The EU's strengths: the keys to the future of European foreign policy

Cooperation, international trade and the creation of a new environmental and social agenda have been the key guidelines for a new European project
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The second part of the first day of the course "Strengthening the international role of the European Union at the Conference on the Future of Europe", held as part of the summer courses at El Escorial, featured a round table discussion with Consuelo Ramón Chornet, Professor of Public International Law and International Relations at the University of Valencia, José Angel Sotillo Lorenzo, Professor of International Relations at the Complutense University of Madrid, and Luis Norberto González Alonso, Secretary General of the Federal Council of the European Movement  debated how to use the EU's strengths to strengthen its geopolitical role.

Consuelo Ramón Chornet, professor of public international law and international relations at the University of Valencia, explained that there is a "lack of reaction from the European Union in terms of anti-terrorism, or in adverse situations such as the pandemic and the economic crisis, which have made us wonder what would become of Spain without the EU, for example".

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In relation to the EU's role in foreign policy, Chornet gave as an example the strategy that the EU adopted in "the dynamic with the previous US president, the EU was forced to react and to think of its own forces. Among the main objectives that the EU should consider adopting agreements on refugees, the prevention of attacks on European soil and the prevention of pandemic situations such as those we are currently experiencing".

For this reason, according to Chornet, it is necessary to join forces to "build a healthy continent, defend the fight against climate change, social justice, equality, migratory challenges, security and establish the democratic foundations of the Union".

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With regard to the suggestions proposed in this area, the professor stated that "if the EU wants to be an actor with the capacity to influence, its main challenge is not to renounce its diplomatic and normative character and to reinforce its geostrategic role in IR".

In this sense, "the EU must have the capacity to adopt its mental maps to the new international reality as it is and not so much as it would like it to be; this requires the capacity to relearn the language of power and reaffirm itself as a major actor".

He went on to say that "for the last two decades, the geopolitical context has been increasingly different, with China and the Pacific becoming more and more central. Europe is ageing, the labour context has evolved the most, the creation of new employment niches, new working conditions such as teleworking, the biotechnology revolution". However, with this progress he warns that "fragmentation and precariousness have also advanced".

"The EU does not lack resources for this purpose, but its member states must demonstrate the political will to join forces and to do so coherently". To this end, she believes that it is necessary to create "an innovative agenda with new rules on social, fiscal and environmental issues".

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Placing Europe's position in the context of the pandemic, Chornet argues that this situation has proved to be "proof of the EU's capacity and resilience, as it cannot be denied that in the midst of an extremely difficult global scenario, the European Commission reacted to take the reins and ensure the provision of vaccines in the European area. The Commission has been able to put in place a recovery plan, and these European funds are proof that states have an unequal capacity to respond. However, for the professor, "the problem is that Europe is not just one reality, but the combination of all the realities of the countries that make it up". 

Looking to the future, she argues that "the issue of global warming must take priority - by 2050, if we don't act now there will be no turning back - as well as energy autonomy centred on renewable energies".

On the other hand, José Ángel Sotillo Lorenzo, professor of international relations at the Complutense University of Madrid, affirms that from Europe "we always think that cooperation is something marginal. Cooperation is in tatters, the absence of cooperation is in tatters because the pandemic has accelerated its negative features along with other more structural causes".

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However, he sees the European Union as "a benchmark in development cooperation policies here the EU is a benchmark if we look at the American models or those of other countries in comparison with the European model". In this sense, he advocates strengthening "what we do well, recognising the fundamental role it can play in the future in this geopolitical role".

In this regard, the European Union should reinforce these strengths such as "the consolidated policy as part of external action, the significance of being the world's leading donor of global development aid, the alignment and good track record with the 2030 agenda and the sustainable development goals and targets in the economic, social and environmental spheres, as well as positioning itself as a benchmark in multilateralism, and its role in COVID-19".

Similarly, he advocates "reinforcing the principles and values of the European model, recognition as a relevant partner, different from the US and China model, working with partners on the basis of co-responsibility rather than donor status".

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As proposals, Sotillo advocates for "greater accountability to citizens, toughening the impact of European cooperation and promoting greater awareness and education for development".

Trade policy as a weapon to influence geopolitical decisions

Finally, the secretary general of the Federal Council of the European movement, Luis Norberto González Alonso, explained in his speech the importance of trade as a main instrument to be strengthened.

According to Noberto, "the EU is reacting to changes that come from outside, on other occasions it has also been forced to do so, but at the same time, in the process of adaptation, we have also been leaving some shreds along the way. These adaptation efforts highlight the EU's problems.

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"The EU by its very nature has congenital problems that the US and Canada do not have. Trade policy helps to reinforce the EU's geopolitical role in the world", he stressed.

With regard to the evolution of the international reality, the Secretary stated that "in the last year we have seen certain changes in the reorientation of trade policy, a new post has been created for the EU to detect where we have trade problems and to take executive action. In this way, action has to be taken in the face of the global uncertainty created by the rise of China.

As solutions to this situation he proposes a more assertive trade policy that stimulates "access to public markets, where we are very open, but we cannot be naïve". He also mentioned the importance of "turning trade policy into a much more geopolitical instrument, since the fundamental value of this policy is unity, which has been threatened".