Over the next few months the editors of European Geostrategy will undertake a number of interviews with various individuals who are involved in thinking about European foreign, security and military policies. In this second interview in the series, James Rogers discusses European ‘grand strategy’ with Sven Biscop, the Director of the ‘Europe in the World’ programme at the Egmont Institute.
SB: I would say that the crisis, along with the Arab Spring and the American strategic pivot to the Asia-Pacific, make it even more urgent to have a serious reflection about a collective European grand strategy. All these have an obvious impact on the whole of European foreign policy, so the implications require a discussion at the ‘grand strategic’ level (rather than at the level of individual policy areas such as the Neighbourhood Policy). Of course, with the Euro crisis raging, the political leadership, especially at the level of the European Council, has less time to devote to foreign policy. On the other hand, the awareness does seem to be growing that Europe needs to define clearer priorities for its foreign policy – witness the recent initiative by Sweden, Poland, Spain and Italy to launch a debate on what they call a ‘European Global Strategy’. After the debate about a new European Security Strategy ended in stalemate earlier this year, I hope that this initiative will trigger the strategic debate that we so urgently need.
SB: The debate has perhaps focused too much on form and process: do we need a new document of this type, who would draft it, and so on. The real substantial question is: do we have a strategy able to cope with the geopolitical implications of the Euro crisis, the Arab Spring and the American pivot? Reviewing the European Security Strategy is one way of provoking a debate on that question; the ‘European Global Strategy’ initiative is another one. But once we have had that debate and have reached some conclusions, we do also need to sell our new strategy, to the public, to parliaments, and to the outside world. We need a strategic narrative, in other words, and for that purpose a new European Security Strategy (renamed as a Global Strategy or equivalent, for that really is its scope already today) would be an excellent vehicle. The existing European Security Strategy has lost its guiding and inspirational function – like every strategic document, it needs to be regularly refreshed.
JR: During the late 1990s and early 2000s, there seemed to be a strong push towards the development of a strong military capability for the European Union. Why do you think that project has become less ambitious in recent years?
SB: The two leading Member States in the defence field, the United Kingdom and France, lost interest and gave up the leadership role that they assumed when negotiating the defence provisions of what eventually became the Treaty of Lisbon. Both have an interest in revitalising the project though. By themselves, they can initiate projects to develop the strategic enablers which in the Libya campaign they had to rely on the United States for. But to build the critical mass to make such major projects feasible, they need the other European States to contribute. That is why Paris and London should give impetus to the ‘Pooling and Sharing’ dynamic in the Common Security and Defence Policy. The European Defence Agency can help them, pointing out to Member States in which areas they can safely disinvest to the benefit of new collective projects.
JR: With events in Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus and Syria, Russia seems to be re-emerging as a serious threat and competitor to European interests in the eastern and southern neighbourhoods. How can the European Union compete?
SB: I don’t feel we need to ‘compete’ with Russia. We need to be able to define our own interests and objectives and then mandate the collective agencies that we have created (the High Representative, the External Action Service) to act on our behalf in close co-ordination with national initiatives by Member States. If we managed to always present a common point of view to Moscow – or to any other capital for that matter – that would already make a great difference. Though as far as Belarus and Ukraine, and Moldova, are concerned, I fear that they will remain a Zwischeneuropa for some time to come, in between the European Union and Russia. Our objective should perhaps be to at least ensure that these countries are free to determine their own future, without undue interference.
JR: Where would you like to see the European Union as a power in 2030?
SB: I hope to see a self-confident European Union, which is aware of its main distinctive characteristic and its main strength: its social model. Europe is the most successful in guaranteeing the security, freedom and prosperity of the greatest share of its people – it is the most equal continent. I hope for a European Union that knows this strength, knows how to preserve it, and how to promote this positive agenda in the rest of the world.