The European Union and the world: a hard look at soft power

Benita Ferrero-Waldner,
European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy

Speech at Columbia University New York, 24 September 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The European Union’s role in international affairs, not least in this, our 50th anniversary year, has been the subject of countless academic papers and endless speculation by policy wonks. Much of that commentary consists of myths and misconceptions. Are we the purely soft, Kantian power of Robert Kagan fame? Or is there more to it than that?

In thinking of the nature of power one is reminded of Stalin’s famous, or should I say infamous, question: “how many divisions does the Pope have?” But are the old beliefs about soft and hard power still valid?

Today I want to take what I call a hard look at soft power; and with that, the role the EU plays in the world. First, let’s remind ourselves of the nature of the current international system and the role played by soft and hard power. I will then give you a flavour of the way the EU is modifying itself in response and our three priorities for the future.

The current international system

The end of the cold war meant the end of a terrible era of cataclysmic threats and pointless confrontation. But it was also the end of the era of certainty and predictability. Today the threats we face are different. Think of climate change, migration, or international terrorism. They are different not only because of their non-military nature, but also for their disrespect for national borders. No state can contain them, just as no state can keep them out.

The nature of power in today’s world is also different. Slowly but surely, helped by the ever-increasing pace of globalization, power has been shifting away from its traditional guardians – states –, towards non-state actors: multinational companies, non-governmental organisations, international media networks, or radical terrorist organisations. Governments’ room for manoeuvre has been curtailed just as citizens around the world have become more demanding.

The geographic balance of power within the international system is also shifting. Today, the EU and US together have unrivalled influence in terms of relative wealth and power. But for how long will that be the case? As a recent Goldman-Sachs report put it “in less than 40 years, the BRIC [Brazil, Russia, India and China] economies together could be larger than the G6 [Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US] in US dollar terms”. We can no longer rely on our ability to set the world agenda, and the need to build alliances and consensus with the newly emerging powers will only continue to grow.

Hard or Soft power?

What sort of power is best placed to respond to this changing configuration of threats and alliances? We have seen the limitations of hard power all too clearly in Iraq and elsewhere. Military force is too blunt an instrument to deal with the subtleties of terrorist attacks and it is certainly not capable of holding back the rising seas or the waves of migrants hitting our shores.

But does soft power fare any better? Scholars from Joseph Nye to Jeremy Rifkin have pointed out that the United States is suffering from the fading of its soft power. The EU, on the other hand, has reaped tremendous rewards from its soft power, the result of which is an enlarged union of 27 and unprecedented peace and prosperity on the European continent. And soft power is the key to strengthening alliances with China, India and new emerging markets, so vital for shaping the international system of the future.

Yet soft power alone is insufficient to deal with the threats we face. Europe’s central historical experience may be that military victories produce only temporary peace. But as Spain and the United Kingdom so sadly testify, international terrorists do not respect the EU’s self-declared space of freedom, liberty and security. Rich though we may be in so-called “attractive power”, there are those who do not succumb to our charm.

The answer is clearly that we need some combination of the two. Or perhaps a new form of power altogether, what some scholars have called “smart power”.

Smart Power – the EU’s response

Those who believe the EU is still principally a soft power are behind the times. For over a decade the EU’s foreign policy has been adding more tools to its repertoire, including, crucially, a military dimension and crisis management functions.

We have some 60,000 peacekeepers serving around the world, from Kosovo, to Afghanistan and Indonesia. We send election observation missions across the globe: indeed in just the last 6 years we have observed nearly 60 elections, from Haiti to the Congo to the Palestinian Authority. We are also the world’s largest donor of development aid, providing 56% of total global flows. We have a dense network of global relationships, and the European Commission alone is present on the ground in over 130 countries and territories around the world.

As the EU continues to develop its role in the world, the challenge is two-fold: to ensure coherence between the civilian and military sides; and to use our soft, attractive power more strategically. I would single out three priorities for the years ahead: Europe’s neighbourhood; climate change and energy security; and developing our role in crisis management.

European Neighbourhood Policy

Naturally the EU must pay particular attention to its immediate neighbourhood. In is in our mutual interest that the countries on the EU’s periphery should be well-governed and prosperous. That’s why we now have a policy, the European Neighbourhood Policy, directed specifically towards our southern and eastern neighbours. That means Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova and the South Caucasus to our East, and to our South the entire Mediterranean rim from Morocco to Lebanon.

Throughout that region we are leveraging the EU’s attractive power to deepen our relations and encourage our neighbours in their path towards economic and political reform. We do that by offering deeper political and economic relations with us to those who make the most progress in reforms.

The ENP has already expanded our co-operation and produced tangible successes. We draw on a broad array of tools, especially tailor-made Action Plans for reforms.

And at a highly successful international conference in Brussels earlier this month we discussed new ways to make the ENP even more effective, attractive and focused:

Economic integration: we will help our neighbours access the EU’s 500 million-strong market, an area where goods, services and capital flow freely; opening up new possibilities and greater opportunities for us all.

Mobility: We know that the freedom for people to travel to and around the EU is enormously important. So we want less complex visa rules and Mobility Partnerships, agreements between the EU and neighbours encouraging legal migration and combating illegal migration – a big step for us.

Energy: Integrated energy markets work in everyone’s favour – whether as a producer, transit or consumer country. So we are exploring the idea of a regional-level energy agreement and working with our neighbours to develop renewable energies like solar and wind power and biomass.

Increased aid: We are offering increased aid for good governance in the best-performing countries and setting up a new Neighbourhood Investment Facility to leverage additional funding from international financial institutions. We know reform is expensive and we need to make significant incentives available.

Climate Change and energy security

Today, safeguarding global security and prosperity also means working for reliable energy relations and tackling the existential threat of climate change. The EU has placed these issues at the top of our political agenda.

There is no longer any debate about the severity of the threat posed by global warming or the need for urgent action to tackle it. The UK government’s report by Sir Nicholas Stern estimates its costs at 20% of global GDP when extrapolating wider risks. Yet, by comparison, the cost of action to avoid the worst impacts will be only 1% of global GDP per year.

The EU is leading by example – we have agreed to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 20% and to raise the share of renewable energy sources to 20%, both by the year 2020. Our system of emissions trading has blazed a trail in using market forces to protect the environment. Which is why various players, including California, are considering joining this system.

The current focus is the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali in December which will be an essential for agreeing on a comprehensive and global post-Kyoto regime. The EU is engaging in intensive “green diplomacy” in the run-up to the conference, building on the positive momentum generated by the G8 Summit and ensuring all our partners, including the US and the emerging economies, are on board. I am hopeful that positive signs, like the first no-car day held in China on Saturday, will push us in the right direction.

Increasing energy security is an important part of the equation – through technological developments, energy efficiency and our efforts to achieve more transparent and stable global energy markets. Inside the EU we just proposed last week a new and widely-welcomed package of measures to open our internal energy market to competition and further develop our energy network infrastructure.

Internationally we are working with our main producer and transit partners in the Middle East and Central Asia and our whole network of bilateral, multilateral and regional agreements to reinforce an open, competitive but also cooperative global energy framework that responds to the demands of producer, transit and consumer countries. The EU is also promoting the idea of an international agreement on energy efficiency.

Crisis management

Last, but certainly not least, the EU must continue to build up its capacity for crisis response, and joined-up civilian and military operations.

We have already come a long way and have a considerable range of tools at our disposal. In addition to the EU’s military capacity we have a civil protection mechanism for dealing with natural and environmental disasters. This proved its worth, for instance, in our response to the horrendous tsunami in December 2005 when we were quickly able to mobilize humanitarian relief and specialised rescue personnel to the affected areas. We are the world’s biggest donor of humanitarian assistance, mobilising the resources and expertise of the UN system, the Red Cross and international NGOs. And in the context of the European Security and Defence Policy we send civilian experts in policing, rule of law and civil administration to crisis situations around the world.

We also have a new tool for crisis response, our Stability Instrument, which enables us to respond flexibly and rapidly to shore up peace-building processes including monitoring and justice initiatives. It also helps get children back to school and re-open health and other local public services.

As an example, you may not be aware of the role the EU played in resolving the long-running conflict in Aceh, Indonesia. There we financed the peace negotiations; sent the Aceh Monitoring Mission to monitor compliance with the Peace Agreement; and put in place a package of long term measures like reintegrating former combatants and prisoners, and promoting the rule of law, human rights and democracy.

Nearer to home we are tackling the so-called frozen conflicts in our neighbourhood, like Transnistria. We have sent a Border Assistance Mission to the Moldova-Ukraine border which is proving highly successful in helping prevent customs fraud, smuggling of goods, as well as the trafficking of people, drugs and weapons. The Mission staff are offering advice and on-the-job training to border and customs officials on both sides of the border, so helping manage the border in a more modern and efficient way. Above all it is an important step towards facilitating the end of the Transnistria conflict.

Similarly, in the Middle East we have used our standing in the region to set up the Temporary International Mechanism, which has enabled the international community to provide humanitarian relief for the Palestinian people despite the absence for 18 months of a fully functioning legitimate government. Concretely it means that people are receiving social allowances from us to enable them to survive an extremely difficult economic situation. We have also been funding supplies to keep hospitals and schools open and operational.

In response to the changed situation we are now working directly with Prime Minister Fayyad’s government, re-launching our institution building activities and preparing a private sector arrears scheme which will support Palestinian businesses and maintain jobs. We are also fulfilling our pledge not to abandon the people of Gaza, where we continue to disburse our TIM funding.

Our assistance has been combined with a security operation to help manage crossing points and considerable diplomatic effort on the international stage, together with Russia, the US and the UN in the international Quartet. We met again at the weekend and confirmed our support for the new momentum in the peace process, and the international meeting to take place in November.

I could give you other examples of our work, in Afghanistan, Congo and Darfur, or our plans for an opening in Kosovo later this year. We have ambitious ideas for the future and I am convinced that the EU will become an ever more powerful force for the good in tackling the world’s trouble spots.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The EU is often misunderstood. Perhaps that is not surprising – it is in perpetual motion, and its role in foreign policy is developing all the time. Indeed those who follow EU affairs will know that by the end of the year we hope to have agreed further institutional changes to strengthen our role on the world’s stage.

But I hope this short overview has given you a better understanding of the sort of power we aspire to, neither exclusively soft, nor hard, but rather – smart power.

Thank you.



3-column blogger templates(available in 4 different styles)