As a team of advisers craft the EU’s new foreign and security policy — known as the EU Global Strategy — on behalf of EU High Representative Federica Mogherini, one has to wonder what shape this important new strategy will take and whether it will pay anything more than lip service to the underlying causes of instability and discontent in the world today.
As current global challenges — such as migration, climate change, terrorism and slow economic growth — gain in importance, will the EU lose sight of the causes in its efforts to tackle the symptoms?
At the root of many of these challenges are human rights violations, which manifest themselves in poverty and inequality, but also in insecurity. That is when the world starts sitting up and taking notice. As former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan wisely said, “We will not enjoy security without development, we will not enjoy development without security, and we will not enjoy either without respect for human rights.”
Despite the fact that there are a plethora of potentially important issues to address in the new EU Global Strategy — trade, migration, energy, climate change — I would argue that the strategy must tackle two overarching things head on if it is to have a hope of addressing human rights in a comprehensive manner: First, failures of governance at both national and global level; and second, the failure to spread the benefits of economic progress beyond a privileged few.
It is not greater resilience that we need, as the EU might argue — and which implies an ability to adjust to a fatally flawed system — but an ability to change the system so that no one is left behind and everyone’s human rights are realized.
Human rights violations, poverty and inequality are not accidents of fate. They are the results of specific power relations and policy decisions that are discriminatory, exclusionary and unjust. When addressing governance in the Global Strategy, the EU must therefore provide clear guidance as to how it considers that power and authority can be better exercised in the management of national and global public affairs and resources.
This is linked to the need to support stable, democratic institutions, particularly in conflict-affected and fragile states. Strong, stable and democratic institutions are fundamental to implementing long-term change and ensuring that such change is in the interest of the people and the realization of their rights.
While it is true that we cannot “export democracy,” it is also true that the more democratic a system, the more likely it is that people’s human rights are respected and that they can find remedy if not. So the EU will need to find new ways to support institution-building and to encourage other countries to progressively move to a more open, democratic regime and to defend people whose rights are trampled on in undemocratic or authoritarian regimes.
It is particularly urgent to work on discrimination against girls and women, which leaves them among the furthest behind of all people in any given context. Perhaps the EU should take a leaf out of Sweden’s book and draw up a feminist foreign policy. At the very least, it must be clear on how its foreign and security policy will further its recently adopted Gender Action Plan.
At a global level, the current governance system lacks the basic capacity to handle and redress unfair policies that may result in one actor’s decisions or actions undermining the human rights and sustainable development potential of a group of people, a country or even a region.
The EU Global Strategy must support a renewed effort to democratize global governance, including global standard-setting bodies and international financial institutions, to ensure fairer outcomes for all. And it must be clear that all actors must respect all people’s human rights — no matter the context or situation — and that they will be held accountable if they do not. This in turn requires the establishment of legitimate and adequate systems of responsibility, accountability and transparency, which apply to all countries and all actors, at all levels.
If the EU is serious in wishing to address the underlying causes of many of the challenges we face today, it would be well advised to seek to improve the well-being and prosperity of all people. Addressing people’s economic and social rights — generally the remit of development cooperation — should play an important part in a future EU Global Strategy that has just governance and stability at its core.
The benefits of economic globalization have been unevenly distributed as a result of unequal power relations between and within countries, and between poor host countries and the transnational companies that operate in them. Profits are channelled for the benefit of a few, rather than society and the planet as a whole — while the costs are absorbed exclusively by ordinary people and the environment.
The EU should therefore look to work with partner countries — both bilaterally and multilaterally — to reorient the objectives of economic and trade policy. Trade is a driver of poverty reduction and greater sustainable development only if it is managed for that purpose.
Currently, it is dominated by a narrow set of interests and leads to a “race to the bottom” with each country trying to impose fewer and lower social, environmental, economic and fiscal conditions in order to attract investment and enhance competitive advantage that is typical of trade policy. The EU must commit to formulating trade policy differently so that it really does become an engine for development through which all people stand to benefit.
The EU must make it very clear that its interests — such as a strong European economy and security in Europe — depend on implementing its values, including the promotion, protection and fulfilment of everyone’s human rights. No matter how hard the EU may work to secure its borders, to accommodate different governance styles and to engage with multiple partners, at the end of the day, it is international law that must prevail. And so the EU must for once go beyond paying lip service to the importance of respecting human rights.
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Tanya has been working at Plan International EU office since 2013. As the senior policy and advocacy manager, she works with all the EU institutions and the member states to adopt ambitious strategies on children's rights, child protection and gender equality, to follow up on their implementation and to influence EU development policy and practice in a range of areas. She regularly trains EU staff from across the globe on children’s rights and child protection.
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