Several Outlets - Europe Must Learn Quickly to Speak the Language of Power
Joseph Weiler: It is about a year now since you assumed the position of High Representative and Vice President of the Commission. I do not think that any of your predecessors when assuming this position faced even remotely a world scene and geo-political situation as challenging and even menacing as you did and have had to deal with since then. And although we are consumed by COVID related issues, most of these challenges predated COVID and will be with us long after the pandemic is over.
Here are but a few examples:
- A disruptive and unpredictable United States not only calling into question and putting under pressure some of the foundations of Atlanticism such as NATO and Iran or dramatically disrupting the Multilateral Trading System (consider American action vis-à-vis the WTO Appellate Body and its internecine trade strife with both Europe and China) but quite openly and it seems willingly abdicating its self-understanding as leading the world of liberal democracies.
- A Russia which increasingly evokes memories of the Cold War (consider the unresolved Ukraine/Crimea situation, cyber interference in ‘Western’ democratic processes etc)
- The Middle East – which is the living proof of the Jewish saying – there is nothing so bad that cannot be worse
- China in which internally authoritarianism seems on the increase and externally even the EU has begun to think of it as a strategic foe
And one could add Syria, Iran, Libya, Turkey – the list goes on and now, to top it all, COVID19 which has upended life as we have known it with a potential impact, social, economic and political, which is hard to gauge – but at a minimum will be very considerable and potentially catastrophic and which seems to overwhelm everything else.
Before we turn to some of these issues, could you tell us of your initial experiences and even feelings in the first months of assuming your new responsibilities. How different was it to your previous experiences as, say, Foreign Minister of Spain or President of the European Parliament? What was expected and what was unexpected?
Josep Borrell: You summarize very well the challenging global situation that we are facing and the numerous crises and tectonic changes that we have been facing in the last months and that are going on as we speak. Since I assumed my mandate in December 2019, there was indeed no time to breathe.
Just as an example: I left Madrid on my first day in office as HR/VP to attend in Paris the mourning ceremony for nine French soldiers killed in Mali. Now, one year later, the terrorists are controlling most of the territory and a military coup has been staged, toppling the government.
While I was obviously prepared for difficult times on many fronts, I did not expect to start my mandate with the killing of the Iranian General Qasem Suleimani in January, which brought us to a major confrontation between the US and Iran. Of course, I even less expected the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all its consequences. Not only major health and economic consequences, but it also greatly aggravated the difficulties of many states that had already been weakened before, such as Libya and Lebanon, and increased the appetites and imperial temptations of authoritarian regimes such as those of China, Russia and Turkey.
At this very moment, our relations with Turkey are at a watershed moment, and in Belarus we see Lukashenko becoming a new Maduro. In sum, our neighborhood is in flames from Sahel to the Eastern Neighborhood. And these are only the currently most pressing issues and developments. While these predominantly keep us busy now and dominate the headlines, we should not forget our constantly ongoing work on other foreign policy priorities. Regionally, for instance our crucially important relations with Africa, Latin America and Asia and the strengthening of Europe’s strategic partnerships, our engagement in the Western Balkans and in our Eastern and Southern Neighborhood; and topically, our work on migration, climate diplomacy, global cyber security, human rights and multilateralism – and many many more.
I have said during my hearing at the European Parliament already, and I have repeated on many occasions, that Europe “must learn quickly to speak the language of power”, and not only rely on soft power as we used to do. By the way, I am afraid that this reference to the “language of power” will be a landmark quote of what will coin my mandate.
All of us, we are currently living in a very different way than prior to COVID-19. The pandemic is often referred to as an accelerator of previously existing trends, but I think it will be more than that. It is a game-changer and I'm not sure we'll ever go back to the world before. It will probably permanently change the way we live and work, but also the way in which we understand and implement foreign policy. We will probably continue in the future to use a lot more VTC and less physical encounters. This should not necessarily make our foreign policy any easier: you can perceive nuances and expressions better, or develop more personal relations, in face-to-face meetings than in VTCs.
But to come back more directly to your question, if I compare my current job with the jobs I've held before, it has some similarities with that of Spain's Minister of Foreign Affairs in terms of the issues I deal with. However, they are also more numerous, since they really concern the whole planet, the stakes are higher in terms of the positions I have to take, and the institutional logics and dynamics differ substantially. In fact, I am not the Foreign Affairs Minister of the EU, as some wanted to shape my position during the time of Convention on the Future of the European Union at the beginning of the 2000s. Neither am I the 28th Minister at the Foreign Affairs Council that I chair. My job is to build a common position of the 27 member states with respect to world affairs. Frankly speaking this is seldom easy, because we do not always share the same vision of the world.
This job involves many dimensions: an internal dimension with internal diplomacy within EU members states, and also within the Commission, to bring together, on complicated and divisive issues, countries and governments that differ profoundly in terms of size, geographical position, political orientation, history, and particularly the history of their relationship with the rest of the world...
As a Minister, when you have the confidence of your Prime Minister, you can concentrate principally on the dossiers themselves and the answers to be given to your external contacts. In Europe, you have to exert your diplomatic skills both inside and outside, between institutions and interests of member states, and also balance the two hats of High Representative and Vice-President that I am wearing.
In short, it combines and amplifies the requirements of both jobs. Therefore, it is the most demanding, but also the most exciting job I have ever had.
JW: When you speak of not only relying on “Soft Power” but turning to the “language of power” I imagine that, in the context of the EU, what you have in mind is to “weaponize” so to speak Europe’s economic might?
JB: Not only the economic might. It is about combining the variety of the European Union's resources in a way that maximizes their geopolitical impact.
To reach our political goals, we must use the full range of our capacities, to capitalize on Europe’s trade and investment policy, financial power, diplomatic presence, rule-making capacities, and growing security and defense instruments. We have plenty of levers of influence and Europe’s problem is not a lack of power. The problem is the lack of political will for the aggregation of its powers to ensure their coherence and maximize their impact. Diplomacy cannot succeed unless it is backed by action. But let’s be clear, our might is not the military component. The EU is not a military alliance and it was even built against the very idea of power politics. But it was done so in a very different world.
JW: You serve not only as High Representative but also as Vice President. How is the Europe of today different, if it is, to the Europe you knew, for example when serving as President of the European Parliament? Is it not a more ‘fractured’ Europe, North and South, East and West?
JB: Of course, Europe and the EU are constantly changing and evolving. I am engaged with the integration process and active in European politics for quite some years now. Actually, I received my first scholarship when I was 17 years old with an essay about the prospects of Spain, then under Franco’s dictatorship, to become member of what then was the common market… Since, I witnessed the growth from a small number of member states to 28, and now 27, with the crucially important Eastern enlargement; but also other fundamental changes, such as the changing role of the European Parliament, the establishment of the single market and of the Eurozone - and quite some related crises.
And of course the Europe of 12 is very different to a Europe of 27. More fractured? Not sure, but certainly more diverse. For example: the “fracture” on the issue of migration is not purely West-East; and the North-South “fracture” between debtors and creditors affects mainly countries that were members before the “big bang” Eastern enlargement. There are many more similar examples, but here is what I deem most important: reflecting the EU’s motto ‘United in diversity’, we should look positively on how Europeans have come together, in the form of the EU, to work for peace and prosperity, while at the same time being enriched by the continent's many different cultures, traditions and languages.
From my position, I have to insist on the fact that due to this diversity, we Europeans, from North and South, East and West, often do not have the same vision of the world, the same understanding of the world. Let me give you a personal example on this that I use often to illustrate what I mean by this. For my Polish friends, they tend to say that they owe their freedom to the United States and the Pope: “Pope Wojtyla, John Paul II, told us to be free, and the United States won the Cold War, and therefore it's Reagan and John Paul II who gave us our freedom."
And they are right. However, for my personal background, things are very different. I was born in 1947, and I believe, as many Spaniards do, that we also owe 40 years of Franco's dictatorship to the United States and the Pope. Franco was able to stay in power for 40 years because he had from the beginning and for many years, the support of the Catholic Church and later, based on the 1953 Pact of Madrid between Eisenhower and Franco, from the United States.
This is just one personal example to demonstrate that different national histories give rise to different views of the world in many ways. At the same time, this is what the unique success of the European integration process is about: to overcome these differences, to have them even enrich us, and to focus instead on what brings us together and to jointly work on prosperity, stability and benefits that go beyond the national angle. This is a permanent and delicate, but also enriching and constructive, equilibrium.
This very diverse Europe is indeed difficult to bring together, particularly in terms of foreign policy, but things have progressed in recent years: Europeans are more aware today that in a 21st century world faced with challenges such as climate change and dominated by major powers such as China, India or the United States, they can only survive if they join forces. And I am convinced that the COVID-19 pandemic will have greatly reinforced the idea that we need more Europe, as we have begun to see with the approval of the Next Generation Europe initiative.
JW: One noticeable difference is surely the rise of significant Euroscepticism, once a phenomenon limited to the lunatic fringes on the Left and Right but now mainstream in many Member States. The response of the Commission in many guises has been to try and highlight the functional importance of the Union to the prosperity and well being of European citizens. But Euroscepticism is not driven exclusively or perhaps even principally by material discontent (uneven social distribution of the deserts of globalization) but also by deep ‘identitarian’ factors, as you yourself have in the past pointed out. What role for Europe in general and the Commission in particular in facing the ‘identitarian’ challenge?
JB: I think it is indeed important to remember that Euroscepticism is driven by various factors across Europe. In some countries, economic and social issues are the key drivers, while in other countries s it is mainly about “identity” as you rightly say. Identity is a key concept of current times as Francis Fukuyama rightly pointed out in his recent works, and paraphrasing Bill Clinton’s advisor James Carville, one could say “it is the identity, stupid..”. One reason precisely why the populists and Eurosceptics gain ground is that we fight identity politics with material and factual counterpoints. It is again the battle of emotions and reason. We have overcome the big confrontation between Germany and France, whose historic identities steered the development of our continent for centuries. And this is not a small success! However, we have not yet consolidated an European political identity that could be accepted as something additional, and not as an alternative to national identities. At the same time, we witness similar struggles in some member states, look for instance at what is happening in my home country Spain.
After the crises of 2001 and 2008, it took us a long time before we decided to show solidarity at levels sufficient to redress the situation. So much so that these crises, both of which had their origin in the malfunctioning of American finance, ultimately had heavier and more lasting consequences in Europe than in the United States. Europe also took a long time before deciding to act to limit social dumping within Europe, particularly on the issue of posted labor, or tax dumping. And there is still a lot of work to do in that regard. We complain about social and fiscal dumping from third countries, but also between Europeans countries we still face such problems.
The good news is that the Union has started to fight more actively against internal social and fiscal dumping, in particular with the initiatives taken by my colleague Margrethe Vestager.
Finally, as we have seen in the crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not been able to limit deindustrialization and off-shoring, which leave us highly dependent in many sectors, nor have we been able to make Europe a significant power in the area of the digital economy, essential for the future.
The importance of a more active industrial policy is now better recognized, as is the need to better safeguard our companies and to have more balanced and reciprocal trade relations with our external partners. The need of “strategic autonomy” for Europe has a strong economic dimension.
The current crisis has finally shown that we have learnt the lessons of our previous difficulties: the Member States, the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the European Council have reacted quickly and strongly to the crisis this time. This has been shown in particular by the adoption last July of the Next Generation Europe initiative, which breaks important taboos by allowing the Union to take on a substantial common debt and to make significant transfers to the most affected countries. Until now the European solidarity was based on “back to back loans”, now it is also “to issue debt to give grants”.
The aggravation of external threats has shown everyone that, each Member State on its own, , without exception, is nothing more than a dwarf incapable of protecting its sovereignty and security. For all these reasons, I am rather optimistic about our ability to overcome Euroscepticism in the near future.
JW: Excuse me HRVP if I press this point a bit. Correctly, in my view (if I may say so) you pointed out that one reason the Eurosceptics have gained ground is that we fight the identiterian resistance with material and factual counterpoints. But the examples you then gave seem to me, if I understood correctly, to be just that – material and factual counterpoints. Is there any thinking in the Commission on strategies to address the identitarian issue in identitarian and non material terms?
JB: A bit of a dilemma indeed. It is often difficult for “us” – the elites, academics, serene politicians, etc. – to do what populists often do: to simplify and to speak to pure emotions. This might be against our excessively rational nature, especially for an engineer by training like me! Referring to Aristotle we are sometimes too obsessed with the power of reason, ‘logos’. However, as Aristotle rightly argues: all successful arguing and debate need not only ‘logos’, but ‘ethos’ and ‘pathos’ are equally important components to convince our audiences and voters.
You know, it will always be easier to shout “America (or Catalonia, or Sweden) first!” or “Take back control!” than to call for an international rules based order. Complex and balanced agreements are certainly less sexy, that’s why I agree that we need to talk also the language of positive emotions.
But look, when we wanted to give the EU elements that could produce feelings of belonging as an anthem or a flag, it was refused. They exist but without legal bases.
The details of the work of the Commission, our Treaties, and our institutional dynamics are difficult to translate in emotions, but we Europeans can be proud of what we achieved. We built a system that combines enduring peace, political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion as probably nowhere else in the world. From this point of view, I think we can say that Europe is nowadays a civilization, which can be a strong identitarian narrative and story – but indeed we all have to get better in telling this story.
JW: The ‘chronic disease’ of EU foreign policy – ever since the early days of European Political Cooperation -- has been the mismatch between the intrinsic importance and gravitas of Europe as an economic and potential political powerhouse also representing a distinct set of values and its ability to project such in its foreign policy. One used to say, surely outdated today, Economic Giant, Political Pygmy. Outdated yes, but the mismatch is still very present. Would you care to comment how you perceive this? And as a refinement on the classical question, is there a similar mismatch between the responsibilities that you hold as High Representative and the tools which you have to execute those responsibilities?
JB: Indeed there still is a mismatch between the EU’s economic weight and our ability to project and shape European policy. But, responding to your question on Euroscepticism, I think that we are about to overcome it and more ready now to use that economic importance to project it in our foreign policy. As always in Europe, it will take time, Europe is a slow-moving ship, but it is going forward. I strongly believe that the “power” of the EU will come from its ability to use its economic tools in a coordinated way.
Regarding the question of the tools, many observers have regularly pointed out that divisions among member states were hampering our collective ability to take a stand, even on issues that are core to the EU’s founding principle.
As long as the EU has been working on developing a common foreign policy, it has had to deal with this kind of splits. From the breakup of Yugoslavia, to the Middle East Peace process, the war against Iraq in 2003, the independence of Kosovo or Chinese actions in the South China Sea and recently on Belarus: there have been many examples where divisions among member states have slowed down or paralysed EU decision-making, or emptied it of substance.
The underlying reasons are not hard to state: history, geography, identity. Member-states look at the world through different prisms and it is not easy to blend these 27 different ways of defining their national interests into a united, common European interest. Having been Minister of Foreign Affairs of Spain, I have sat at both sides of the table. And I know all too well that in the Council we discuss a common EU line, but as soon as we get home, ministers focus above all on conducting their national foreign policy, with their own priorities and red lines.
The real question is what to do about this. For me it is clear that the main long-term answer lies in the creation of a common strategic culture: the more Europeans agree on how they see the world and its problems, the more they will agree on what to do about them. You cannot pretend to have a common foreign policy, without sharing an understanding of the world – let’s call it a common strategic culture or at least a common understating of the challenges and threats that you are facing. That is in part what we intend to do with the work on the Strategic Compass that we are developing jointly with Member States, and on the practical implications of “strategic autonomy”, a much discussed concept coming from the defence and security side, but having now a much wider dimension. But all this is a long-term process. And in the meantime, we have to be able to take collective decisions, on tough issues, in real time.
This brings us to the question of how we take decisions on foreign policy. For decades we have agreed that foreign and security policy must be decided by unanimity, which means that every country has a veto right. In foreign policy we work a lot with so-called discrete instead of continuous variables. This means many of our decisions are binary in nature: either you recognise a government or not, you launch a crisis management operation or not. This can lead to blockages and paralysis. It is easier to discuss with continue variables, as for instance on budget discussions and “a little more of this, a little less of that”. There are other important policy fields such as taxation or the multi-annual EU budget, where the unanimity requirement has also created serious difficulties to reach adequate solutions.
The contrast here is with those areas of the EU, from the single market to climate, to migration, where the EU can take decisions by qualified majority (55% of member states and 65% of population). Crucially, market rules or climate targets are not secondary issues of lesser sensitivity. Indeed, big national interests are at stake, which often clash just as much as in foreign policy.
Moreover, it is striking that even in the areas where the EU can take decisions by qualitative majority voting (QMV), it mostly does not. For example, the long discussed sanctions against Belarus could have been taken by qualified majority voting. But it was not done. Why? Because the ethos of the club is to work for compromises, something everyone can buy into. To change this, all member states need to move and invest in unity. Simply sitting on one’s position creates blockages. And in this specific sense, having the QMV option is important: not to use it but to create an incentive for member states to move and search for common ground. This is how, outside foreign policy, the EU can take decisions on important topics with big interests at stake, even if member states are divided. What matters in the EU is not how a discussion begins; what matters is how it ends. But time is also of substance, and our working method sometimes take too long for the pace of the world events.
Right at the start of my mandate I argued that if, in foreign policy, we want to escape the paralysis and delays of the unanimity rule, we ought to think about taking some decisions without requiring the full unanimity of 27. And in February when we were blocked on the launch of Operation Irini to police the arms embargo on Libya, I asked at the Munich Security Conference whether it was reasonable that one country, which would anyway not participate in the naval operation because it lacks a navy, prevent the other 26 from moving forward.
Let’s be clear and realistic: we will not have qualified majority voting across the board. Because dropping unanimity, requires unanimity and we are not there. Possibly we could limit it to aspects where we have been frequently blocked in the past - sometimes for completely unrelated reasons – such as human rights statements or sanctions. In her State of the Union address, President Von Der Leyen repeated this proposal (it was actually the line in her speech that attracted the largest amount of applause).
Since then, there has been renewed debate on the merits and risks associated to this idea. For instance, the President of the European Council has warned that dropping the unanimity requirement would risk losing the legitimacy and buy-in that is needed when it comes to implementing any decisions. This is without any doubt, an important issue. Others have pointed to the fact that the national veto is an ‘insurance policy or emergency brake’ to protect especially the ability of small countries to defend their core national interests (larger member states may not even need the veto to protect their core national interests).
I welcome this debate, but I am also clear that abandoning the unanimity rule would not be a silver bullet. We need to create the right incentives for member states to come together. Just appealing to the need for unity is not enough. Which decisions we make and how credible they are, depends crucially on how we make them. And don’t forget that rules creates attitudes
Going forward, some possibilities seem pertinent to me, to be evaluated and discussed. Maybe it would be better, sometimes, to issue rapidly a substantial statement at 25 than to wait for several days and come with a lowest common denominator statement at 27? For sure, this legally speaking would not be a position of the Union, and I have been criticised for issuing statements of the HR that are not backed by all member states. But I prefer to take the lead if I am backed by a strong majority. Maybe it could be also better to think not mainly in terms of introducing QMV, but also of “constructive abstention”? This was a possibility introduced to enable a country to abstain without blocking the Union from moving forward. For example, this was how the EULEX mission in Kosovo was launched in 2008.
And finally, as we are certainly not going to abandon unanimity across the board, could we define areas and tools and instruments where it could make more sense to experiment (for example sanctions, statements, demarches) and, if so, with what kind of safeguards?
I hope that in the weeks and months ahead, for example in the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe, we can debate the pros and cons of these options, knowing that there is a great and urgent need for the EU to protect its capacity to act in a dangerous world.
JW: The trouble might be that agreeing on what I consider very constructive and imaginative options, might itself require unanimity. I wish you success. Be that as it may, before we turn to the substantive issues, I want to return to the issue of Power you mentioned above. I always took the view, that the nice sounding expression “Europe as a Civilian Power” or a “Soft Power” was but a rationalizing fig leaf for the embarrassing nakedness of Europe when it came to true Hard Power. The aggregate defense expenditure of the Member States is greater than that of Russia but the efforts are so fragmented that there is little to show for it. Do you have a position on the Hard Power Soft Power debate in the sense of Europe’s defense capabilities? Do you think it will ever go beyond Parole, Parole, Parole?
JB: Talking about paroles, and as said earlier: I have repeatedly pleaded for the EU to ‘relearn the language of power’ and to combine our resources in a way that maximizes their geopolitical impact.
In a world of geostrategic competition, in which we see increasingly the use of force in different ways and in which economic and other instrument are weaponized, we must relearn the language of power and conceive of Europe as a top-tier geostrategic actor. This is certainly not the case yet and it is a difficult learning process, and in the area of European common security and defense policy, we still punch below our declared ambitions.
The geopolitical upheavals we are witnessing and that we discussed at the beginning of the interview underline the urgency with which the EU must find its way in a world increasingly characterized by raw power politics. We Europeans must adjust our mental maps to deal with the world as it is, not as we hoped it would be.
And this brings us back again to our history: the EU was established to abolish power politics. It built peace and the rule of law by separating hard power from economics, rule-making, and soft power. We are convinced that multilateralism, openness, and reciprocity should rule the global order and how states interact. But how does Europe deal with this new world?
Europe needs to avoid both resignation and dispersion. Resignation means thinking that the world’s problems are too numerous or too distant for all Europeans to feel concerned about. It is essential for a common strategic culture that all Europeans see security threats as indivisible, as the US citizens from Alaska to Florida see them. Dispersion would mean we want to get involved everywhere, expressing concerns or goodwill, combined with humanitarian funding or aid for reconstruction.
We have more levers of influence than we ourselves are often aware of. We spoke before about it: our internal market is still one of the most important in the world and no external player can afford to neglect it. The European Union has one of the strongest “soft power” toolboxes, with powerful trade and competition policies, significant aid volumes and the new possibilities offered by our investment screening mechanisms. We must use all this to its full potential, taking a holistic approach and overcoming silos.
We are the most important norm setter worldwide – as Anu Bradford convincingly sketches in her recent book “The Brussels Effect” - but we cannot maintain this position if we are not also a technological leader: we need to close the gap between our regulatory capacity and our technological ambitions.
Europe must strengthen its traditional levers, look for new ones and take new and visible initiatives to enhance its global posture. Europe also needs to act in a more united way. And frankly, the EU is the only platform enabling European democracies to promote and defend their interests effectively. In the past, we have sometimes allowed others to paralyze us by dividing us, for example with regard to our relations with China or Russia. We must stop seeing Europe as a collection of national interests and instead define and defend together the common European interest. Easier said than done for sure, and sometimes the problem is not to speak with a single voice, but to say the same thing. I would be happy if in this sense we would at least make sure to always be a good choir.
The security challenges we face are numerous and complex. Tensions and violence are rising in our neighbourhood, notably in Libya, the Sahel and elsewhere. The call for Europe to act and engage is rising in lockstep. If we want Europe’s voice to be taken seriously, we need to be ready to act. To combine our soft power and diplomatic outreach with concrete action on the ground. Otherwise the big decisions affecting our own security will be taken by others.
But look, we are not idle. Around 5,000 women and men are deployed in three continents at the operational edge of our Common Security and Defence policy in our military and civilians missions. They are acting and delivering security to our citizens. In recent years, Europe has come a long way in strengthening its security and defence policy and capabilities. I am thinking for example of the new command structures created over the past years. These steps were driven by an awareness that our security environment is deteriorating and that we have to be ready to take on greater responsibilities as Europeans. In many ways, the most tangible work that can be seen with our eyes and touched with our hands, are our CSDP missions and operations.
Soldiers, police officers, policy advisers, legal experts and many others are working on the ground with our partners to make our neighbourhood more secure and stable. They train, they advise, they mentor and they monitor. Their work is not just technical, but part of a comprehensive approach, or the European way of building security. They are often based on a UN mandates and are faithful to EU’s values of peace, stability, multilateralism and human rights.
But if we want our CSDP missions and operations to be effective, we need to provide them with the necessary personnel and assets. When we collectively decide to launch an operation or mission, we should make sure it has the right mandate and resources. We must listen to the advice from commanders on the ground on what they need to succeed.
There are always reasons for not doing more: resource constraints, difficult security situations, etc. But the question is: can we afford it? And the clear answer is: No. Our security depends on the security of our partners.
In the framework of our current security and defense alliances, we must strengthen our strategic autonomy around common and interoperable capabilities, critical technologies and infrastructures (such as cyber security, drones, secure networks, quantum technology). Europe has the capabilities to do this.
In the wake of the crisis, Member States may feel the budgetary pressure in the defence field, as they did during the previous crisis. That will make it more necessary than ever to spend better together, rationalise and strengthen our common capabilities. This requires an ambitious budget for the European Defence Fund and its industrial and innovation capacities, as well as for the European Peace Facility for stronger and more operational cooperation. Unfortunately, however, I also have to recognise that that multiannual budget that has been approved by the Europe Council is not at the level of this ambition.
Europe must also equip itself with the means to protect itself against disinformation, the "infodemic" which has grown dangerously worse during the Coronavirus crisis. To counter attempts of manipulation by foreign powers. With its strong democratic values and principles, Europe can and must serve as a reference point in striking the fine balance between freedom of expression and the fight against disinformation.
JW: In his book The Sleep Walkers, Christopher Clark poignantly reminded us how 100 years ago or so Europe ‘sleepwalked’ into WWI. Does this sometimes keep you awake at night? Should it?
JB: Unfortunately, I do not sleep very deeply and well all the time, and there are numerous developments and situations around the globe that give good reasons for bad sleep. And, as the French political scientist Pascal Boniface said in his book “Requiem pour le Monde Occidental”, the Europeans have been in a kind of “strategic somnolence”, under the US’ protecting umbrella. And maybe they are awaking now due to a US that is changing its attitude.
But historical comparisons, particularly when we talk about such tectonic changes and big events, are mostly difficult – for instance what we hear now quite often with view to indeed the years before WWI, the demise of the Weimarer Republik, or “Europe’s Hamiltonian moment”. There are always similarities in societal and political circumstances, we always have to keep history in mind and there are many – above all worrying - developments that repeat themselves. And we should learn from this more and better. But for sure we are not in a situation comparable to the 1910s, and our European bonds and the continental balance we have at the moment are much stronger than it was the case at the beginning of the 20th Century.
JW: Let us turn to actual foreign policy and begin with what I consider the most significant event of our current epoch which is the ending of the 100 year long Pax Americana. Mr Trump has dramatically accentuated and exacerbated this change but it predates his Presidency. Make no mistake: The United States is still a formidable power, but in relative terms its dominance and ability to lead in economic, political and moral terms has significantly declined and is evident in its oft times impotence to shape geo politics in accordance with its interests, the latter increasingly seeming to diverge from those we could group under the umbrella of multilateralist liberal democracies – not least Europe. And militarily, although a power second to none, its international commitments have been questioned for some time by many.
- Do you agree with my claim regarding the Pax Americana?
- Is there a need to rethink the relationship Europe-USA? How do we solve the dilemma of we-can’t-do-without-them but we can’t-do-with-them?
- Most importantly in this context, in a world which is increasingly polarized not least on the USA-China axis, and increasingly confrontational and bellicose in the manner in which global problems are addressed, it begins to resemble, uncomfortably the Cold War (even if thankfully so far without the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction).
- In the polarized world of the Cold War era one recalls the emergence of the Group of 77 – the non aligned countries. Do you think there is a role for Europe to play in leading a new Bloc of multilateralists in world politics?
- Finally, how do you insert Russia into this equation?
JB: I do agree with your assessment regarding the Pax Americana, also because the US has chosen in the last years to increasingly retract from its global leadership role. For the first time in a global crisis, there has not been a US leadership role in facing the Covid-19 pandemic. The US disengagements from multilateral frameworks and agreements – for instance the withdrawal from the World Health Organization amid the coronavirus crisis, the sanctions against members of the International Criminal Court, and of course abandoning the JCPoA on Iran's nuclear program and damaging global action against climate change by renouncing the Paris Agreement – are very regrettable for us Europeans. In a world facing unprecedented global challenges, a strong transatlantic alliance is ever more important and we would like to work closely with our American friends. There is no doubt about the European Union’s commitment to an effective transatlantic partnership, able to seek joint solutions, to advance shared interests and to strengthen the rules-based international order. But the relations are more difficult of course if, on the other side of the Atlantic, there is someone who believes that the European Union was created to damage the US, which I think is a completely wrong understanding, and takes decisions that affect us without taking into consideration European concerns and interests.
Also regarding China, and precisely because we agree with the US on many points on China, we regret that the chosen methods in terms of American foreign policy have lately so often been unilateral in nature, without consulting the EU and, at times, harmful in substance to EU interests. Last June, I proposed to Secretary of State Pompeo to establish a structured US-EU dialogue on China and we launched it at the end of October.
There is no equidistance, we always are closer to the United States than to China because we share the same political and economic system and a long history, marked by the decisive support the United Stated provided to defeat Nazism, followed by their help to rebuild Europe. And we have worked together to build a Europe ‘whole and free’.
We are products of the "Enlightenment" period and share a political system: democracy, with the people holding government to account. In a way, we are ‘political cousins’: both are committed to political pluralism, individual rights, media freedom and checks and balances. In Europe and the US, elections matter. The combination of this shared history and shared values creates, a priori, a close affinity between us. But our respective perception of interests do not always coincide and we each have to look at our relations with China through our own glasses.
You rightly say that we see deepening tensions between the US and China with clashes over a variety of issues. Positions are hardening with advocates of decoupling in the ascendancy in both Washington and Beijing. This US-China strategic rivalry will probably be the dominant organizing principle for global politics, regardless who wins the next presidential US elections.
China is increasingly asserting itself on the international scene. This was already the trend before the current crisis, but the coronavirus pandemic has accentuated this. It has become more assertive – some even say aggressive - in its neighborhood, especially in the South China Sea or on the border with India. Also, Chinese leaders did not hesitate to leave aside international commitments with the imposition of the Hong Kong National Security Law.
In the United States, the current administration has taken steps to "contain" China, in terms of trade and technology but also security. Indeed, some even talk about a new "Cold War", referring to the global competition between the United States and the former USSR after World War II. Of course, the circumstances are different this time, not least because of the fortunate absence of the thread of MAD and because the USSR was never the economic power that China is becoming today.
In that context, we as EU need to frame our own approach and be clear where we stand. I have said on various occasions that we must follow our own path and act in accordance with our own values and interests. This does not mean we should be equidistant from the two protagonists, we are closer in many fundamentals to the US as I just said. For the EU, China is “a strategic rival”, but this does not mean that we have to embark on a “permanent rivalry”. It can also be a partner.
Europe has an enduring interest to work together with China, even if difficult, on a number of global issues on which it plays a crucial role. China has necessarily to be part of global solutions to planet-size problems like tackling the COVID-19 pandemic or mitigating climate change. And unlike in Washington, in the European Union there is no apparent tendency towards a strategic rivalry that could lead to a kind of new “Cold War”, nor towards a broad economic decoupling.
Do I think there is a role for Europe to play in leading on multilateralism in world politics? Absolutely yes. With the growing strategic rivalry between the US and China, a world where interdependence in general is becoming more and more conflictual, and a broader trend towards competition between countries and systems (especially with some of our neighbors such as Russia and Turkey, who seem to want to return to a logic of empires) - we have to. We are asked to. And for that, unity is more necessary than ever.
While the world has become more multipolar, multilateralism has weakened. Never has the demand for multilateralism been so high, and the offer so scarce. We see the growing paralysis of the United Nations Security Council, the deep crisis of the World Trade Organization, or more recently that of the World Health Organization. Precisely at a time when global problems, especially the climate crisis or health issues, are becoming more and more critical.
One could say that Europe is somewhat lonely trying to hold the multilateral ring. And indeed many citizens – in Europe, but also around the globe – are looking towards Europe as the solid leader in defending multilateralism. The EU has a strong stake in maintaining and developing a rules-based international order within the framework of an effective multilateralism – even if others are clearly trying to weaken it.
Europeans feel they live in an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable world. They need to be reassured that we can provide a meaningful and robust European answer, also given the rise of authoritarian powers. We as Europeans have to do it ‘My Way’, with all the challenges this brings. The European way for sure includes working with like-minded partners (and there are many) to keep the multilateral system stable, as a needed space for cooperation.
For us, the role of multilateralism is still the same: to establish a level playing field between states regardless of their position in the international system. The most important interest of multilateralism is to set up stable norms and standards, applicable to all actors. Multilateralism is needed to guarantee protection of global public goods, against the risk of pure market-driven or national approaches. The coronavirus is a good occasion to test the international solidarity and the capacity to act in a multilateral way. And we, Europeans, have done a lot from the point of view of avoiding vaccine nationalism and to consider the vaccine as a public good that can only be provided through a multilateral approach.
The European answer to the challenges we currently face is still multilateral by essence. We are multilateralist by essence and have always considered multilateralism as a way of tempering power politics. In fact, as I said earlier, the European Union was based on the refusal of the very idea of power, from which we suffered too much. And our financial contribution to the multilateral system is considerable. Maybe we punch below our weight sometimes, but in terms of multilateral engagement, we certainly finance above our might.
We have to continue with the affirmation of universal principles and rules. We must continue defending them in the face of the rise of cultural or political relativism. Witnessing the attempt by a good number of countries to re-establish a relativism of rights under the excuse of respect for diversity, we need to invest politically in all fora related to human rights, including when these rights are challenged through new technologies, and you know what I am talking about.
And when putting together like-minded states, those who share common interests and preferences in the way to organize the international system, we cannot bring together everyone for everything, so we have to start bringing together those who, on the geostrategic level, are today worried about the Sino-American rivalry and the risk it poses to third countries and especially to us. It is important that we join forces and formulate common proposals in all sectors where there is no solid multilateral agreement: artificial intelligence, cyber, disinformation, or Internet data. In all these areas of the future, whether it be cyber or artificial intelligence, there is a regulatory vacuum and this vacuum has to be filled; otherwise, everyone will defend its narrow interests, imposing its standards.
Finally, to rehabilitate multilateralism, we need to organize global regulation subject by subject. In all relevant issues, it is necessary to create ad hoc coalitions on a basis that is not multilateral, but plurilateral. It is the case today in the framework of the World Trade Organization. And it is clear that these new modalities of multilateralism presuppose political commitment and good faith, which is not always the case.
Europeans have to work in two tracks. We have to develop our leadership, promoting multilateralism, developing new partnerships, and at the same time increase our strategic autonomy. These are the two sides of the same coin.
JW: You stated above: “Do I think there is a role for Europe to play in leading on multilateralism in world politics? Absolutely yes.” Do you envisage an institutional approach, the creation of a multilateralist bloc in world politics, lead by Europe, or would this be an organic evolution?
JB: The creation of most multilateral institutions as they exist today dates back to the post-World War II period. Since then, the world has changed profoundly, geopolitical, economic and political balances have shifted, and China and other are right when they consider that the post-WII institutions do not reflect the current geopolitical balances. In addition, very new global challenges have emerged, such as the ecological crisis and the digital revolution.
The effectiveness of the multilateral system and its institutions is currently often contested. From climate change and arms control to maritime security, human rights, and beyond, global cooperation has been weakened, international agreements abandoned, and international law undermined or selectively applied. Much of what we have built in the last decades needs to be reviewed and reformed.
Does this mean making a clean sweep of the past in order to start afresh? I don't think so. Post-war multilateralism has produced many significant results in terms of peace, the fight against hunger and poverty, stability and overall progress, despite its many weaknesses. We need to build on its achievements in order to move on to the next stage.
A world governed by agreed rules is the very basis of our shared security, freedoms, and prosperity. A rule-based international order makes states secure, keeps people free and companies willing to invest, and ensures that the Earth’s environment is protected.
And I am convinced that Europe has a central role to play in reshaping and improving our rules-based international order. Our bottom line is that reform should take place by design, not by destruction. We must revitalize the system, not abandon it. In this, we will uphold the spirit of the United Nations. A world without the UN would endanger us all.
JW: Let us turn to the Middle East. It would be churlish not to welcome the new normalization agreements signed by Israel and the UAE. But at the same time, it has left the Palestinian problem not only unresolved but in the eyes of many maybe even exacerbated. This is one arena where Europe has been criticized as unable or unwilling to bring its full weight to bear beyond the mythical “Declarations” leaving the arena to the USA which, under Obama turned its back on the problem and was shown in some respects in its impotence and under Trump the Deal of the Century was declared by most as dead on arrival.
- Even imagining a united and determined Europe, do you believe it there is a potential constructive European strategy for this problem.
- Even among prominent Israeli “Doves” there is increasingly the view that given the demographic changes (a euphemism for Settlements) the Two State Solution is no longer viable. Do you have a view on this?
- Do you have second thoughts on the Iran imbroglio which seems to be heading to a new crisis?
JB: For many of us in Europe, the relationship with Israel and Palestine is quite personal. For me, for instance, it is a longstanding one. After I finished university in 1969, I worked in a Kibbutz when the State of Israel was still building itself. I travelled all over Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, from the Golan heights, Galilee, Hebron to Eilat – and met my first wife at the kibbutz Gal On, the same day the US landed on the moon, although she was not Jewish but a French student. This was my first contact with the still lasting Israel-Palestinian conflict. As a European, it reminded me of the often tragic nature of human history and of the need to look for peaceful solutions to conflicts. My family and I came back many times, and in 2005 I spoke before the Knesset as President of the European Parliament, recalling the EU’s commitment to Israel’s security following the second Intifada. At that time, there was still a shared sense of hope that, despite the setbacks, a two-state solution was still within reach. But this was not the case, and instead of celebrating peace I witnessed the massive bombing of Gaza and the awful living conditions of the people there.
From the EU and its Member States side, we have been consistently very active in supporting the efforts of two parties towards a solution. We helped build the Palestinian institutions in preparation for statehood, with financial support now reaching more than 600 million Euros a year.
We also understand Israeli concerns and are committed to Israel’s security, which is non-negotiable for us. The EU invests in cooperation that benefits both sides, on issues from counter terrorism to research, from tourism to the environment. We should be looking at ways to nurture this and develop our relations still further.
Once the political process stopped, conflict and entrenching occupation became daily life. In the last years, there has been little to no progress. But the current status quo does not provide satisfying answers and is not sustainable . The hard truth is that only a return to real negotiations can give Israelis and Palestinians what they rightly crave: lasting peace and security.
For us in Europe, it is painful to see the prospect of the two-state solution, the only realistic and sustainable way to end this conflict, at risk. The prospects of annexation, fortunately blocked for the moment but not yet definitively abandoned, would mean the end of this solution. For us annexation would violate international law and we are using every opportunity with the Israeli government to explain this, in a spirit of friendship.
Annexation would affect not only Palestinians, but also Israelis, the broader neighbourhood and even us in Europe. Any violation of international law, particularly when involving the annexation of territories, has implications for the rules-based international order; it can therefore also affect negatively other conflict zones.
Annexation is not the way to create peace with the Palestinians and to improve Israel’s security. It will not strengthen the negotiations process as some have suggested. Negotiations should begin from the international parameters, and build from there. Can Israel take responsibility for millions of Palestinians living in the West Bank with all political and social consequences? In sum, it would not solve any problems, but create more, including for security.
Ultimately, neither Palestinians nor Israelis are going anywhere, so they must find a way to make peace amongst themselves. And there are examples of cooperation between the two sides; these should be commended and expanded not undermined. In the international debate on the issue, this view has also been expressed by a growing number of important Jewish personalities and organisations.
Peace cannot be imposed, it has to be negotiated, regardless of how difficult this can be. Peace can also bring new possibilities for EU-Israel relations to further grow - which is a priority for the EU and which should be at the centre of our efforts. There is a strong bond between Israel and Europe and we want to strengthen this bond and further deepen our relations, not see them retract.
Regarding Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), concluded five years ago, is on life support, following the US's reinstatement of sanctions and Iran's return to enrichment activities. Without this deal, Iran would have developed nuclear weapons by now, adding yet another source of instability to a volatile region. Before two decades of diplomacy are squandered, all parties involved must step back from the precipice.
Today, the JCPOA is under great pressure on multiple fronts. I am convinced that action to preserve it is not just necessary but urgent, for at least two reasons. First, it took more than 12 years for the international community and Iran to bridge their differences and conclude a deal. If the JCPOA is lost, no other comprehensive or effective alternative will be waiting around the corner.
The international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program go way back. Discussions to lay the groundwork for a negotiated solution began in 2003 at the initiative of the French, German, and British foreign ministers, and were soon joined by then-EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Javier Solana. He and his successors, Catherine Ashton and Federica Mogherini always kept the door open for a diplomatic solution. And, after many ups and downs, the JCPOA eventually became a reality.
The deal would have not been possible without diplomatic persistence. It required the full buy-in not just of the United States, but also of Russia, China, and of course Iran. The final agreement was solid. At more than 100 pages, and with several annexes, it set out all of the details for a clear quid pro quo: Iran would abide by strict limitations on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions.
The JCPOA is enshrined in international law through UNSC Resolution 2231, which needs to be fully implemented. It stands as a prime example of what European diplomacy and effective multilateralism can achieve within the rules-based international order. But the process leading up to it was lengthy and difficult, all but ruling out another chance at a deal.
Second, the JCPOA is not merely a symbolic success. It delivered on its promises, and proved effective. Owing to the unprecedented level of access that it provided for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA was able to confirm in 15 consecutive monitoring reports between January 2016 and June 2019 that Iran had met all its obligations under the deal.
As such, Europe and other partners lifted sanctions, as specified in the agreement. Iran’s international isolation was coming to an end, setting the stage for a restoration of normal economic and trade relations with the rest of the world. In May 2018, however, the US decided to withdraw from the JCPOA and reinstate sanctions in pursuit of a new strategy of “maximum pressure.”
Although the restoration of US sanctions clearly had negative effects on Iran’s economy and people, Iran continued to adhere to the deal for another 14 months. But now, Iran is once again accumulating worrying levels of enriched uranium and acquiring new nuclear know-how. The JCPOA is being further eroded, and fears from the past are resurfacing.
In January, France, Germany, and the UK formally expressed their concerns about Iran’s renewed enrichment activities, and urged it to return to full compliance. Iran, similarly, has voiced its own concerns, arguing that it has not received the expected economic benefits from the lifting of sanctions.
As the current coordinator of the JCPOA, I will continue to work with all remaining parties to the deal, as well as with the entire international community. We will do everything possible to preserve what we achieved five years ago, and to ensure that the deal remains effective.
It is important to remember that the Iranian nuclear program remains under tight scrutiny, with its peaceful nature being constantly verified. Thanks to the IAEA inspections regime, we continue to know a great deal about the Iranian nuclear program, even under the current circumstances. If the agreement were to be lost, however, we would lose these insights and be set back by two decades.
I firmly believe that the JCPOA has become a key component of the global non-proliferation architecture, which is why I continue to call for all parties to remain committed to its full implementation. Iran, for its part, must return to full compliance with its nuclear obligations; but it also needs to be able to reap the economic benefits envisioned in the agreement. The extraterritorial US sanctions have discouraged most European companies to engage in trade and investments with Iran. We have set up a mechanism, Instex, to protect European companies from those US sanctions, but without enough results to satisfy Iran expectations for legitimate trade.
We need to return to a more positive dynamic. When the moment is ripe, we must be ready to build on the deal. The EU is willing to do so. But the first step is to protect the Iran nuclear deal as it is, in its entirety, and for all parties to comply fully with their obligations.
JW: We come at last to COVID which has just added a layer of complexity to all issues discussed so far.
- Let me start with the prosaic. To what extent has COVID actually impeded from an operational point of view the ability of the Commission generally and the External Action Service more specifically, effectively to perform their tasks?
- At the end of the day, despite all the remaining question marks and unresolved issues, Europe rose to the challenge and with the usual accompanying rituals of late night meetings and delayed deadlines, thrashed out a package which was not only respectable but broke new ground in facing that deep and enduring structural problem of the mismatch between the responsibilities of, and expectations from, the Union and its own resources to manage such. The deal was too much for some and not enough for others, but it is widely believed that failure would have provoked an unprecedented confidence backlash.
But the process revealed (and perhaps accentuated) some deep disquieting issues. First among these, in my view, was a painful demonstration of the failure of the citizenship project. The solidarity displayed was at the intergovernmental level. At the popular level, when COVID struck we suddenly became, say, French and Spanish (‘that’s my medicine’ or ‘why should I pay for their misery’) and not European citizens with a keenly felt sense of empathy and solidarity which citizens of a polity would habitually be expected to feel. Do you agree?
- And likewise, the gap between monetary competence and fiscal impotence was laid bare as never before. There is only so much one can shove on to the Central European Bank without eventually stretching its credibility and legitimacy to near breaking point. Is there any scenario you can imagine which would break the taboo on European taxation?
- And of course, what would you say were the most important ‘take-aways’ from the COVID crisis to the geopolitical scene?
JB: To start with question on how the pandemic changed the way we work: I have to admit that I am very tired of the endless video conferences and the many difficulties this brings. The technical ones of course (“Can you hear me…?”, Please unmute your microphone…”, “Sorry, the connection has been lost”,…), as well as more seriously of course the substantial lack of what is a core element of diplomacy and of negotiating, reflecting and debating: to sit together in a room and around a table, and to look each other in the eye when we debate serious issues, and to find space for ide discussion and not to talk with everybody at the same time.
Regarding ‘take-aways’ from the COVID crisis and the geopolitical scene, there are plenty of course. With some being clear, and others still being open. In general, there is no doubt that COVID-19 is reshaping our world. We don’t yet know when the crisis will end, but we can be sure that by the time it does, our world will look very different, and probably not for the better.
This is a global crisis that creates waves that affects all aspects of life, with consequences for health, economics, security, social stress and political unrest. The impact will be very much asymmetric and the crisis accelerates and magnifies what we already saw happening before, and it does so on mainly three levels.
First, the western-led order in crisis. As said, this US administration has mostly withdrawn from the global order that the US has contributed to build. This is the first major global crisis where the US is not in the lead, and China for its part is not only increasingly assertive but also nationalistic. A real factor of global power for sure, but transactional and short on genuine soft power.
Second, we have this real crisis of multilateralism: the G7 and G20 are absent; the UN Security Council is paralyzed and many ‘technical’ organizations are turned into arenas where countries compete for influence. The result? A world that is more multipolar than multilateral, we see growing inequality and divergences both within Europe and globally.
Third, there is a very different capacity of countries to cope with the challenges the pandemic brings. Around the world, we see tensions between respect for science and evidence-based policy-making and the continued appeal of nationalism and authoritarian politics.
None of these trends is new per se. It is the combination that makes the situation so challenging. Any diagnosis must be sober and realistic. But we must also avoid fatalism and paralysis. Our legacy will depend on our ability to ensure the socio-economic recovery of the actual Covid-19 crisis and to project a more effective role for Europe in the world. I am pursuing this goal by helping to harness the power of the instruments of the Commission and EEAS with the actions of the Member States acting together in the Council.
The European Union has been very much affected by the COVID 19 crisis. At the outset, it encountered serious difficulties in coordinating the health responses of its Member States. Several of them, Italy and Spain in particular, are among the most affected in the world. Nevertheless, the strong measures subsequently taken in the EU framework have increased its resilience and provided it with new tools, even if we experience actually a second wave of the pandemic. The European social model has shown that it is well adapted to deal with this type of shock in both health and economic terms, thanks to its social security systems, which are the most developed in the world: it has made it possible to treat the entire European population while preserving the income and jobs of most Europeans. In terms of monetary and budgetary policy, Europe has reacted much more quickly and strongly than in previous crises.
Nevertheless, the health and economic crisis has affected the different countries of the Union in very different ways. And many of those most affected were also among the countries that had already been hardest hit during the 2008 crisis and its aftermath. In many cases, they had not yet fully recovered and in particular had accumulated a large public debt, limiting their ability to respond to the crisis. Monetary policy by its very nature does not allow for differentiated treatment of the different countries in the euro area. The current crisis therefore risked further widening the gaps within the EU and the eurozone.
This is why it was essential to set up transfers to support the most affected countries in particular. This is what, following the proposal made by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron last May, the Commission proposed with the Next Generation EU initiative, approved by the European Council last July.
Admittedly, the volume of these transfers has been somewhat reduced in the wake of difficult negotiations. The European budget has been cut back on certain important items for the future and to come into force and this agreement still has to be approved by the European Parliament and ratified by the 27 national parliaments. In particular, the question of conditionality associated with respect for the rule of law and the question of own resources to enable the repayment of joint loans still remains to be settled.
Nonetheless, even if imperfect, this recovery plan breaks some important taboos. First of all, it allows the Union to take on significant levels of debt on the financial markets (€750 billion, 6 points of the Union's GDP) and organizes significant financial transfers between countries (€390 billion). It is thus beginning to close what were still dangerous gaps in the architecture of European construction, even though some had already been plugged following the 2008-2010 crisis.
If Europe goes through with the dynamic of strengthening its solidarity and internal cohesion initiated with this recovery plan, it could in particular find itself for the first time in a better position than the United States at the end of a crisis.
However, this places heavy responsibilities on Europe’s shoulders. First, it must help to mobilize the wealthiest countries to help the countries of the South, who have fewer means, to overcome this crisis. This is not only a question of solidarity; it is also a matter of a well-understood self-interest: if Europeans manage to find the means to deal with the crisis internally but the surrounding countries are seriously destabilized by it, Europe will inevitably end up being destabilized too. This would involve managing the external debts of those countries and stepping up the restructuring and cancellation efforts that are already under way. Between China, the United States and Europe, those who will have been the most proactive in this area in the current circumstances will have scored points for the post-crisis period.
It is up to Europe to mobilize fellow democracies to defend and promote fundamental human rights and democratic values in the international arena. Whether in Hong Kong, Sudan or Belarus, the events of the last few months have confirmed, if there was any need, how universal these aspirations remain and how much people of all continents who are deprived their rights aspire to them as soon as they succeed in lifting the weight of repression. This implies of course seeking dialogue with the United States to reduce the temptations of isolationism, but also working more closely with Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico or Australia.
This remobilization of democracies must aim to defend and promote a renewed multilateralism, adapted to the world of the 21st century and its challenges. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that we need such multilateralism more than ever: as long as we do not have a vaccine, we will only be able to control this disease if it is controlled everywhere. Otherwise we will always be threatened with a return of the pandemic.
This crisis has also demonstrated how we have become totally interdependent. We also urgently need to rebuild multilateralism in that area by reforming the World Trade Organization.
Finally, the current crisis should not make us forget the seriousness of the threat to the future of humanity posed by the environmental crises, be it climate change or the loss of biodiversity. And we can be sure that as regards climate change there is not going to be a vaccine to protect us against the rise of temperatures. We have to flatten the curve of infections, but also the curve of emissions. For that, we need strong and closely coordinated global action decided in a multilateral framework. Even if the EU manages to fully stop emitting, the problem would remain unsolved, since the European Union is responsible for only 7% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
JW: Behind the HRVP there is also Josep Borrell the human person. Would you share with our readers your:
Favorite author or book?
Only one?! That’s impossible. I read quite a lot and passionately and have many favorite authors and books, above all when it comes to non-fiction. But let me try to name a few favorites, at least for novels. I like very much historical novels, for example Isabel Allende’s “Ines of My Soul”, the trilogy of William Ospina “El pais de la canela”, and for sure Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Great works that are important to me are Stefan Zweig’s “The World of Yesterday” and “Stellar Moments of Humankind”, which somehow was my first reading on world politics and global developments when I was only 15 years old. More recently I enjoyed reading Ken Follett’s “The Fall of the Giants”.
Your favorite vacation location?
My small house in the Pyrenees, in the Bohi-Taull valley. With many 11th century churches that make part of the UNESCO World Heritage list, scarcely populated, with wonderful mountains, often in snow, and beautiful autumn colors –perfect for exercising my hobby of hiking.
Your favorite dish
I have to admit that I am neither a great cook, nor a real gourmet and that I am satisfied quite easily when it comes to food. However, a favorite cold dish of mine is toasted bread with tomato and ham, Catalan style. A warm dish I like are spaghetti with fried eggs – which is also something I can prepare pretty well myself and which is part of my strategic autonomy!