December 21, 2017
This year, the Socialists & Democrats group did not vote in favour of the annual EU budget for the first time in the group’s existence. One of the justifications was the EU’s refusal to increase humanitarian aid spending. They deem, with some truth, that the challenges ahead for the Union are great. But, in terms of external actions, is increased spending the only way to commit to a more efficient action? While the EU and its Member States have provided €75.5 billion worth of development aid in total in 2016, the EU is only responsible for €19.7 billion for its development cooperation instrument in its 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework. This discrepancy between the two figures illustrates that Member States remain the main source of financial funding in external actions in general.
Though, member states have learnt to speak with one voice on international issues, as the High Representative serves as the spokesperson of actions engaging the EU as a whole, once foreign policies are implemented abroad, each member state remains very attached to its national foreign service. In their diplomatic effort abroad, they invest funding and resources in programmes from development aid to economic cooperation. Those resources are often duplicated from one government to another in an untimely effort to safeguard a domestic international standing. The EU sees ad hoc agencies, but they only gather pieces of each member state’s influence rather than sharing and pooling their individual strengths.
For a better Institutionalisation of Cooperation
Increasing the pooling and sharing of resources and programmes of the EU abroad is not only a means toward a more coherent EU external action, it it can also be the catalyst of more efficient and less costly external policies. Such a silent revolution of the EU’s external action must first emerge from a more intensive role of EU delegations in third countries. EU representations abroad are venues well-known for fine conferences and intellectual discussions gathering experts from different member states. But they lack the capacity to aggregate the member states’ variety of international resources. From a diplomatic platform, they must become a pooling and sharing incubator for EU member states external policies. That could first take the forms of hosting some services from different member states embassies which do not require a full national independence, like the economic services. Costs would be driven down and the exchange of information between services would improve, leading to more complete analysis.
In terms of resource-sharing abroad, we could go even further. Some member states, particularly France and Germany, have an important network of schools abroad. Projects like European schools should be fostered as benefits are obvious: cooperation between schools, early European awareness, reduced administrative costs, and renewed international standings. Schools are just one aspect, but such a mutualisation of strengths could also concern cultural services.
Regarding the sharing of policies and programmes, the benefits seem as straightforward: an analysis of common development programmes or common aid programmes should be strengthened. The Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) is a first step, and should be broadened to other fields than defence cooperation.
A Future European Diplomacy
Those ideas are not a traditionally appealing policy proposal which reads as “let’s build a European Army” or “let’s multiply the EU development’s funding”. As those ambitious calls remain without answer, we propose a sound reflexion on the means and methods for future European diplomacy. Doing better with less may seem like an old motto, but it is an invitation to achieve something doable both politically, as the support is already here, and financially, as the money is here as well, but spread out.
The sharing and pooling of resources is not only about cost-cutting and efficiently-driven policies. It is also a matter of credibility for the EU. Its Global Strategy, released last year, was forward-looking, albeit too broad. Agreeing on the need to improve European defence or to be the leading voice in terms of climatic negotiations is one thing. Allowing one’s diplomatic strengths to be at the service of a continent would signal the effective implementation of the Global Strategy’s objectives. By joining forces, the EU can narrow this gap and further connect the Union to its citizens. In times of ever increasing challenges and the effects of globalisation, it is up to the EU to better leverage its political, economic, and cultural importance as a global actor.
After making more progress on speaking with one voice on the international stage, the EU should also learn to act with one hand. In addition to lowering cost and improving efficiency, the EU’s credibility will end up better-off: smart governance is the odd one out nowadays.
Be part of the discussion! Join the 1989 Generation Global Affairs Roundtable at “A New Deal for Europe: Reconnecting the EU and its Citizens” at the London School of Economics and Political Science in February 2018.