It is my pleasure to join you for this outreach conference today.
First of all, let me thank Federica for joining us today and for her leadership in the global strategy process. Without her sense of direction we wouldn’t get very far. Next week, in Amsterdam, we will discuss the Global Strategy during the Gymnich meeting, together with colleagues from the other 27 member states – and the ministers of defence. If you have ever been at such a meeting you will know what a challenge it is to chair a discussion of 56 ministers from 28 countries… But Federica is up to the task! And in the end, it is the exact same challenge we need to address with the new Global Strategy: It is all about more focus, more coherence and more cooperation in EU foreign and security policy!
First, what do I mean by “focus”? Some people argue that the new strategy should mainly focus on our immediate neighbourhood. And it’s true: With the crises in Ukraine, Libya and Syria right at our doorstep, with hundreds of thousands of refugees entering Europe, the EU has enough on its plate. So, some say, no time to worry about other global affairs.
But I think the answer is more complex. The crises we are witnessing in the Eastern and South-eastern neighbourhood of Europe are symptoms of a much bigger process: the erosion of international order. Many of these crises are like earthquakes, as the tectonic plates of geopolitics are shifting and clashing. That worries us in Europe especially, because our economies and our societies depend heavily on a functioning and rules-based international order. So we need to strengthen and renew structures of international order – and this we cannot do without engaging Asia! And not only because of Asia’s increasing geopolitical weight but also because our economic relations are increasingly dominated by Asia. And because many of the conflict areas lie right between us and our most important trading partners in Asia, I think that both sides have a strong interest in working for solutions.
Second, we need more coherence in EU foreign policy. Let’s be honest: There were times when the European Union was in better shape. This year might turn out to be one of the toughest years in EU history. So, given that the EU is already in danger of drifting apart, we must make sure that we are not additionally divided by third parties. That’s a notorious challenge for the EU vis-à-vis big strategic partners like China and India. The new Global Strategy needs to counteract this tendency – through a strong narrative of joint EU interests and joint action toward Asia.
And in this narrative, dear Federica, the High Representative must take centre stage. A EU global strategy depends on a strong High Representative. The global strategy must enable the High Representative to coordinate our efforts better and it must enlarge her diplomatic toolbox, including crisis prevention, mediation, economic cooperation and financial instruments.
This brings me to my third point – what are the specific fields of cooperation between member states, EU institutions and our Asian partners? From our perspective in Europe, the complexity of Asia lies in its economic power and its fragility. As the EU is Asia’s largest trading and investment partner, bolstering security and stability in Asia is crucial for us, too. And the good thing is: Europe has a lot to offer in this direction –economic weight, technological innovation, strong national and regional institutions. This is why we should strive to become a more visible and stronger partner to Asia, including in the area of foreign and security policy. Here a few aspects of this partnership:
One is our relationship with ASEAN. How can we support the development of a regional security architecture around ASEAN? Where can we work together on conflict prevention, confidence-building, international dialogue and similar means to reduce tensions? Let’s bring a European perspective into these important discussions in Asia. By the way, this is why I think the EU should have a seat at the East Asia Summit.
Another aspect is connectivity – meaning, for example, Infrastructure development, transport routes and border management. The initiative “One Belt – One Road” is one opportunity to engage China as well as Russia and Central Asia.
A last aspect I want to mention is cooperation on Asia with other partners, like the United States. We should discuss Asia, especially China, more within the transatlantic community. Challenges like the market economy status for China or the security situation in the South China Sea are just as relevant in Brussels as in Washington.
I look forward to our discussion.