Four Challenges for Europe

By Michel Barnier
Cornell International Affairs Review
2007, Vol. 1 No. 1 | pg. 1/1

In Washington as in Peking, in Beirut as in Bamako, the question is asked of us: what is the European Union’s (EU) foreign policy? In Lisbon on October 18th, the 27 member states agreed to a first response on means and tools. With the creation of a post of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Europe will be represented on the international scene by one sole and powerful spokesperson discussing, whether with Russia or with the United States (US), world challenges. Without substituting for national efforts, the High Representative will have available the totality of Europe’s economic, political and military means for international affairs and will work toward the emergence of a shared diplomacy.

We must see the world as it is today: unstable, dangerous, fragile, unjust. It is in this world that Europe must defend its interests and make its voice heard.

The world itself consists more of ruptures and crisis than of continuity and serenity. Europe has not escaped this rule since its debut 50 years ago. Nevertheless, whatever the painful fits and starts of its history and of a sometimes difficult construction, for half a century Europe has maintained and promoted its most fundamental values: peace, democracy, the rule of law, a market economy. European diplomacy must dedicate itself in the years ahead to defend its values in a turbulent, multipolar world in search of guidelines and with risks as varied as they are unpredictable. With neither denial nor forgetfulness, with neither nostalgia nor taboos. And take on four challenges and refuse a funeral of the European political project.

Climate change is the most serious, the most global of the challenges to our foreign involvement. Strong voices, like that of Al Gore’s incite us. Our answer is not yet sufficient despite the fact that accelerating climate upheaval will disrupt all economies and all politics. Even the American hyperpower was destabilized by the Katrina cyclone.

While working recently on a proposal for a ‘European civil protection force,’ I identified 38 natural or human catastrophes of which 18 directly affected the continent and its European citizens over the last 15 years. At Tony Blair’s request, the economist Stern estimated the cost of climate change at 5500 million Euros. We will count by the tens of millions the ‘climate refugees’ uprooted by flooding. We know that all our customs and practices, absolutely all, will be modified: production, consumption, cultivation, transportation, construction. Yes, the ‘house is on fire.’

It is urgent to promote research in new sources of energy, to attach fiscal taxes to the real ecological cost of goods and services, to partner with developing countries rather than lecture them, to create a world environment organization on the model of the WHO. But above all, the effort must be global. At the upcoming conference in Bali in December, we must reach an ambitious consensus for “Kyoto II” on the means to act efficiently and jointly for our planet.

The second challenge is peace in the Middle East, starting with peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Over there, so close and yet so far from us, all the warning signals are now red. All the ingredients for a general conflagration are present in this region where everything is fragile and where everything holds together by shock waves that we clearly feel in our own society: the hearts of our Jewish or Muslim compatriots beat to the rhythm of the distress of Israeli and Palestinian children.

In this region where each crisis is serious and deserves our special attention, there is a common thread. I am hopeful that the US will be successful in their progressive exit from Iraq. It is time to create a Palestinian state, even one with temporary frontiers. The international conference of Annapolis must allow for negotiations to begin on a final status. I also hope that when the time comes, the Europeans, united in an Extraordinary European Council, will know how to make a strong offer with full political, economic and military cooperation in order to participate in the stability of this region, and in particular, to the security of Israel and Palestine. The UNIFIL in Lebanon is proof that this is possible. In these offers, there must be a place as well for an exacting but vigilant, eyes-open dialogue with Syria and Iran.

The third challenge is one posed by the entire African continent, a continent of opportunity and risk, to Europe and to the rest of the world. In 1950, there were two Europeans for one African. According to the UN, in 2050, there could be three Africans for one European. Half of those Africans will be less than 20 years old; two thirds will live with less than one dollar a day. Each month AIDS alone kills as many men, women and children as a tsunami, and Africa is the first victim. We quickly need new and successful policies with Africa. With willing countries we need to work on a ‘partnership contract’ that is debated, evaluated, and renewable. This partnership must be simultaneously respectful and demanding.

Everywhere we must encourage and help the African Union and other regional organizations to take responsibility for speaking and acting for Africans themselves. Ultimately by its size and stake, Africa requires from those who wish to help, a unification instead of a juxtaposition of cooperation policies and efforts to stabilize.

The fourth challenge in foreign policy is that of the organization and the stability of our own European continent. At the heart of Europe, in the Balkans, can be found the first test of the credibility of the Union’s foreign policy. The conditional independence of Kosovo is the last knot that must be cut through in this disrupted mosaic of former Yugoslavia. Beware the Balkans. Ill winds start to blow there. This is where the European ideal and the Union, once again, must contain nationalism, while respecting nations, even the smallest. All the Balkan peoples have the right to the promise of joining the European family subject to behaving well, to desiring it and to preparing for it.

Beyond the Balkans, the question of the Union’s borders is raised. Negative popular sentiment about a project without limits, and without borders was certainly one of the causes of the rejection of the European Constitution by France and the Netherlands, especially given that the 2004 EU expansion by 10 new countries from Central, Baltic and Eastern Europe had never been explained or justified. This important debate about the Union’s borders concerns not just Turkey. The questions raised by the Ukraine, Byelorussia, and the Black Sea or Mediterranean countries should also be settled. Over and beyond this is the notion that partnership must be developed, so that our neighbors won’t be shut-out from Europe, so that we may associate our neighbors with our policies without necessarily breaking our institutions. The project of a Mediterranean Union, proposed by the President of France, would be the beginning of a response to these essential questions. Likewise with yet another of Nicolas Sarkozy’s proposals: to create a group of personages representative of the full diversity of today’s society who would reflect upon the final goals of the European project: why are we together and what should we be doing in the horizon of 2030?

To meet these four major challenges, and others like our alliance with the US and our capacity for dialogue –on all subjects- with Asia, Russia and Latin America, each European nation must choose whether to be in solidarity or solitary.

We keenly feel that our continent is passing from one era to another. From a closed, fenced-in and regulated world, where some remain nostalgic, to a world open to exchange and to competition. Let’s look at reality squarely in the face, not to frighten ourselves, but to prepare ourselves.

For in this world voices are heard, in London, and elsewhere, proclaiming that the economy is now global and that the EU has no sense and no purpose other than as a zone of free trade, the most extensive and most open possible. Beware! These voices are loud and efficient and their impact is often great.

In the months and years to come, if those in Europe that still believe in its political project fall silent, or retreat, or choose prudence instead of commitment, then we should worry that the European political project, the dream and ambition of its six founding members, will inexorably unravel. But no responsible leader has the right to accept the burial of the “European dream.”

Our communal house is fragile. The EU is threatened by populisms, by national and nationalist reflexes, by ‘everyman for himself,’ from the south or the east. Threatened by the cowardice of too many political figures who do not assume the European choice made by their countries and who don’t explain, don’t speak and don’t lead anymore. By overwhelmed institutions that no longer allow for work, all the while being more numerous. By the rest of the world that hopes for Europe, but will not wait for it.

The EU is not an option for its members. It is a vital necessity. It is the key to meeting the existing challenges, including our domestic ones. It must accept our neighbors’ views, experiences and criticisms. As we hold that key, our hand must not hesitate. We must conceive the agenda for a new European project.

This new project of course will pass via a modified treaty, functional and ratified in 2008, we believe, and which retains from the Constitution all that it needs for the Union to function. It will pass also via joint work, if possible, with its 27 members; and if not, with a Eurogroup for a true economic governance. With an autonomous European budget, and with an international tax against social and ecological dumping. It will pass via politicians supporting our strategic interests whether they are industrial or agricultural, as evidenced by price flare ups and health crises. It will also pass by supporting concrete projects, giving the Union a humanist and civic dimension that is often missing, such as the energy independence proposed by José Manuel Barroso; via a more ambitious European research; a controlled policy on immigration; a joint effort on culture, demographics, civil protection, and transportation. It will pass above all, via a political Europe with the tools that it needs to build a credible foreign policy and defense.

There is not, and never will be a great power in the world that does not simultaneously posses an economy, a currency, common policies and capability in defense matters. Finally, I would like to restate my hope that in the years to come, Europe will speak more strongly and more loudly and with one voice to confront the challenges of our planet: ecology, peace, development and growth.


Michel Barnier, French Minister of Agriculture; formerly Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Environment, and European Commissioner.

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