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Research Report

Geopolitics with European Characteristics: An Essay on Pragmatic Idealism,Equality, and Strategy

Sven Biscop
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2016
Published by: Egmont Institute
Pages: 28
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Table of Contents

  1. (pp. 3-5)
    Sven Biscop

    Knowing how to do things is not the same as knowing what you are doing. Think of the Ukraine crisis. The European Union (EU) rolled out the entire machinery of trade negotiations, with all of its intricate procedures and technical details, everything according to the manual, to complete a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with Ukraine. Not a single small mistake was made. Except for the large and catastrophic mistake to assume that these negotiations were taking place in a political and geopolitical vacuum.

    The Ukraine example highlights two major challenges to the EU’s self-conception as an international...

  2. (pp. 7-9)

    Until today the operating principle of our idealist grand strategy has been positive conditionality, under the label of partnership. The EU brings the 2003 ESS into practice through bilateral partnership agreements with countries that commit to better governance and more democracy; in return the EU promises aid and access. Many of the bilateral partnerships are anchored in a regional framework, such as the Eastern Partnership and the Union for the Mediterranean, which cover both flanks of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Ten global and regional powers have been upgraded to strategic partners. By and large, this approach has been successful...

  3. (pp. 11-14)

    In order to adapt our idealist strategy, we must ask ourselves some difficult questions. First, are the values that we have hitherto aimed to promote truly universal? Second, even if the answer is yes, or partially so, does it actually serve our interests to continue to promote them? Third, if so, what exactly should we seek to promote, where, how, and with which objectives?

    The answer to the first question must be a resounding yes. Belief in these values implies belief in their universality, because not to do so is in itself a violation of those values. For example, to...

  4. (pp. 15-16)

    The most important source of Europe’s soft power is certainly not its soldiers nor its trade, nor even its development aid or its diplomacy. What really renders Europe attractive to other people is, quite simply, the European way of life, and how we govern ourselves to make that possible. The idea that European governments, and the Union of those governments, in spite of all the many imperfections of our system, do care more sincerely and more equally for the wellbeing of all European citizens, is a very powerful one.

    But once a powerful image has been destroyed, it is very...

  5. (pp. 17-19)

    Without any doubt, Europe’s broad neighbourhood will absorb a lot if not most of our energy. In their Joint Communication of 18 November 2015, the European Commission and the High Representative (2015) have already outlined a new ENP – in effect pre-empting the EUGS of which the ENP ought to be a sub-strategy. But since it goes in the right direction, the Joint Communication can act as a useful precursor.

    Reflecting the newly recognized importance of interests, the document states that “the EU will pursue its interests which include the promotion of universal values”, but adds immediately that “not all...

  6. (pp. 21-24)

    Geopolitics dictates a strong focus on our neighbourhood, but stabilizing our periphery actually implies dealing with the great powers, notably China and Russia. Russia obviously borders on the EU. China, under the heading of “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR), is set on a westward expansion, through Central Asia and into Europe, the Middle East and Africa, by means of what a Belgian diplomatic friend of mine has dubbed “infrastructuralism”: massive investment in connectivity infrastructure. The EU thus cannot “pivot” to Asia like the US is doing. First of all, our own neighbourhood, unlike that of the US, is much too...

  7. (pp. 25-26)

    For the EU and its Member States, unlike some of the other great powers, the use of force can never again be a normal instrument of statecraft. Europeans have started too many wars, and suffered the consequences on their own territory, right at home. Of course, the military instrument can also be deployed preventively, and it has a crucial deterrent function. But the actual use of force, in the context of a strategy based on pragmatic idealism, can only be an instrument of last resort. If it comes to that last resort though, when vital interests and/or the Responsibility to...

  8. (pp. 27-27)

    By announcing der Untergang des Abendlandes I would fit seamlessly into the prevalent mood in Europe. Yet unless we bring it about ourselves, it will not come to pass. Europe is neither poor nor weak. The EU and the Member States have the means to ensure their citizens’ security, freedom and prosperity, if only they muster the will and the unity to do so. And citizens know that. That is why a discourse based on the abundance of threats and the necessity of austerity and sacrifice will not be credible. We cannot just ask people to “endeavour to persevere”, as...