How to revamp EU foreign policy

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Jeppe Kofod is foreign minister of Denmark. Stef Blok is foreign minister of the Netherlands. Tomáš Petříček is foreign minister of the Czech Republic.

The European Union has the tools to act decisively on the world stage. But it must step up and use them.

As cracks appear in the pillars holding up our rules-based order, it’s becoming increasingly urgent that Europe gets its foreign policy act together.

Arms control and non-proliferation regimes are splitting at the seams. Trade wars risk paralyzing the rules-based international trade system. Democracy and human rights are under increasing pressure worldwide, and never since World War II have so many people been forced to flee. Multilateralism itself seems to be in recession.

Unless we take action, this state of instability will drag on.

When it comes to EU security and defense policy, common ground within the EU has narrowed, and that is truly detrimental.
As the EU’s foreign ministers meet Monday for the first time under the stewardship of the EU’s new foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, they should grasp the opportunity to engage in a strategic discussion on how to strengthen the EU’s role in the world and ensure we can act quickly and decisively on the global stage.

Borrell has the right vision: a stronger, more assertive EU. Now we need to move from ideas to results. We need to leverage the EU’s instruments — trade, development, energy, digital policy, security and defense policy and foreign affairs — toward advancing European interests and values abroad.

To give the EU’s foreign policy more teeth, we should also focus on the effectiveness of one of its central instruments — our sanctions policy.

Of course, sanctions in themselves are not a strategy. To make sure they yield results, we must ensure a closer link between our sanctions and our foreign policy goals.

Sanctions need swifter implementation, better guidance and stricter compliance. This is above all a national responsibility. But we also must strengthen European institutions to ensure maximum coordination and full compliance with the sanctions regime. We need to develop our sanctions instruments, including the proposal for an EU sanctions regime to address serious human rights violations.

Any reboot to the EU’s foreign policy should also heed the call of European voters, who are rightly demanding a green transition, and develop the EU’s climate diplomacy. Europe cannot deliver on our global climate targets alone, but we can and must take a global leadership role.

Europe also needs to build up new partnerships. As the world develops, Europe’s relative share of the world’s economy is shrinking. Africa will provide the biggest growth over the next generation, both in demographic and economic terms. We must strengthen our cooperation with the African continent and ensure a sustainable transition.

Finally, we need to revitalize the spirit of European unity. In the past five years, we have showed what can be achieved when we work in lockstep. The agreement on new sanctions against members of the Venezuelan security forces and condemnation of the Turkish invasion of North East Syria are key examples.

The EU must assume greater responsibility for European security and be a strong, progressive voice in an insecure world.
But that unity is under increasing pressure. When it comes to EU foreign policy, common ground within the EU has narrowed, and that is truly detrimental.

All EU member countries have a responsibility here. Too often, one or two members have blocked the bloc’s ability to react swiftly on foreign policy. We must move quickly to reverse this trend and encourage governments to, if need be, abstain from voting on a particular action instead of blocking it.

At a time when much is at stake, the EU must assume greater responsibility for European security and be a strong, progressive voice in an insecure world.

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