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Foreign Policy Priorities for a Geopolitical European Commission

Von der Leyen Commission´s quest to develop geo-strategic autonomy and to “learn the language of power” in the midst of an increasingly neorealist international ecosystem constitutes one of the most ambitious goals of the union´s current political-institutional cycle. With mounting external challenges and a poor record of joint external posturing, the EU must find ways to increase the return of its declining weight while securing political cohesion and preserving its distinctive normative ethos. A victory condition which requires from capitalising on available means and consensuses to concatenate advancement towards a defined continental agency.

Above all, to grow and mature as a grand strategy player, the EU must play to its strengths and not relinquish its global role as a staunch defender of multilateralism and a rule-based international system. Despite the return of power-politics, by maintaining the operational primacy of its core business model, Europe´s Venusian spirit can fuel the teleological foundations upon which crucial strategic partnerships with like-minded actors can take place. In this regard, transforming geopolitical weakness into strategic strength, the EU should embody an expedient third way for countries looking to break free from US and Chinese highly-coordinated all-or-nothing dichotomies; a posturing which would safeguard the EU´s hard-earned international identity as a pragmatic and collaborative civilian power. If influence is the end-goal, learning the “language of power” should not entail giving up on Europe´s mother-tongue.

Following this strategic assessment, Brussels would need to envision a diplomatic fix to the current trans-Atlantic impasse and mine for areas of shared interest where the EU and a Pacific-centric US could pursue complementary policies. With geopolitical autonomy constituting a distant dream, ensuring a workable relation with Washington is crucial to achieve sustainable outcomes abroad and to appease EUMS who rely on strategic servitude for protection. On this subject, armouring the Atlantic partnership and strengthening Europe’s contributions to NATO not only could provide the EU with greater real traction -and credibility- overseas, but also with the required breathing-space to further integrate CSDP approaches at home. Ultimately for the EEAS, sustainable agency is more strategically valuable than a shattered autonomy.

When dealing with China, the von der Leyen Commission´s quest for enhanced geopolitical independence must involve crowding-out Beijing´s ability to undermine EU strategic weight and coherence through financial brute force and repressed labour costs. In order to counter economic trophy-hunting by the CPC, the EU should re-design its competition policy to address unfair competition from abroad, establish common screening procedures to protect sensitive sectors and empower the EC to veto FDI on security grounds. In conjunction with this, taking lessons from China´s foreign-reserves-driven successes in peripheral countries, Brussels needs to deploy enhanced cohesion muscle to shield EUMS foreign policy from highjacking. If the financial foundations of political autonomy remain unaddressed, developing a comprehensive and shared China policy will remain kaleidoscopic, and the EU-EIB tandem would never achieve the required scale to rival OBOR in Eurasia. Furthermore, in the light of the neo-realist vulnerabilities exposed by the Covid-19 crisis, Eastern Europe should be industrially weaponised to counter the “Made in China” grip. A strategic reserve rationale from which Brussels could engineer advantageous political trade-offs in the name of integration.

To catch-up and mitigate future geopolitical pressure from the US and China, Europe´s final foreign policy priority should entail the domestic nurturing of the technological and economic assets which will later underpin strategic advantage in a green, digital and automated world. In this regard, through savvy regulatory engineering, a greater pool of shared resources and the strategic flexibilization of state-market relations, the von der Leyen´s Commission must aim to develop the first generation of  “EU champions” in fields such as AI, telecommunications, solar power and robotics. In conjunction with this, beyond mobilising Europe´s transnational regulatory power to sabotage rival lead, Brussels should consider reaching the station of technological sovereignty through cohesive post-industrial arrangements -such as UBI- to optimise R&D scale and suppress environmental fallout. A further reinforcement of the idea that the EU not only is smarter but also more social than its rivals.

Although the list of foreign policy challenges for Europe is long, taking into account the centripetal drift governing political ecosystems at national and EU levels, these lines of effort offer the greatest geopolitical return at the lowest level of organic disruption. While the temptation to push more energetically for the manufacturing of deliverables around PESCO, CARD, or EDF might entice many, Von der Leyen Commission´s self-imposed strategic bucket-list should, above all, prioritise reifying the unitary strategic ability to act. Focus on transforming its already top-tier macroeconomic weight into a driver of domestic cohesive autonomy and double-down on a shared modal identity upon the union´s political scale can be boosted. Ultimately, the road towards defining Europe´s global position in true geopolitical terms mandates to coordinate foreign policy rationales with inner-cohesion enhancement. To approach diplomacy as Europe´s best competitive bet and to understand that strategic empathy between EUMS is the only way to revert certain joint decline.

 

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