The European Union has largely been treading water during the last two cycles from 2010 to 2019, the Brussels-based Carnegie Europe think tank concluded in its retrospective analysis of the performance of the European Commission under Jean-Claude Juncker.
While the European Commission is struggling with a permanent identity along with the EU as a whole, the main reason for the inefficiency is the divergence between the Brussels headquarters and the individual member states, according to the study entitled “Where in the World Is the EU Now?”.
“In general, the union’s regional and global reach did not grow significantly between 2014 and 2019,” the authors Stephan Lehne and Francesco Siccardi concluded. “At a time when Europe’s weight on the global scales was diminishing and its neighborhood was troubled by multiple crises, the EU and its member states were not able or willing to invest significantly more in their common foreign policy.”
Regarding the tasks now faced by the new Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen that came into office in November 2019, the authors tellingly write that the new team “understands that the present state of EU external policy leaves room for improvement.”
As for the foreign policy involvement in nascent crises, the authors came to the conclusion that High Representative Federica Mogherini – the de facto foreign minister of the European Union – has made little appreciable contribution to reinforcing Europe’s position on the global scene.
“Declarations can have great political importance when they define the EU’s initial response to an emerging crisis or unexpected development, but many simply rehash established EU positions. Three-quarters of Mogherini’s declarations referred to developments in specific countries, while one-fourth cited international negotiations or conferences or annual recurrences, such as Human Rights Day or International Anti-corruption Day,” the study wrote.
They also note that the radical decline in the number of declarations on Syria and Libya during the Juncker presidency compared with the previous period probably reflects the fact that these topics were controversial among EU member states.
The study points out that the new Commission leaders started with high ambitions. Senior politicians such as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and High Representative Josep Borrell declared that Europe would finally learn the “language of power,” turn itself into a geopolitical actor, and take the lead on critical policy issues such as climate, digitization, cyber warfare, and Africa.
“But as the new top officials were about to begin their work, Europe was hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which is likely to be a game changer for EU foreign policy,” the authors say.
Title image: European Union. (source: carnegieeurope.eu)