European Foreign Policy and the Economic Crisis
Richard Youngs, FRIDE | December 2011
A fascinating look at how the Euro crisis will impact EU foreign policy from Richard Youngs, the director of FRIDE in Madrid. Youngs looks at how a "two-speed" Europe could still function with united external relations, and outlines four guiding principles for a stable and successful policy. From the abstract:
The euro crisis increasingly threatens not just the European Union’s (EU) internal economic unity but also the cogency of its international projection. Relatively little attention has been paid to how the euro crisis might affect EU foreign policy. But it is widely felt that the ever-more consuming nature of the economic crisis can only diminish European foreign policy effectiveness. It is pertinent to begin mapping out what the impact might be and what EU geo-strategy should do in response to the crisis. The EU needs to reflect not only on its immediate management of the euro crisis but also on how this will feed into the changing relationship between Europe and the wider world. This enjoins European governments to redirect their longer-term international policies. If a two-speed Europe is indeed upon us, a common set of geo-strategic principles may help prevent a core-only economic union fundamentally fracturing foreign policy unity.
What makes such an exercise doubly difficult is that the euro crisis interacts in complex ways with the longer-term, underlying trend of Europe’s relative decline. In a sense, the EU faces the double whammy of a short-term crisis superimposed on a more structurally-rooted, incremental loss of power. It is this conjoining of immediate and long-term crises that renders the current juncture of such existential weight. The geo-economics and geo-politics of these two levels of crisis interact in myriad and varied ways. The challenge is to manage this uniquely probing scenario of what might be termed ‘crisis-upon-decline’.
It is widely acknowledged that the EU has so far failed to delineate an overarching strategic philosophy for tempering the effects of its crisis-upon-decline. Traces of geo-strategy such as there are remain inscrutable and extempore. The most obvious trend is towards a sentiment that the post-Western world order behoves the EU to be more of a zero-sum predator, more ‘like China’. While a degree of hard-headed realpolitik is certainly required, the EU is in danger of being overly seduced by this untenable siren. It is now ritually stated that geo-economics will more tightly set the terms of geo-politics; but European governments err in conflating geo-economic strategy with quick-gain mercantilism.
Europe’s crisis-upon-decline does not need to end up being apocalyptically negative for European foreign policies. But the EU does need a more coherent and proactive geopolitical vision to navigate the choppier waters of a crisis-reshuffled world order. Working to ensure that incipient variable-speed fiscal and monetary integration does not augment foreign policy divergence, the EU must build this vision around four principles. The EU should:
- Avoid too heavy a dose of geo-economic mercantilism
- Not allow more modest ambition to elide into self-defeating strategic introspection
- Replace instrumental Europeanisation with pragmatic cosmopolitanism
- Offer firmer support to entice the United States towards a less hegemonic multilateralism
To note Europe’s impending decline is not defeatist. The EU retains enormous strengths and potential. But many trends invite sobriety. The EU will still count for a great deal in global affairs; but its shares of trade, investment, military capacity, energy resources, research funding, diplomatic prerogatives and demographics are all on downward trajectories that are unlikely to be dramatically reversed in the foreseeable future. Many diplomats and analysts minimise these trends as they are concerned not to ‘talk down’ the Union; this is self-destructively otiose.
The scenario of crisis-upon-decline is preoccupying enough to warrant serious and more comprehensive strategic reflection. The EU requires a much more holistic and balanced mix of co-operative realism, internationalism, polycentrism and regionalism. Treading a thin line between over- and under-reaction, the EU can chisel positive opportunity from the still-forming contours of the remoulded international system. But its current approach to exiting recession and recouping presence in rising powers is too utilitarian to constitute good geo-strategy.
The full working paper "European Foreign Policy and the Economic Crisis: What Impact and How to Respond?" is available for download as a PDF from FRIDE.