– A speech by President Constantinescu on the future of EU Foreign Policy

Keynote Speech, ICD Young Leaders Forum; ICD Advisory Board Member Dr. Emil Constantinescu holding a speech about the lessons of the past for the European Union and the challenges of the future for the effective use of Soft Power in Foreign Policy Agendas.
  January 04th, 2011

The Future of EU Foreign Policy

Keynote Speech given by Former President of Romania, Dr. Emil Constantinescu, at the ICD Young Leaders Forum, Berlin – January 4th, 2011

Prediction is one of the oldest and of the trickiest techniques the human mind has devised in its history. Our ancestors guessed in almost everything, from beans and bones to stones and stars, and their predictions were seldom fulfilled. Are we now better equipped for the job? I strongly doubt it. Would anybody have guessed in 1984, the fatidic year of Orwell’s book that, in less than five years, Eastern Europe will blow up, marking a turning point in global history? What I humbly propose today is, then, a truly hypothetical sequence of perspectives, knowing too well that it could be utterly denied tomorrow by the effect of an unknown or unexpected factor.

In spite of all the ambiguities of the last two decades, new concepts, new institutions, new opportunities are about to emerge, shaping a true European identity. A new European vision of European and international security may open the way towards a common European foreign policy. But perhaps we should first question the very concept of a common European foreign policy: is it necessary? Is it good? Is it possible to imagine that centuries of different – nay, even divergent options in the foreign goals of, let’s say, Germany and France, or Great Britain and Italy, not to mention Poland, Sweden, Austria, or my own country, Romania, can, and should be replaced by a single voice, and a unique chain of decisions?

The Foreign Policy is a very sophisticated realm, connected to the great and the petty politics of the European member-states alike. It started back in ancient times with the exchange of delegates from a city to another, from Greece to Rome, from Rome to Byzantium, then Renascent Italy invented the permanent diplomatic missions, which were pivotal during centuries of highly formalized exchanges. In order to have a common foreign policy, could we imagine a melting pot blending Talleyrand and Metternich, Lawrence of Arabia and Javier Solana?

My answer is basically affirmative. The European Union is a unique political body and has a unique political answer to the unavoidable fact of an indivisible European security. It never was a bare coalition of nation states, but it will not be, at least in a predictable future, a super-state itself. The Cold War compelled a joint action of the Atlantic Alliance and of the European Communities, which paved the way to an integrated Western foreign policy. EU countries have always recognized the need to act together in foreign policy and defense matters. But this has proved hard to achieve. A timid start was made in 1970 through the process called European Political Cooperation, whereby EU countries tried to coordinate their positions on foreign policy issues within the United Nations and other international bodies.

The end of the Cold War started by bringing along the illusion that western European security has no more threats to confront with. Even if it was never expressed, or perhaps more so because it was not expressed, this soothing and false idea was underlying many decisions and attitudes, both in European and in American options. In the 90s, the Western Balkan crisis questioned dramatically this assumption, proving the opposite, namely that, after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the whole of Europe is endangered whenever any of its countries are at risk. The emergence of a new post-communist world-order and the rise of international terrorism pushed EU countries to redouble their efforts to speak in one voice on world affairs.

Accordingly, the enlargement processes of NATO and of the EU converged in making both organizations almost coextensive. The principle of a common foreign and security policy (CFSP) was formalized in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992. But on particularly sensitive issues, or where individual EU countries had special interests, no single voice could be found because decisions could only be unanimous.

In 1999, the Amsterdam Treaty introduced for the first time the office of High Representative for the common foreign and security policy. In 2003, the European Council held in Brussels approved for the first time a European Security Strategy, significantly entitled A SECURE EUROPE IN A BETTER WORLD, drafted under the responsibilities of the EU High Representative Solana.

In 2009, the Constitutional Treaty of the European Union made a significant move towards the political union bycreating the position of President of the EU Council. A new political figure has come on the scene: the fixed full-time President of the European Council. The President’s main task is to ensure the preparation and continuity of the workof the European Council – which becomes an institution in its own right – and to facilitate consensus. He will, at his level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy. The united post of EU foreign minister is redefined in a broad view, and puts the EU political, economic, and diplomatic action under unified organizational umbrella. It makes EU foreign policy more coherent and consistent. Foreign partners will have one main interlocutor. The creation in 2011 of the EU External Action Service will place formulation and implementation of the full range of EU foreign policy relations under one roof, bringing EU diplomatic staff from different institutions together.

The way decisions were taken also changed. As long as key decisions were to be taken by unanimous vote, essential authority in foreign and security policy had stayed with EU governments. Aware of this constraint, the Union has introduced more flexible voting procedures on Common Foreign and Security Policy decisions. Governments may now abstain. It is allowed the majority voting, or a majority of countries can act on their own. Unanimity is required on major decisions with military or defense implications. These new regulations should make EU capable of making a bigger contribution to the international peace and cooperation that match its potential (27 member states, more than 470 million people, ¼ of the world Gross National Product).

The EU has now stronger defensive mechanisms, and a growing competence in answering international crises. Some effects are already to be seen. The EU has sent peacekeeping missions to several of the world’s trouble spots. The first European military missions were in the Balkans. The EU assumed command of the military stabilization force in Bosnia & Herzegovina in 2005. In the Balkans, the EU is funding assistance projects in seven countries to help them build stable societies. Other short-term missions were deployed in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In August 2008, under the French presidency, the EU brokered a ceasefire to end fighting between Georgia and Russia, and deployed EU observers to monitor the situation. It provided humanitarian aid to people displaced by the fighting and organized an international donor conference for Georgia. In December 2008, the EU launched its first maritime operation. Its mission is to protect ships from pirates along the Somali coast, particularly ships delivering food aid to Somalia.

European Union possesses a full range of economic, legal, diplomatic, military tools allowing it to “act effectively and decisively on the global stage.” Is it enough, yet, for saying as a recent EU document does, that the EU is a key player in international issues ranging from global warming to the conflict in the Middle East? On the web portal of the EU, the common foreign policy of the Union is qualified as Decisive diplomacy. In the dictionaries, we find that decisive means having the power to determine an outcome or being conclusive; its antonyms are indecisive, indefinite, procrastinating.  Seemingly, the EU foreign policy has now the means, acquired an important reactive capacity, but as for now still lacks the vision of a specific, European international role.

In a way it is only natural to be so. The EU is not only a common market, it is a high risk innovation and experiment in politics, and as such a way to invent itself step by step. Centuries of competition between nations have to be surpassed by a radically opposed reality of cordial cooperation and of cordial reciprocal trust. Not an easy task. It is a task, however, which needs not only a slow evolution, but which imposes a change of paradigm, at least in three directions. First, the European Union has to abandon the rules of a zero-sum game and to adopt in every respect the very different behaviour of a win-win game-player. Second, it has to adopt a new strategic concept, adapted to its geo-strategic position after the enlargement. And third, it has to shift from bureaucratic decisions to a truly democratic mechanism in shaping its foreign and security policies. The present crisis is not only an economic and financial black hole, it is also an opportunity to change paradigms in a radical manner. Europe cannot meet its own future without changing the paradigms both inside the Union and in the EU relations with the world.  

As for win-win games: when I was President of Romania, I had to negotiate a great variety of decisions which were based on that win-win principle. I will rememorize only one of them, which seems to me emblematic because it refers to the neighbourhood policy which at present holds a critical position within the EU foreign policy. In the central and South-eastern Europe the conflicts between nations and countries are century-old. In every nation’s collective mind there is a map of the “Big Country” containing regions from neighbour countries. Myths glorify heroes of inter-neighbour countries wars. Minorities representing other ethnic groups were seen as a threaten. At the end of the communist dictatorships, which had frozen conflicts but without solving any of them, situation might have become explosive, and in former Yugoslavia has even become as such. During my term, I have made together with President Göncz, the historical reconciliation between Romania and Hungary, between Romanians and Hungarians. It was signed the State Treaty Romania – Ukraine. As a continuous cordial dialogue flow were initiated and were functional the trilaterals Romania-Poland-Ukraine, Romania-Ukraine-Moldova, Romania-Bulgaria-Greece, Romania-Bulgaria-Turkey. I had the honour to preside the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation and the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative. All these were possible because we have jointly chosen what unites us and not what separates us and we have understood that we can win together. But all these were possible to happen especially because a great political project existed: integration into the EU of the former communist states, which met the adhesion from both the intellectual elites and the people that had won their freedom themselves.

This radical change of attitude, from a foreign policy when great powers used small states and disunite them to the good understanding politics promoted by the EU may work as a model for the regional cooperation also in the future. If it was possible in Central Europe, why wouldn’t it have been applicable also to the Balkans? And, after terrible human loss and ravages, it was. Then why wouldn’t it be possible to be applied in the future in the Middle East, in Asia or in Africa, too?

In my opinion, a great world political project for the next decade might be “Neighbours’ Peace”. As a constitutional body with complex structure, the EU is a unique construction in our contemporary world and a new one in the entire world history. Unique should be also its way of making politics. Original should be its diplomacy too. In a world dominated by blocks, EU’s chance stays with the imaginative capacity to be different, but not less functional. If we persist in acting each nation by itself, when the Lisbon treaty gives us the means not to do so, we will fail.

As regards the geopolitical and strategic vision: are we to expect the development of several complementary strategies, or an explosive struggle of conflicting conceptions? Will it be a limited, Western-centred, strategy, or a comprehensive one? Did the collapse of the communist Europe, was also a victory of the transatlantic security concept. After 20 years, we may ask ourselves whether it has generated only new forms of solidarity, or, in an almost irrational manner, also the first real split between the American continent and Europe. In the Bush era, the United States has developed, for the very first time after the Second World War, a totally autonomous security concept. It has been denied, theoretically at least, by the Obama administration, but the trend in American politics has not evaporated overnight. Does this mean that the security of our continent will continue to be transatlantic, or shall we imagine a European Defense Identity very different from today?

The end of the Cold War opened a new era, in which the former marginal, nonmilitary risks have become central, whereas the classical types of military confrontation have become less and less probable. From transfrontalier criminality and international traffic to an informational or financial war, the global world has to defend itself against new threats, with a new strategy. In my 1998 address to the American Congress, I expressed this argument very strongly. In 1999 Romania’s new National strategy was accordingly reconceived. Since 11/9 events, it was seized that, alas, we were right beyond any imagination. In the present context, the south-eastern border of the European Union is the most threatened one. Romania has a military tradition, a military weight, and a military commitment to the integration which make it an important asset in the Balkan area.  But to stabilize on the long term the Balkans, it is imperative to integrate the region as a whole, and at the same moment in time. In my opinion, The European Union made a mistake when accepting the unilateral Kosovo independence without accepting a process for starting the negotiations for simultaneously integration of Serbia and Kosovo into the EU.

Above all, we have to understand classical security problems only as a particular case in respect to the “non-Euclidean” security perspectives that the beginning of the Anti-terrorist Era have inaugurated. Such unorthodox strategies ask for new ways of assessment and for a new kind of human resources involved in the process. Brokers or prosecutors are better in this respect than generals; police forces and police methods may be more useful than military strategists. And the Wikileak Saga proves that hackers may be either an asset, or a plague. I think that a division of labor in these new fields of nontraditional risks must be imagined, both between the military and the civil servants, and between the US and their European allies. Instead of reduplicating military models at each country’s scale, it could be useful to think about a complementary component of the integration. It has been done in intelligence matters; why not in other fields of a comprehensive security concept? Anyway, this non-Euclidean new geometry of European security must seek a better control of the European gateways, which stresses, in turn, the necessity to strengthen both the northern and southern flank of the whole system.

I am not trying to sell to you a new utopia. As a scholar, I am used to a healthy criticism; as a former Head of State, I was often confronted with the tensions, with a potential of conflict that the integration process develops as side or, even worse, as perverse effects. We can control these perverse effects, but we cannot control a defeat of the EU foreign policy process as a whole. An enlarged European Union, firmly anchored in the transatlantic alliance, may be a lasting solution for the security of Europe and beyond. It may generate a major progress in economy and civilization. Both by its richness in material resources, in knowledge and techniques, and by its extraordinary richness in highly educated human resources, this Europe of the near future has a huge potential of growth. 

Today’s Europe is roughly divided in two halves, one of a modern, highly industrialized civilization, the West, and the second, still burdened with obsolete industries, and with a heavy and archaic rural component, the East. The way to harmonize the two may seem too long and too difficult at present. What if, however, we imagine a different approach, in which the new, postindustrial economies of the future find in these new territories of the East a freedom of development, a space to jump ahead? What if, making a blessing out of their historic curse, the East European economies set as their priority to develop a new economy, based on knowledge and education, rather than on energy-consumption? This means that we must cease to view the enlargement as a repetitive process, and adopt a truly complementary and coherent view of our economies as a whole.

This also means that we must start to rethink the basics of the global economy and of the global world as a whole. By that I mean the fact that globality, in the sense of interrelation, interchange, and richness of the world, must prevail over globalization, in the sense of uniformity in expansion, dominance of a pattern over all others, and paucity of ideas. Europe has a diversity of languages, traditions, and culture that it cannot afford to deny its essence by erasing all this richness in the name of a so-called globalised civilization. Even in the huge melting pot of the United States, traditions of cultural diversity vindicate today their own specificity. Europe is not a melting pot, and it would be absurd to mimic it now. On the contrary, Europe may succeed in transforming the way to the future into a way to creativity and to culture. To culture – not as opposed to civilization, but as an inner, deeper dimension of a shared modern, and truly democratic, civilization.

The basis for the EU’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP) remains the ‘soft’ power: the use of diplomacy – backed where necessary by trade, aid and peacekeepers – to resolve conflicts and bring about international understanding. Diplomacy in its traditional sense, as well as cultural diplomacy, no longer exclusively represents an instrument for forwarding foreign policy interests, but is more used as a basis of promoting international cooperation and partnerships among a pool of diverse and independent international non-state actors.  Cultural Diplomacy would, therefore, imply a twofold action, intended not only to create a cultural presence, but also to ensure how the other person or nation would recognize and understand this presence, to produce understanding that goes beyond stereotyped images.  In the words of Baroness Kennedy, chair of the British Council, a ‘great conversation of mankind’ is now to be encouraged where wider groups of ordinary people have to be engaged in the process of the freer flow of ideas and knowledge throughout the world. Cultural agencies such as British Council or Goethe Institute need not only to promote the language and cultural heritage of the country they represent, but also to seek to become a kind of dialogue-facilitator, a vehicle of communication of values and traditions between public audiences, which in turn will stimulate true mutual understanding and development.

We use to say that diplomacy was invented when our ancestors decided that it was more interesting to hear the messenger than to eat the messenger. Time runs faster and faster in the new century. That does not mean we must rush ahead without thinking. Our past is shaping our future, if we accept it or not; let’s try and make the best use of it.

Keynote Speech at the conference Cultural Diplomacy in Europe: A Forum for Young Leaders (CDE), Berlin,January 4, 2011.