Speech ”Bringing in the Common to European Foreign Policy” Shaping the EU system of diplomacy: The European External Action Service and the future of Foreign Policy, European Policy Centre (EPC), Brussels, 11.3.2013


It is a privilege to be here today. I would like to thank the European Policy Centre and the Finnish Institute of International Affairs for organising this important event and giving me the opportunity to address this distinguished audience.

I am a historian by formation and history is also a personal passion. We cannot see into the future without understanding our past. Europe has come a long way. Permanent peace has emerged from the ruins of war, for which the EU was rightly rewarded with the Nobel peace prize.

One important goal of European integration has been to agree to a Common Foreign and Security Policy. Today European external action is perhaps more relevant than ever before. We have global challenges of unprecedented dimensions, such as climate change, population growth, poverty, sustainable development, new cross-border threats to human security, changing patterns of global power and interdependence – all challenging the EU as a global actor. We need to make a solid contribution to resolve these global challenges, to assume our great responsibility.

The EU must face these many tasks and challenges with one voice and a unified message. When we are able to do so – which unfortunately is not always the case – we can make a real difference. I am referring to such issues as climate change, the setting up of the International Criminal Court or the Arms Trade Treaty, which I hope can be finalized with strong EU support at the conference beginning next week in New York.

The lesson is that the only way we can successfully promote and protect our fundamental values and interests, and have a global impact is to act and speak as one. Individual voices will be lost in the wilderness.  

My colleague William Hague has said that the Foreign Office needs to be more foreign and less office. With European external action the answer is more common and less foreign – meaning that we need to have a genuine commitment to working together and a wider scope regarding the definition of foreign policy, which some might even call old fashioned. Nearly all European policies have an external dimension, but we have no comprehensive external policy. There is a reason why the EEAS is being called the European External Action Service and not the European Foreign Policy Service. 

The European Union is an exceptional international actor in its scope – we do trade and aid, climate change and energy. The EU is the world’s biggest market and its internal policies all have major external repercussions. All the tools of external action should be reflected in the work of the EEAS. It should have ample resources in order to assume the necessary coordination of external policies.

We welcome the ongoing work on developing a Joint Communication on Comprehensive Approach as a step into the right direction. It is only through a truly comprehensive approach, using all its instruments from military and civilian crisis management capabilities to political dialogue and from development aid to trade, when the EU can make a difference. 

We should recognise the crucial importance of reshaping a common, and introduce a comprehensive EU foreign policy – a genuinely comprehensive external action transcending the narrow confines of what is sometimes seen as foreign policy.

Dear Friends of Europe, 

International relations is all about influencing outcomes, making a positive impact, doing what really matters in the world. What is our best leverage with our external partners, where are the sticks and the carrots. I would assume that our biggest leverage comes from the fact that the EU carries great weight in many important policy areas – a big trader, huge market, biggest development aid provider, effective in crisis management, influential in climate change policies, and setting attractive norms and standards. To use these tools in an effective way in foreign policy demands coherence and consistence. This is the real test for European foreign policy and the yardstick for its reform.   

The European challenge is made all the more topical by the rise of Asia and other emerging regions in the world, with whom we should interact in a pragmatic and effective fashion. We need to make it clear to everyone what it is we stand for and how we do it.

In this context I want to make it clear, that no one dreams of returning Europe to the global predominance it still had at the beginning of the 20th century. If that was the case others would be right in regarding European aspirations with distrust. But what we are seeing is actually the contrary. There are expectations for the European Union to be a more effective global actor, not only by our own citizens how eurosceptic they otherwise may be, but also from the rest of the world, who would mostly welcome a clearer and more effective role for the EU in many parts of the world.

We represent a way of life based on a social contract of work, education and welfare, all embedded in democracy, peace, cooperation, sustainable growth and solidarity. Our identity and our values continue to be relevant and attractive to the rest of the world.

The EU is the only regional organisation in the world with its own foreign service. Since its inception three years ago, the European External Action Service has proven its strength as a very unique project with great potential. The review of the External Action Service provides an excellent opportunity to assess progress and chart improvements. We need to recognise the great achievements so far – a new foreign service with global reach has been built in the matter of a few years.

Naturally, things can always be improved. We need to develop the interaction between the EEAS and national foreign services. The EU delegations need to work well and share their product with national services. EEAS recruitment needs to make further efforts to promote gender equality.

The diplomats of national services should be strongly urged to work for the EEAS at some point of their career. Give the EEAS our best. Our responsibility is to make sure that this actually is an attractive carrier path worthwhile taking. We do our best in Finland in this regard.

We should remember that the Lisbon Treaty reforms were motivated by clear needs. A sharp division of external action into the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) coordinating member states foreign policies and external relations led by the European Commission was not conducive to effective action. The more divided the action, the less impact we have on the world stage. The Lisbon Treaty and the establishing of the EEAS are a carefully crafted exercise where external relations were brought into a new institutional structure enforcing greater coordination and coherence. This was very much needed.

We have a track record of successful EU leadership from the past years, such as talks on the Iranian nuclear program and the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo as well as the enhanced EU role in the Horn of Africa and Sahel.

While EU enlargement is not about external action, it shows that the EU is hugely attractive. Enlargement serves as a transformative tool in the Western Balkans and Turkey modernising their societies. An influential member like Turkey can also make a very substantial contribution to the EU as an external actor. We would stand to gain much with Turkey’s membership.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

A central innovation of the Lisbon treaty was the double-hatting of the High Representative as Vice President of the Commission in charge of external relations – HRVP in Brussels jargon. This should bring together all aspects of external action under a single leadership. However, this role remains too modest within the Commission. The EEAS review should enhance the role of the HR in the Commission. In the future the HR/VP should be allowed to fully assume the coordinating role between the EEAS and the Commission by effectively leading the Commissioners dealing with external relations. This would promote a sense of leadership and directly increase coherence and a comprehensive approach in external action.

The EU needs to have a stronger impact in its immediate neighbourhood. How can the EU ever aim to be a credible global player, if it is a political dwarf in its own backyard? The EU has to be an attractive partner for North Africa, a strong actor in the Middle-East, a firm neighbour in the East and a strong partner in the North. An effective policy in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood demands a comprehensive approach – what is the EU to North-Africa if we do not discuss trade and migration. What credibility does an EU foreign policy have with Russia if we do not deal with energy, trade and mobility?

It should be self-evident that the High Representative should take a stronger role in Neighbourhood Policy as the Commission’s Vice-President. We need to put our money where our mouth is.

External action has also a summit level with Presidents Barroso and Van Rompuy taking the lead. The High Representative has a clear role in acting as a bridge to the summits. I believe her role and the weight behind our CFSP would also be enhanced if at least once a year the Foreign Ministers were also to attend European Council meetings.

The High Representative/Vice President has an impossible job in terms of her calendar. She needs to be simultaneously in the field and in Brussels. We have to recognise the fact the HRVP needs an effective deputy, a person with political status. One useful option would be to task commissioners with external portfolios to substitute for the HRVP when the need arises in the field. This would also bring the Commission and the External Action Service closer.

The High representative should also be given a stronger role as President of the Foreign Affairs Council. The High Representative is the Commission’s Vice President and this should also be reflected in the Council by giving her the mandate to represent the Commission’s views.

Careful preparation and planning well ahead of the Foreign Affairs Council meetings are needed in order to promote strategic direction-setting of the EU’s external action. Meetings should focus on few items with clear goal-setting.

Dear friends,

Looking back, I am sometimes tempted to say that I miss ”the old days”. I served as Foreign Minister before the Lisbon reforms and had the privilege to chair the Foreign Affairs Council during the Finnish Presidency. Sometimes I feel that there was more of a common policy before the Lisbon reforms, because there was a stronger political commitment to work together. We need to renew that commitment.

We have wasted time in arguing whether statements can be given in the name of the European Union or its Member States. We have lost great opportunities by looking inward and playing institutional games. It is high time to grow up and assume a strong and responsible role on the global stage.

In closing, I would like to state that promoting the EEAS’s role in achieving greater coordination, complementarity, and cohesion of the EU’s various foreign policy instruments should be the main goal of the upcoming EEAS review. We need to find our way back to a common purpose and a European foreign policy based on our core values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. 

Above all, we need strategic thinking and clear priorities in our foreign policy. This is a prerequisite if we want the EU to be a credible global actor. Limited resources require prioritization in the foreign policy. The EU should not spread thin its resources if it wants to make a difference. Strategic priorities are necessary if we want the EU to be truly global actor and the EEAS to be more than just the 28th (soon 29th) Foreign Service of the EU.

Thank you very much.