The European Union’s new global strategy for foreign and security policy has devised a smart way forward to overcome the dichotomy between democracy and stability that has tended to bedevil the EU’s approach to its neighborhood, writes Carnegie analyst Sinan Ülgen.
“By devising the new notion of resilience, the strategy should allow European policymakers to move beyond this flawed binary view,” he argues. “But to be effective in practice, this conceptual shift must be much more closely defined.”
High Representative Federica Mogherini presented the EU Global Strategy on foreign and security policy to EU leaders meeting in Brussels at the EU summit on 28 June 2016. The strategy – which has been described as realpolitik with European characteristics – commits the EU to “foster the resilience of its democracies.”
“Consistently living up to our values will determine our external credibility and influence,” the document adds:
It is in the interests of our citizens to invest in the resilience of states and societies to the east stretching into Central Asia, and south down to Central Africa. A resilient society featuring democracy, trust in institutions, and sustainable development lies at the heart of a resilient state….Echoing the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, resilience is a broader concept, encompassing all individuals and the whole of society. A resilient society featuring democracy, trust in institutions, and sustainable development lies at the heart of a resilient state.
The document strikes a fine balance between reduced and increased ambition. It establishes the concept of “principled pragmatism,” anchoring its prescription in a realism that is direly needed in the EU, according to Carnegie analyst Jan Techau:
Importantly, it stops overestimating the transformative power of the EU, which observers believed to be very strong only to find out that nearly nowhere in its wider neighborhood has the EU had any decisive influence on how things unfolded.
Most strikingly, as the Egmont Institute’s Sven Biscop has argued in his analysis of the new strategy, the overbearing language on democracy promotion has disappeared. This was highly overdue, not because democracy is no longer desirable, but because promoting it is better done silently, not with missionary zeal that tends to fall flat.
The strategy also explicitly abandons the promotion of “good governance,” other analysts observe.
The EU global strategy seems to have firmly taken stock of the end of this era of democratic optimism with its “back to the future” implications for Europe’s engagement with its neighborhood, writes Carnegie’s Ülgen:
This is where the global strategy breaks new ground, by defining and introducing the concept of resilience. The strategy defines resilience as “the ability of states and societies to reform, thus withstanding and recovering from internal and external crises.” The strategy underlines that “resilience is a broader concept, encompassing all individuals and the whole of society. A resilient society featuring democracy, trust in institutions, and sustainable development lies at the heart of a resilient state.”
But how will this goal shape the design and implementation of EU external policies? Ülgen asks:
The threat is too wide an interpretation of resilience as an engagement strategy. Indeed, with some imagination, every bit of EU action in the future can be claimed to serve the cause of resilience. All the more so because resilience is viewed as an overarching framework that includes states, civil society, and even individuals.