Redefining the EU’s Identity as International Actor through the EU Global Strategy
Abstract This paper approaches the EU’s security and foreign policy strategies as exercises of self-narration that give insights into how the EU articulates the world around it and positions itself therein. By comparing the 2016 EU Global Strategy with the 2003 European Security Strategy, it traces how the EU redefines its identity, while inquiring into the impact on EU policies this implies. The analysis reveals a shift in the EU’s self-construction from an optimistic and outward looking actor with transformative ambitions toward a more inward-looking one, anxious about its relevance and legitimacy for its own citizens. This renders logical a certain retreat from the EU’s norms-based outlook in favour of a more pragmatic approach that merges the EU’s internal and external policy, as well as its values and interests, and is embodied in the emergence of resilience as new ‘leitmotif’ of EU external action.
Introduction The role of the EU as actor on the international stage has long sparked comprehensive debates, with characterisations of the EU ranging from “normative power Europe” to “fringe player” or “tragic actor”.1 In this context, the EU’s security and foreign policy strategies – the 2003 European Security Strategy (ESS) and the 2016 EU Global Strategy (EUGS) – have oftentimes served as analytical starting points, while giving rise to extensive analyses and debates in and of themselves.2 In a similar spirit, this paper traces how the EU defines its identity as global actor now through the EUGS versus previously through the ESS, and how this shift may impact EU policy. Before comparing the two strategies it is, however, necessary to shortly consider what kind of conclusions an analysis of such documents allows us to draw. As such, the ESS and EUGS are meant to outline broad priorities and objectives but do not constitute operational action plans.3 Hence, attempting to trace shifts in concrete policies based on a reading of these strategies would confer power upon those documents that they do not have. Much more, the ESS and EUGS can be approached as “exercises in ordering the outside world, […] making the world intelligible for the EU and positioning the EU in the world in turn.”4 Put differently, these documents can be seen as exercises of self-narration and identification.5 Consequently, the aim of this paper is not to meticulously contrast the specific challenges and objectives identified by the EU’s strategies. Rather, it suggests a macro-reading that analyses how the EU’s understanding of the world has changed; what this implies for the EU’s identity and the consequences and opportunities these identity changes may have for EU policy; and, how these grand strategies can explain or obscure motives behind concrete policies.6 The following is divided in two sections; the first pertaining to the ESS and the second to the EUGS. It is argued that the ESS paints the EU as optimistic about its own success as a polity, rendering logical an outward-looking, transformative ambition. Conversely, the EUGS produces a much more anxious Union, whose existence is seen as threatened, making possible a shift toward more inward-looking actions that merge the EU’s values and interests; in particular by introducing resilience as new guiding theme. 1. The European Security Strategy: Establishing the EU as global actor The adoption of the ESS in 2003 marked the emergence of the EU’s first common and comprehensive security strategy. It defines major challenges and threats to the EU and develops strategic objectives, while calling for the EU to take a more active role on the international scene.7 In fact, the ESS can be read as “the coming of age of the EU as [a] strategic actor”, as it constitutes the first extensive expression of the EU’s aspiration to become a global security actor and hence an essential step in establishing itself as such.8 Drafted in a mere few months by a small team of High Representative Javier Solana, it is argued that this development was stimulated by the Iraq War. Following this reasoning, the EU’s definition of a common strategic vision served the goal of overcoming intra-European divisions and the crisis of the CFSP provoked by the US-led invasion of Iraq.9 However, to understand how the EU constructs its identity through the ESS, it is necessary to embed the document in a broader context. The ESS comes at a time in which the international liberal order appears undisputed, with the EU’s soft power being at its maximum.10 This “liberal optimism” is clearly reflected in the ways the EU represents itself and the international context.11 As such, the ESS starts with the emblematic opening “Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor free” and attributes itself a central importance in bringing about this “period of peace and stability unprecedented in European history”.12 In fact, it propagates the idea that the mission of achieving peace in Europe has been accomplished, amongst others through spreading democracy and the rule of law.13 This conception of security as an attainable state and the self-understanding as successful polity are essential for the kind of global actorship that the EU confers unto itself. After all, it renders logical a transformative ambition that seeks to foster peace and prosperity in the world by promoting the EU’s norms; remodelling its environment according to its own example.14 More specifically, this is done by establishing effective multilateralism as an overarching objective of the ESS, as well as by emphasising the importance of good governance, human rights and – in particular – of democratisation.15 2. The EU Global Strategy: Transforming the EU’s identity? Thirteen years later, the EUGS of 2016 emerges in a fundamentally different political and historical context. As such, the crises in Ukraine, Syria, Libya or Mali, the terrorist attacks in several European cities and the perceived failure of interventions in Afghanistan or Iraq stand in stark contrast to the “unprecedented period of peace and stability”.16 This conception is further reinforced by the drafting of the strategy taking place in the context of the Eurozone and migration “crisis” and its publication falling just few days after the Brexit referendum.17 Consequently, the EUGS can also be seen as serving to construct a sense of unity in times of profound internal divisions.18 Yet, it is not only the historical context that exhibits fundamental differences to the ESS. In contrast to the small working group of 2003, the drafting of the EUGS constituted a lengthy process that took more than a year, engaging a broad spectrum of stakeholders.19 Moreover, the EUGS covers a much broader variety of policy areas than the ESS, thereby making it more than a mere security strategy.20 On a more technical level, the EUGS sets out five key priorities and a suite of guiding principles for EU external action.21 2.1 Principled pragmatism in an uncertain world
The political and historical evolutions are clearly reflected in the way the EU articulates the world around it. As such, the EUGS paints an image of an international environment in disorder, with the world being “more connected, contested and complex”.22 Yet, it is not only the world that is increasingly uncertain but also the EU’s role within it. Hence, the EUGS states that “we live in times of existential crisis, within and beyond the European Union” with the “purpose, even existence, of our Union […] being questioned”.23 These concerns about the EU’s capacity to maintain peace and security at home represent a significant shift away from the idea that peace in Europe constitutes an accomplished task.24 This image of the EU as being in an existential crisis renders intelligible a different way of acting and being. Thus, the EUGS implies a more cautious approach, to a certain extent retreating from its transformational ambition of building a world of “well-governed democratic states”.25 Conversely, the EU shows itself as much more inward-looking, being concerned with demonstrating the relevance of the Union to its citizen.26 In fact, this merging of internal and external policy can be seen as new guiding theme of the EUGS.27 However, this does not translate to a renouncement of the EU’s liberal ideals, with many elements retaining a central importance. Much more, the EUGS blends its “idealistic aspiration” with a “realistic assessment” under the notion of “principled pragmatism”.28,29 This finds its clearest expression in the EUGS’s claim that “we have an interest in promoting our values”, merging the realistic advancement of its interests with the idealistic insistence on its values.30 2.2 Resilience: A policy response to a new international context
The understanding of the world and of the self put forward in the EUGS, renders intelligible the emergence of resilience as another new leitmotif of the EU’s external action. As Wagner and Anholt argue, it embodies the principled pragmatism by providing a middle ground “between over-ambitious liberal peacebuilding and under-ambitious stability”.31 On the one hand, the concept allows to continue embracing EU principles by representing resilient societies that feature “democracy, trust in institutions and sustainable development” as lying “at the heart of a resilient state”.32 On the other hand, resilience also partly moves away from the ESS’s focus on democracy promotion – rendered somewhat naive through the representations of the EUGS – by emphasizing that there is no universal way toward resilience.33 On a more theoretical level, the emergence of resilience can also be understood as policy response to global governance problems in the context of an increasingly complex international sphere. As the world is seen as constantly changing in unpredictable ways, instrumental cause-and-effect rationalities that impose policy prescriptions from the “outside” are rejected, while a focus on the existing capabilities of societies through resilience is rendered logical.34 Against this backdrop, the prevalence of resilience in the EUGS also points toward a shift in the EU’s conception of security; from an attainable state toward a more relative view that accepts the inevitability of crises and focuses on strengthening capacities to respond to them.35 However, the consequences of adopting a resilience approach are subject to a fierce academic debate. While some emphasize resilience’s convening power and its potential to shift the focus from externally developed solutions to local knowledge, others caution that it places the brunt of responsibility on local actors, legitimising a retreat of the international community and contributing to uphold global structures of inequality.36 Conclusion: What impact on EU policies?
Marking the self-constitution of the EU as global security actor, the ESS fell into the ‘golden era’ of the EU, producing an identity of a Union that is optimistic about its own success and its capability to promote this success in the world.37 Hence, it renders logical an outward-looking, transformational ambition that seeks to share and promote the EU’s norms and experiences in the world, fostering peace and security through effective multilateralism and democratisation. Conversely, the EUGS is situated in a fundamentally different context. As such, it paints an image of an increasingly complex and contested world, in which the base survival of the EU is being threatened. Consequently, the EU constructs itself as increasingly inward-looking, with the self-understanding that emerges from the EUGS being characterised by a greater anxiety with regards to its legitimacy as security framework for its own citizens.38 While it is not possible to deduce how precisely these changes will impact concrete EU policy, the EUGS does provide a discursive context that structures the conditions of possibility for EU external action; rendering some courses of actions logical and precluding others. In particular, we can expect a certain retreat from the exhaustive transformational ambitions of the ESS, toward more pragmatic, issue-based and inward-looking actions that advance the EU’s immediate needs by blending its ideals and interests.39 As this notion is embodied by the emergence of resilience as the leitmotif of the EUGS, a significant influence of this concept on EU external action can equally be expected. However, the political consequences of adopting such a resiliency approach are arduous to foresee from a mere reading of the EUGS and will ultimately depend on how the concept is concretely understood and implemented, as well as to what extent and in what manner it is put into action.
1) Ian Manners, “Normative Power Europe: A Contradiction in Terms.” Journal of Common Market Studies 40, no. 2 (2002): 235–58, https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-5965.00353; Jozef Bátora and Nik Hynek, Fringe Players and the Diplomatic Order: The ‘New’ Heteronomy (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014); Adrian Hyde-Price, “A ‘Tragic Actor’? A Realist Perspective on ‘Ethical Power Europe,’” International Affairs 84, no. 1 (2008): 29–44, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2346.2008.00687.x.
2) Maria Mälksoo, “From the ESS to the EU Global Strategy: External Policy, Internal Purpose,” Contemporary Security Policy 37, no. 2 (2016): 375, https://doi.org/10.1080/13523260.2016.1238245. For discussions of the ESS see, for instance, Alyson J.K. Bailes, The European Security Strategy: An Evolutionary History (Stockholm: SIPRI, 2005); Sven Biscop and Jan Joel Andersson, eds., The EU and the European Security Strategy: Forging a global Europe (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008); Álvaro de Vasconcelos, ed., The European Security Strategy 2003–2008: Building on Common Interests (Paris: EUISS, 2009). For discussions on the EUGS see, for instance, Wolfgang Wagner and Rosanne Anholt, “Resilience as the EU Global Strategy’s new leitmotif: pragmatic, problematic or promising?” Contemporary Security Policy 37, no. 3 (2016): 414-30, https://doi.org/10.1080/13523260.2016.1228034; Mälksoo, “From the ESS,” 374-88; Kateryna Pishchikova and Elisa Piras, “The European Union Global Strategy: What Kind of Foreign Policy Identity?” The International Spectator 52, no. 3 (2017): 103-120, https://doi.org/10.1080/03932729.2017.1339479.
3) Nathalie Tocci, “The Making of the EU Global Strategy,” Contemporary Security Policy 37, no. 3 (2016): 462, https://doi.org/10.1080/13523260.2016.1232559.
4) Mälksoo, “From the ESS,” 382.
5) Pishchikova and Piras, “The European Union Global Strategy”, 104.
6) For a similar approach to analysing the EUGS see Pishchikova and Piras, “The European Union Global Strategy,” 103-120. For the study of discourses and identity construction in International Relations more broadly see Jennifer Milliken, “The study of discourse in international relations: A critique of research and methods,” European Journal of International Relations 5, no. 2 (1999): 225-254, Sage Journals database; Jutta Weldes, “Constructing national interests,” European Journal of International Relations 2, no. 3 (1996): 275-318, Sage Journals database.
7) European Council. A Secure Europe in a Better World: European Security Strategy. Brussels: European Union, 2003, https://europa.eu/globalstrategy/fr/node/13; Pishchikova and Piras, “The European Union Global Strategy,” 105.
8) Mälksoo, “From the ESS,” 378.
9) Sven Biscop, “The European Security Strategy in context: a comprehensive trend,” in The EU and the European Security Strategy: Forging a global Europe, eds. Sven Biscop and Jan Joel Andersson (Abingdon: Routledge, 2008), 7; Bailes, The European Security Strategy, 9.
10) Tocci, “The Making,” 464.
11) Wagner and Anholt, “Resilience as,” 424.
12) European Council, A Secure Europe, 1.
13) Mälksoo, “From the ESS,” 380.
14) Pishchikova and Piras, “The European Union Global Strategy,” 115.
15) Wagner and Anholt, “Resilience as,” 415; Mälksoo, “From the ESS,” 378-79.
16) Wagner and Anholt, “Resilience as,” 417; Nathalie Tocci and Federica Mogherini, Framing the EU global strategy: A stronger Europe in a fragile world (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), 1-2.
17) Pishchikova and Piras, “The European Union Global Strategy,” 104.
18) Mälksoo, “From the ESS,” 375.
19) Tocci, “The Making,” 461-72.
20) Pishchikova and Piras, “The European Union Global Strategy,” 105.
21) High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe - A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy (Brussels: European Union, 2016), https://eeas.europa.eu/archives/docs/top_stories/pdf/eugs_review_web.pdf.
22) Ibid, 13.
23) Ibid, 3,13.
24) Mälksoo, “From the ESS,” 382.
25) Wagner and Anholt, “Resilience as,” 417, 424.
26) Mälksoo, “From the ESS,” 380.
27) Pishchikova and Piras, “The European Union Global Strategy,” 105.
28) High Representative, Shared Vision, 16; Wagner and Anholt, “Resilience as,” 415-16; Mai’a K. Davis Cross, “The EU Global Strategy and diplomacy,” Contemporary Security Policy 37, no. 3 (2016): 402-413, https://doi.org/10.1080/13523260.2016.1237820.
29) High Representative, 2016, p. 16; see also Wagner & Anholt, 2016; Cross, 2016
30) High Representative, Shared Vision, 15.
31) Wagner and Anholt, “Resilience as,” 415.
32) High Representative, Shared Vision, 24.
33) Wagner and Anholt, “Resilience as,” 415-16.
34) Claudia Aradau, “The promise of security: Resilience, surprise and epistemic politics,” Resilience: International Politics, Practices and Discourses 2, no. 2 (2014): 73-87, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/21693293.2014.914765; David Chandler, Resilience: The governance of complexity, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2014).
35) Wagner and Anholt, “Resilience as,” 424.
36) This rather schematic representation of the resilience debate of course does not do justice to its nuance and depth. For an excellent account of the debate(s) in international politics see Phillippe Bourbeau, “Resilience and international politics: Premises, debates, agendas,” International Studies Review 17, no. 3 (2015): 374-395, https://doi.org/10.1111/misr.12226.
37) Pishchikova and Piras, “The European Union Global Strategy,” 113.
38) Mälksoo, “From the ESS,” 375.
39) Pishchikova and Piras, “The European Union Global Strategy,” 115-16.
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