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Research Report

Europe and the World or Snow White and the Seven Fallacies

Sven Biscop
Copyright Date: Nov. 1, 2013
Published by: Egmont Institute
Pages: 21
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 3-4)
    Sven Biscop

    European foreign policy: the words do not conjure up any grand images. In the absence of any real ambition, there are neither triumphs to celebrate nor disasters to mourn. There is only gentle irrelevance to contemplate. Such is the image of Europe as an international player today in the minds of those who make and study foreign policy and strategy, in our own as well as in foreign capitals. Gentle irrelevance, for Europe proclaims to wish the world well and is generous enough with its money to prove it. And it presents no cause for fear, only for irritation, in...

  2. (pp. 5-6)

    There are only two kinds of countries in Europe, Belgian statesman Paul-Henri Spaak is reputed to have said: small countries and those that have yet to realize that they are but that – small countries. Alas, the latter far outnumber the former. To believe that on the world stage any European state is more than a dwarf is the single most damning fallacy for Europe’s global role, for it creates the illusion in many capitals that they don’t need the other Europeans.

    It particularly stimulates bilateral wheeling and dealing with the great powers to the detriment of collective European engagement,...

  3. (pp. 7-8)

    To convince the Member States of the need for collective action through the EU, the Union must prove it can more effectively defend those interests which its Member States individually can no longer safeguard. Unfortunately, many officials and observers still seem to regard interests as a notion that does not or should not apply to the EU. The pursuit of interests runs contrary to their idealised view of an altruistic EU foreign policy. This is the attitude that leads some to condemn the interventions in Libya and Mali for the mere fact that they served our interests. One wonders whether...

  4. (pp. 9-10)

    If European foreign policy is about interests, more is called for than going around the world handing out free apples in return for a token commitment to human rights and democracy. It is another fallacy to equate foreign policy with doing programmes and projects. Too many EU “policy” decisions amount to extending or adding to existing budget lines, without setting clear objectives or even assessing the effectiveness of past programmes. European foreign policy is not political enough.

    Our response to the turmoil in our southern neighbourhood that followed the Arab Spring is a prime example. What the EU has called...

  5. (pp. 11-12)

    Once again the question can be asked why then the Union does not live up to its potential? If misfortune befalls Snow White, we blame the witch. But this is another fallacy: it is all too easy to blame someone else for the ineffectiveness of EU foreign policy, but in the end most of the blame lies with the Member States themselves, who are not willing to let the EU level play the role that it could play.

    The programmatic approach to foreign policy is often decried as the result of the dominance of the ways of the Commission within...

  6. (pp. 13-14)

    More important than shouldering (much of) the blame, is assuming responsibility. Member States will have to assume a lot more responsibility, for what was the bedrock of European strategic thinking has now also become a fallacy: we can no longer count on our prince from America to save us from each and every danger. Not that the prince does not care for us anymore: if once again the territory of Europe itself were directly threatened, he would charge to the rescue, because that directly concerns American vital interests. But absent such a threat, the real focus of US strategy is...

  7. (pp. 15-16)

    The prince’s pivot exposes yet another fallacy: the CSDP and NATO are not competing castles in the same shire that should therefore be jockeying for influence – they are but wings of one and the same castle that defends the shire as a whole. Unfortunately, a fallacious focus on institutions has generated a reductionism that is detrimental to the quality of the European strategic debate. Nearly every issue is automatically reduced to the question of the desired competences and prestige of the preferred organisation. Falsely perceived as a zero-sum game, it has led to a ridiculous beauty contest between NATO...

  8. (pp. 17-18)

    This brings us neatly to the last fallacy: European governments will not be able to overcome any of these fallacies if they continue to refuse to engage in the strategic debate. Precisely because they are so divided today, they need a fairy tale, a story-line, a narrative, to tie it all together and stipulate what it is that they want to do together: a strategy.

    Europeans do not have to do everything together. The aim is not to upload everything to the collective European agenda. The point of strategy is precisely the opposite: it is to make choices, to set...

  9. (pp. 19-19)

    Common Foreign and Security Policy, Common Security and Defence Policy: as with a Democratic Republic, the more the need is felt to explicitly stress it, the less common/democratic it probably actually is. There is no magic wand that will allow us to conjure up a European strategic consensus out of nowhere. But there is no reason for pessimism either. Governments cling to their prerogatives, but they are also pragmatic. We have seen in the wake of the Eurozone crisis that in spite of the initial national reflex of many capitals, and reluctant though they still may be, the agreed way...