization, terrorism, and geo-political changes that serve specific superpowers.
    • Development
      • Russia is economically weak (its GDP is lower than Italy’s), and the fact that its exports depend essentially on gas makes it vulnerable. The free trade area with the other countries of the “Commonwealth of Independent States” (established after the demise of the USSR) has never functioned fully and a genuine “common market” has never developed. The energy transition towards carbon neutrality appears challenging: the economy is still driven by large, state-run production structures, under political control: in this scenario the economic relationship with the West automatically becomes a political issue (see Stream 2)
      • The Middle East has to face the end of oil, the resource that ensured the area’s importance for a century, as well as its development (and wars). The energy transition of this region can only be accomplished by creating a “common market” for some common goods (water, agriculture, renewable resources), accompanied by the creation of “federal-type unions” (Israeli-Palestinian?). Otherwise we can expect to see enduring instability and development gaps between different areas.
      • Africa is potentially very rich in natural resources. To drive development there needs to be unity, otherwise the continent will continue to be plundered. The main aspects to work on are: supplying energy and electricity to help combat poverty, the water issue, developing sustainable agriculture, and major infrastructure and communication projects to unite this huge continent. These issues have to be resolved for “common market” of the African Union to take off. The EU’s role in fostering this is crucial. Europe has an interest in a Euro-African energy transition, to be pursued through complementary strategies for the reduction of CO2 emissions, the development of renewable energies, infrastructures for the production and transport of hydrogen and more. There is no shortage of projects, but there must be political will on both sides of the Mediterranean.

The EU’s security policy (foreign and defence) therefore revolves around two key concepts: security and development.
Europe will be secure internally if it can help the neighbouring areas develop.
Europe will develop internally if the neighbouring areas are secure.
The neighbouring areas will be secure if Europe aids their development
Neighbouring areas will develop if Europe helps ensure their security

Brief considerations on global relations

If the world progresses towards a US/China bipolar scenario, Europe will be relegated to the role of the US’s junior partner, just as Russia can only play the role of China’s junior partner.

Europe and Russia, on the other hand, have a common interest in developing a “multipolar” global system based on US-China-Europe-Russia (potentially adding Japan, India and, in the future, the African Union and the Latin American Union) capable of orienting the global political system towards forms of global supranational unity, the only approach which is fit to tackle the challenges of the future.

The developments in the following relationships are important:

  1. US – EU. The Atlantic Pact and NATO are not in question, but the relationship between the US and European countries needs to be redefined. The US needs to recognize that for NATO to be a strong Alliance there has to be a genuine equal partnership between the US and the EU (an EU with defence capabilities). We should no longer be thinking in terms of “the US and its European allies“, but the US and the EU. Europe needs this to be able to act, on its own initiative, towards Russia, China, the Middle East, Africa and the rest of the world. For multilateralism to develop the EU must have an autonomous role within the framework of Atlantic collaboration.
  2. EU-Russia. Europe must be able to offer Russia security and development, and receive security and development in return. An autonomous EU (within the framework of the Atlantic Alliance) would be able to negotiate with Russia on Ukraine joining the EU (not NATO), and offer Russia free-trade agreements for goods and services, free movement of people and capital. As a member of the EU (but not NATO, like Finland or Sweden) Ukraine could also be part of a reformed Commonwealth of Independent States, working in the direction of a common market in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus. Ukraine should act as a “bridge” between the EU and Russia, within the framework of a “common European home”.

This is a prerequisite for ensuring that the EU and Russia become equal, rather than junior, partners of the US and China.

To this end, the EU needs to redefine its institutions:

  1. It is time to move beyond direct contact between individual countries (France, Germany, Italy….) and Russia, and “Normandy format” talks
  2. Foreign policy must be decided by the European Council, not the current President of the EU
  3. Foreign policy should be implemented by the High Representative, given a more centralized coordinating role, in strict connection with the President of the European Commission
  4. Once the terms of a potential agreement have been defined with Russia, there will have to be negotiations
  5. It will be necessary to appoint a single negotiator, as was the case with Brexit. Angela Merkel could be the negotiator of the EU-Russia agreement on the status of Ukraine in the EU and the Commonwealth of Independent States. This would be a “bridge” creating a vast free trade area from the Atlantic to Vladivostok.

An area of security and development. Which makes the multilateral system possible on a global scale.

February 14, 2022