Europe's Resilient but Mediocre Foreign Policy

By Hans Kundnani & Susi Dennison

In the introduction to the first edition of the European Foreign Policy Scorecard, we wrote that in 2010 Europe had been distracted by the euro crisis. In the introduction to the second edition, we wrote that in 2011 Europe had been diminished by the crisis. By the end of 2012, the crisis had become less acute but still not been solved - far from it. The eurozone was to some extent stabilised - in particular through the bold leadership shown by Mario Draghi after he succeeded Jean-Claude Trichet as ECB president at the end of 2011. But the steps taken in 2012 do not yet go far enough to solve the crisis nor is it clear that they are even sustainable. In fact, they may have produced a temporary respite, with further turmoil to come - including a possible British withdrawal from the EU - rather than a lasting solution to the crisis. However, although European leaders continued to devote more time to worrying about financial and institutional questions than geopolitical ones, European foreign policy did not unravel in 2012.

Europe's foreign-policy resilience

Although Europe's image and soft power may have continued to fade around the world (though this is difficult to quantify), and member states continued to make cuts in their defence and development budgest, the EU managed to preserve the essence of its acquis diplomatique. In fact, the Scorecard's granular assessment of European foreign-policy performance in 2012 shows timid signs of stabilisation and resilience. Across the range of issues that the Scorecard assesses, Europeans generally performed better than the previous year. Although the EU had no high-profile successes comparable to the military intervention in Libya in 2011, it put in a respectable performance in its external relations - especially given the deep crisis with which it continued to struggle. In particular, it seemed to perform better when it continued to implement policies for which the foundations had been laid in previous years.

Russia was a case in point. Relations with Moscow deteriorated, but Europe's unity and the coherence of its policies towards Russia improved. The EU did not depart from its cooperative attitude, having been instrumental in getting Russia into the WTO, which it formally joined in August. But it was more attentive to protecting its interests and norms, and more assertive - threatening, for example, to use the WTO dispute-settlement system when Moscow announced new protectionist measures in late 2012. The European Commission launched an antitrust probe against Gazprom, while continuing to orchestrate efforts at enhancing gas interconnections so as to decrease Europe's energy dependency on Moscow. Europeans did not shy away from criticising human-rights abuses during the crackdown on demonstrations that accompanied the election season and the re-election of Vladimir Putin as president in March.

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There were also signs of modest improvement in relations with China, even though unity among member states continued to be in short supply, thereby undermining European leverage. Germany, which accounts for nearly half of European exports to China, seemed at times to speak for Europe in China. But even if Berlin does not want to replace the EU, its voice is naturally louder than others, and Beijing has become adept at cultivating it. In some respects, Germany was a leader on China in 2012, but Merkel also undermined the European Commission when it launched an anti-dumping case against Chinese solar-panel manufacturers. Still, Europeans in general became more assertive overall in their trade disputes with Beijing and in their criticism of human-rights violations. The panicked approach of 2011, when Europe was both hoping for and fearing massive Chinese investment in the continent to relieve the euro crisis, was replaced by a more restrained and balanced relationship.

Europeans also slightly improved their performance on the United States, especially in their cooperation with Washington on regional and global issues, which helped them further their own goals while having the US respect their red lines - for example, in sanctions on Iran. Finally, the only issue on which Europe performed worse in 2012 than in 2011 was multilateral issues and crisis management. New CSDP missions were launched - something that had not happened in the last two years - and European policy towards Somalia grew more coherent. But the EU was rebuffed by Russia and China in the UNSC with two vetoes on Syria and by the United States on the arms-trade treaty; they failed to make an impact on the UN vote on Palestine; and the G20 was still dominated by the euro crisis as in 2011.

In the eastern neighbourhood, European performance was mixed. Europeans continued to struggle in the Western Balkans in 2012, with political instability and economic difficulties from Bosnia and Herzegovina to Serbia and Montenegro, although the EEAS managed to make good progress on relations between Serbia and Kosovo. The EU also got mixed results in the Eastern Partnership countries. Its results were good in Moldova, and to some extent in Georgia, and it had a firm, coherent approach towards Belarus, but Europeans struggled to pursue a united approach to Azerbaijan and Ukraine. Lastly, Europeans continued to struggle on Turkey, with a muddled situation on bilateral relations and frustrating developments on foreign policy.

Europe's southern neighbourhood was dominated by the conflict in Syria. Europeans could not break the frustrating diplomatic gridlock or prevent the bloody tragedy that worsened as the year went on. Europe's overall performance in the region remained fairly constant. Member states were generally united in their initiatives towards Iran and North Africa but, beset by the economic crisis, they couldn't move beyond limited programmatic supportto the transitions and struggled to make a positive political impact with governments and to construct collective relations with newly politically engaged parts of society in the region. They were still split on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, though to a lesser degree than in previous years, as demonstrated by the November UNGA vote on upgrading Palestinian membership.

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Hans Kundnani is editorial director at the European Council on Foreign Relations, which he joined in November 2009. Susi Dennison joined ECFR in March 2010 as a policy fellow, working on human rights and democracy promotion.

Click here to read ECFR's European Foreign Policy Scorecard 2013. The Scorecard is also available as a PDF or as an ebook for your e-reader.

(AP Photo)

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