“A time of extremely complex problems”
An interview with Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier on the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU
Foreign Minister, on the international stage the EU has always been considered an “economic giant”, but politically the community has usually tended to be regarded as something of a lightweight. Has that changed discernibly since the introduction of the office of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy?
In an increasingly unstable world order the European Union is politically, economically and culturally a region of equilibrium and stability that can promote peace. This is true above all when we are able to combine our efforts and speak with one voice. That is not easy, however, in the face of the different traditions and interests of EU member states. It was therefore important to venture into new territory with the office of EU High Representative. Solid foundations have been provided for effective European foreign policy with the European External Action Service, in which outstanding diplomats from the whole of Europe work together, and the resources of the European Commission, upon which the High Representative can call. The High Representative can therefore draw upon and combine the foreign policy currents and views in the 28 member states. At the same time, European foreign policy has been given a face that now receives global recognition.
Which common foreign policy initiatives do you consider especially successful?
Structurally, it has been possible to build a fully functioning European External Action Service with over 3,500 employees and 140 delegations worldwide. Although bridges have to be built here between different languages, work cultures and mentalities, this diversity also offers considerable benefits that should be utilised to the full. Europe’s chief diplomat has left a very clear mark on the question of Iran’s development of nuclear arms. The E3+3 negotiations with Iran gained solidity and purposefulness under the leadership of High Representative Catherine Ashton. Political dialogue between Kosovars and Serbs should also not go unmentioned here. Without it, neither the easing of the situation in Kosovo nor the broad integration of northern Kosovo would have been conceivable. Moves closer towards the EU by Serbia and Kosovo are also outcomes of the High Representative’s efforts.
The Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU – or CFSP for short – exists “alongside” the foreign policy of the individual EU member states. They have a duty, however, to do nothing that would contradict it. Is this principle really sustainable with 28 member states all also pursuing their own foreign policy agendas?
Within the European Union it is perfectly natural for no member state to take action against another member of the EU. Once positions have been reached, they are jointly presented to the rest of the world. I wouldn’t say the CFSP exists alongside national foreign policies, but with them. Cooperation on “European foreign policy” takes place in Brussels and the 28 national capitals every day. A common position does not simply arise, but is quite often the result of tough, sometimes controversial debate. Certainly, the outcome is often a compromise that requires sacrifices on everyone’s part, but it then takes us all forward nonetheless. Consider Ukraine, for example: it is no secret that several partners within the Union consider more robust action against Russia appropriate than others. The important thing here, however, is that we have always been able to find a united position and maintain our unanimity.
What must be done, in your opinion, to further improve the efficiency of the EU’s foreign policy activities and the European External Action Service’s developmental possibilities?
Following the setting up of the EEAS, for a while the main focus will certainly be on consolidation. The structures for cooperation between the institutions and the member states must be further strengthened and prove themselves in practice. More money cannot be expected here in the face of tight government budgets. All in all, however, Europe already has considerable resources. We must therefore pool available funds as efficiently as possible and to the greatest effect. And then we want to become even better at coordinating our numerous foreign policy instruments. These instruments are actually already available, but they often only have lasting effects when they are linked together. There are concrete examples of where this has happened: we managed to push back piracy around the Horn of Africa thanks to the deployment of civilian and military missions, and we are now engaged in coordinated development aid and economic reconstruction work. United external action of this kind is the goal, but it calls for constant coordination between the European External Action Service, the European Commission and all national actors.
Federica Mogherini, the present Foreign Minister of Italy, will be the new EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs. What expectations do you have of her? In which areas should new emphases be set in Common Foreign and Security Policy?
I know Federica Mogherini as a knowledgeable, dynamic and creative foreign affairs expert. She is a good choice and I look forward to working with her. In addition to day-to-day crisis management in international relations, which unfortunately has a very strong influence on the present, there is also a more fundamental debate about the strategic direction of EU foreign policy. A large number of voices are demanding that we see ourselves even more strongly as a global actor closely networked with the regions of the future, such as Southeast Asia, Central Asia and the global South. On the other hand, real threats to our peace and our security arise from Europe’s immediate neighbourhood in the East and South. We are confronted there with extremely complex problems, irrespective of whether they involve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the future of Ukraine or asymmetrical dangers like terrorism, which is currently shaking Iraq and Syria. I believe the “comprehensive approach” of the Common Foreign and Security Policy with its wide range of actors and instruments can prove to be a valuable advantage of Europe when it comes to developing holistic solutions. ▪
Interview: Janet Schayan