9 ways to make the EU Global Strategy visionary and ambitious

By Sabine Terlecki 02 May 2016

The European Union flag. In June, the EU will review the “EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy” to guide the bloc’s global actions in the future. Photo by: © European Union 2015 - European Parliament / CC BY-NC-ND

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, is about to revise the EU’s Foreign and Security Strategy, also known as the EU Global Strategy. The review comes at a time when Europe is experiencing a major identity crisis. The rise of populist parties, instability in the EU’s neighborhood, a migration and refugee challenge unprecedented since World War II, and a referendum in the United Kingdom on its EU membership all challenge the notion of Europe as a community of values that we are proud to project in the world.

Mogherini’s challenge is to come up with something more forward-looking than a catalogue of ongoing crises and proposed short-term solutions. As foreign affairs ministers of Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands (EU founding members) emphasized in their communique of Feb. 9, 2016: “Europe is successful when we overcome narrow self-interest in the spirit of solidarity. We have to be ready to strive for European solutions.”

The EU Global Strategy needs a vision based on the values shared by its citizens, along with means to address the root causes of our collective problems and global challenges. This is vital if the EU is to remain a relevant global actor in a changing world.

Below are nine, value-based elements that would support a more visionary approach to the root causes of crises.

1. A human rights and sustainable development-centred approach to security challenges. The new EU Global Strategy should define the interests and objectives of foreign policy beyond a narrow security mandate. Human security promotes a people-centered approach to advancing peace, security and development within and across nations; it is grounded in human rights; and it is prevention-oriented.

The templates for this strategy are already enshrined in international and EU agreements, as well as U.N. resolution 66/290, passed in 2012 on human security. They provide a good basis for such a development-centred approach to security challenges. Article 21 of the Treaty on European Union and Article 208 of the Lisbon Treaty also emphasize the importance of respecting the universality, and affirm the indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The EU’s approach should be people-centered, recognize the multisectoral and interlinked causes of human insecurity and promote a comprehensive approach to addressing challenges.

2. Agenda 2030 — at the heart of EU policy. The far-reaching 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a framework adopted by all 193 U.N. member states. The EU and its member states succeeded in getting this ambitious agenda agreed upon, and it should be clearly reflected in the EU Global Strategy. It is crucial that the implementation of the 2030 Agenda focuses not only on the goals and targets but also on the principles underpinning the framework, notably the commitment to ‘’leave no one behind,” and to ensure that we respect intergenerational equity and planetary boundaries. The EU Global Strategy should explicitly endorse the principles and objectives of the 2030 Agenda and ensure EU decisions and actions do not undermine it.

3. The strategy must tackle the ‘mother of all crises’: inequality. The EU Global Strategy must focus specifically on prioritizing those people who have until now been left furthest behind, including women and girls and the most marginalized groups. The strategy must also ensure at a minimum that EU policies do not impact negatively on the ability our partner countries to address inequality in their contexts.

As the Dutch Trade and Development Minister and current EU Trade Council President Lilianne Ploumen has said, “inequality is the mother of all crises.” Concretely, the EU should take the lead in promoting international conventions to ensure basic social protection (the so-called social protection floor) and women’s and girls’ economic and social rights, including addressing the unequal distribution of unpaid care work.

4. Policy coherence for sustainable development — a key enabler. The EU is the only region that has to cope with a binding obligation to be accountable for the impacts of its policies on the world’s poorest. Policy coherence for development is embedded in Article 208 of the Lisbon Treaty. The new global strategy should underline this principle of policy coherence for sustainable development and demonstrate how EU policies promote human rights, gender equality and the fight against poverty in partner countries.

The EU also needs to keep a flexible approach to free trade agreement negotiations by taking into consideration the economic realities of its partners and their people — particularly the most vulnerable. Robust impact assessments and regular monitoring are key to ensuring we uphold human rights and live up to commitments of policy coherence.

5. Walking the gender talk in Europe and beyond. The new EU Global Strategy should outline an ambitious approach to gender equality in the EU’s external relations, using a human rights-based approach. An important start would be an ensuring that it is fully aligned with the new Gender Action Plan 2016-2020, which applies to all 28 member states, as well as to the European Commission and the EU External Action Service.

6. The risk of failure of action on climate change mitigation and adaptation. For the latest Global Risks Report published by the World Economic Forum, 750 experts assessed 29 separate global risks for both impact and likelihood over a 10-year time horizon. The risk perceived in 2016 to be have the most impact in the coming years was found to be a failure to act on climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The Paris agreement on climate change represents a historic milestone, sending a signal of hope to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, who are the most affected by the impacts of climate change. The EU Global Strategy should cement the bloc’s ambition to tackle climate change and its commitment to continuing support for climate change adaption and mitigation, in order to provide adequate responses to conflicts, development, natural resources management, migration and other global challenges in the years to come.

7. EU as a global actor that protects planetary boundaries. One of the principles enshrined in the 2030 Agenda is respect for planetary boundaries. The EU Global Strategy should shift away from the current, exploitative economic model of GDP growth, to one that recognizes the need to protect planetary boundaries and one that endorses the multiple dimensions of poverty. It should also acknowledge that environmental degradation and climate change threaten livelihoods, access to natural resources, health and well-being.

8. Large-scale involuntary migration — a root causes approach is needed. The Global Risks Report found that large-scale involuntary migration was most likely a risk in 2016. Also here, the EU Global Strategy will have a role to play in placing human beings, their rights, and their legitimate aspiration for a decent life at the center of EU external migration policies, while tackling the systemic issues and roots causes that generate forced migration and displacement. Tackling the root causes of migration should take place within a rights-based approach, rather than within a migration control mentality.

9. No democratic European solutions without an empowered civil society. The space for civil society is diminishing and deteriorating in too many countries. Governments across all continents — irrespective of their political orientation — are taking drastic action against civil society actors: against nongovernmental organizations, social and ecological activists, women’s rights activists and human rights advocates. The space for actors who are critical of government policies is drastically shrinking, even inside Europe.

The EU Global Strategy should commit the EU to foster an empowered, independent civil society, and the EU should continue to facilitate the role of civil society to participate and be consulted and ensure the necessary resources for CSOs to play an active role.

A lot is at stake. The EU Global Strategy must show the EU’s and its member states’ ambition to address today’s systemic issues. It will be judged for its impacts inside and outside the EU. Without a root causes approach, the strategy will fail to achieve its objectives and today’s trends of rising conflicts, human rights violations, forced displacement and migration will continue.

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About the author

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Sabine Terlecki

Sabine Terlecki is the head of policy and advocacy at CONCORD, the European Confederation for Development and Relief NGOs. Sabine has around 15 years of experience working in the areas of (financing for) sustainable development, child rights, education, migration and gender equality. Before working with CONCORD, she worked at the international level with Plan International, the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, the European Parliament and European Commission.


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