Mikhail Kostarakos: Is the EU the organization we were dreaming of?

28/1/21 | 0 | 0 | 167 εμφανίσεις

By General (ret.) Mikhail Kostarakos  

Former Chief of HNDGS

Former Chairman of the EU Military Committee

IRTEA CSDP Orientation Course 2021


Opening Remarks


Athens, 25 January 2021

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Dear friends, Good afternoon.

First of all, I would like to welcome you in this CSDP Orientation Course organized in Athens. Unfortunately, COVID pandemic does not allow for our physical attendance of the course and therefore, we all lose the opportunity to be in Athens, even in this wintertime. I hope we will have better luck next time.

I would like also to thank the organizers for inviting me to deliver the opening remarks of the course.

I will begin my remarks with two challenging questions:

  • Is the EU the organization we were dreaming of?
  • Is the EU the organization our visionary founding leaders had in mind following the WWII in the 1950s?

Some of you will reply with a loud and clear “no” without hesitation. From my part, I will challenge this position and reply “not yet”. I will explain why.

The European Union was set up with the aim of ending the frequent and bloody wars between neighboring countries in Europe. In two specific occasions, these European wars escalated into World wars in the first half of 20th century. In 1957, the Treaty of Rome creates the European Economic Community (EEC), or ‘Common Market’, and the journey begins.  The 1960s are characterized by economic growth, the 1970s see the first enlargement of the Community, in the 1980s we have the fall of the Berlin Wall and the change of the face of Europe. In 1985, the Schengen Agreement led the European countries to build a Europe without borders and in 1992 the Maastricht Treaty created the European Union (EU) with its pillars’ system, including foreign and home affairs alongside the European Community. This, in turn, led to the creation of the single European currency, the Euro, launched in1999 as well as to further expansion.

The European Security Strategy (ESS) of 2003 described a Europe of unparalleled prosperity, security and freedom. But  then,  a number of crises hit Europe. The global economic crisis, the war on terror and the climate change seriously affected the EU landscape. In a glorious moment, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. But the situation was not good at all.

In 2016, Federica Mogherini, then HR/VP, presented the new EU Global Strategy (EUGS), days only after the UK memorandum on Brexit. 13 years went by before EU decided to review its position in the global politics arena, and to think about its own future. For a lot of European citizens, it was too long a time before re-evaluating a global actor’s posture. The EUGS of 2016, described our world as complex, connected and contested, stated that the purpose, even existence of our Union is being questioned and that we were in need of a new shared vision and a strong common action.

Five years have almost passed since the Global Strategy was presented. A lot of things have happened since, things that, in my view, have to be evaluated and if necessary, lead to a review of this overarching document:

  • The aftermath of the global economic crisis which since September 2008 seriously affecting the economy of some EU members, reduced the growth, GDP and prosperity in the EU zone and even questioned the Monetary Union.
  • A serious migration crisis, due to regional wars, local instability, climate change and economic hardship, created millions of immigrants and refugees from Asia and Africa.
  • Geopolitical problems in Ukraine (especially in Crimea), Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, Syria, India-Pakistan, the Horn of Africa as well as Western and Central Africa, but also in the Eastern and Central Mediterranean with the involvement of Greece and Cyprus defending European borders from Turkey’s new-ottoman aspirations and revisionism.
  • The European initiative for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for the elimination of Iran’s nuclear activity and the ambivalent US position.
  • The equally ambivalent US position on Paris Agreement on climate.
  • BREXIT with all its ramifications on the Union’s political security and defence status. Surprisingly, we witnessed British warships patrolling the Channel. We hope that we will not see FRONTEX deployed at Calais in the future.
  • Former US President Tramp since 2016 challenged the very existence of EU and NATO, creating problems to both organizations.
  • In the Middle East, developments of tectonic proportions have taken place. Abraham accords, the normalization of relations between Israel and UAE, Sudan, Morocco and Bahrain redraw the political map of the Middle East.
  • And finally, the pandemic COVID-19 that reached Europe on 2020 causing hundreds of thousands of deaths in the EU area.

How EU performed in all these difficult situations?

It is generally admitted that EU performed very well. The economic and banking crisis was overcome, the migration crisis was contained, the US economic measures were answered, and the geopolitical points of concern are about to be controlled. During the pandemic EU performed excellent. Following an initial delay, the EU saw COVID pandemic not only as a problem but also as an opportunity. EU has created for its MS a recovery plan of 750 billion euros known as “Next Generation EU”, with a central pillar worthen 672,5 billion Euros. To this figure should be added the EU controlled spending for the common purchase of 2 billion vaccines for the EU population. And not only this: The “Team Europe” Approach by the EU, announced a 36 billion Euros spending as a response to the COVID pandemic to partner countries and regions. All these initiatives, besides their practical value, brought together under one banner actions by EU institutions and MS.

EU has succeeded in these situations, by deploying non-military capabilities that they wield more effectively than anyone else in the world today: foreign aid, trade and employment agreements, and the imposition of regulatory standards, the cultivation of international law and organization, firm but quiet diplomacy, and the promotion of democracy. Europe’s distinctive pragmatic use of civilian power may be too dull, slow-moving and technocratic to attract attention. Yet in the end, it gets the job done more cost-effectively than other means employed by rival great powers. EU is already the number one trading partner in the world and the largest donor of development aid as well as the biggest contributor of climate finance and the world’s leading humanitarian donor.

Based on all these actions, Europe has consolidated its position as the global “calm superpower” (term introduced by prof. Andrew Moravcsik of Princeton University) or as we usually say (based on the well known definition of prof. Joseph Nye) “the queen of Soft power”.  Europe is and will foreseeably remain the only superpower besides the United States in a bipolar world – and its relative power is rising. Europe is the world’s pre-eminent civilian power, far more influential than China or India and often even Russia. None of this is likely to change much because Europe’s influence rests on stable factors such as high per capita income, long-term institutional advantages and convergence of underlying national interests between European countries and other great powers, notably the United States.

Turning to the EU’s geopolitical role as security provider we need to clarify that Europe’s collective defence is NATO responsibility. EU is responsible for citizens’ protection which includes mainly, low enforcement capabilities.  Nevertheless, it is widely acknowledged that any global decisive geopolitical role aspirations should be based on some kind of military capabilities.

Today, the EU political momentum is right for the restoration and strengthening of the EU Member-States defence capabilities. This is clearly reflected on the Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027, despite the cuts made on the original proposals. I have yet to admit that in the midst of a pandemic crisis, the height of the funds appropriated came as a nice surprise. But there are other signs too:

  • The Union now has its first ever uniformed (and armed in the near future) security body, European Border and Coast Guard. As we speak, they have been deployed in various European external borders.
  • The Union also has the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) HQ which becomes every day more capable and more efficient, ready to take over more responsibilities. MPCC could be the backbone of any future EU military formation. How do we want to use it, is up to us to decide.
  • The PESCO projects and the EDA controlled pan-European capabilities of a European fighter, frigate and drone among others, are clear indications that the EU is step by step seeking a strategic autonomy.

And finally three final facts of life on defence:

  • First, security and defence are hard to build, but very easy to lose.
  • Second, security and defence never come cheap and
  • Third before any aphorisms one should also think of the costs associated with an armed conflict (even worse with a lost armed conflict) that your defence failed to deter.

Having said that, I argue that these facts I just described, and numerous more, considering that the world is in a phase of power rebalancing and taking into account the strong resilience EU has shown so far, all these call for a review of the EU’s views of itself and of its role in the shaping of the future. Only this way EU will remain relevant in an ever changing and reshaping world, and true to its citizens.

So, let’s aim high and try hard. We deserve a stronger and better Europe. To participate in that, one has to learn how the Union functions.

To this end, I would like to welcome you to the Orientation course and thank you very much for your attention!!!


Category: International

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