The European ‘Ministry’ of Foreign Affairs turns 10 | International

The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, at a press conference on November 27 from Barcelona.
The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, at a press conference on November 27 from Barcelona.Quique Garcia / EFE

The EU celebrates this Tuesday the tenth anniversary of the creation of the European External Action Service with an open debate broadcast through EL PAÍS between three of the personalities who have given shape and visibility to community diplomacy: Javier Solana, Federica Mogherini and Josep Borrell. The current Vice President of the Commission and High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, Josep Borrell, advocates a Europe that “learns to speak the language of power” in a world scenario where the emergence of new powers and the The force of antidemocratic currents has put the multilateral order built after the Second World War in check.

It was officially born on January 1, 2011 with the vocation of becoming the European Ministry of Foreign Affairs and of rubbing shoulders and contesting the international terrain with such well-oiled machines as the United States Department of State or the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office. And although it hasn’t gotten that far yet, in a decade, the European External Action Service (EEAS) it has managed to carve out a niche on the global scene. And lay the foundations for a European foreign policy, currently led by Borrell. In recent years, with the upheaval to the international order caused by Trump, Putin and the Brexi, the EEAS has been a bastion in the defense of multilateralism, the fight against international disinformation campaigns and fake news and the maintenance of global agreements such as the climate agreement or the denuclearization of Iran.

The British Catherine Ashton, in her capacity as European Commissioner and High Representative, was in charge of launching the EEAS in 2009, which was born as an autonomous body of the EU, separate from both the Council secretary and the Commission. With headquarters in Brussels and 4,474 people employed at the end of last year (2,392 of them spread over 140 delegations on five continents), the EEAS has developed a community diplomacy that combines, not always without friction, the resources of the Union with those of the national foreign and defense ministries.

Ashton picked up the witness from Spaniard Javier Solana, who for a decade was secretary general of the EU and Mr. Pesc, an inevitable tribute to the EU’s passion for indecipherable acronyms. The oral memory of Brussels tells that European leaders created the post of Mr. Pesc (Common Foreign and Security Policy) with the intention of leaving it without powers or attributions. But they gave it to an indefatigable Solana, who filled it with political content, international contacts, and miles by plane.

Solana managed to get the EU to appear on international stages where it was neither there nor expected, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Darfur or the Congo. Already in 2007, Jean-Claude Juncker assured that Solana “has put a face to the Common Foreign and Security Policy, a face that the world sees and recognizes”.

Ashton and his successor, the Italian Federica Mogherini, were in charge of transforming the embryo of the CFSP into a professional diplomatic apparatus endowed with an annual budget that is now around 1 billion euros. Both contributed decisively to the negotiation of the international agreement on denuclearization of Iran, signed in 2015 and dangerously left in the air by the withdrawal of the United States after the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House.

Mogherini until 2019 and Borrell thereafter have managed to keep the Iranian deal alive, but with little chance of useful survival even after Joe Biden’s victory in the US elections on November 3. In Iran, as in many other areas, Brussels and Washington will write a new page in the history of their coexistence on the international scene from 2021.

The current High Representative faces the challenge of embarking the United States once again on a global agenda that aspires to go much further than the old transatlantic relationship of the 20th century and that seeks to forge a democratic front in the face of the rise of authoritarian or illiberal regimes.

Borrell, like his predecessors, does not have it easy because foreign policy is largely the exclusive prerogative of the EU states and its management is almost always channeled through intergovernmental channels. The High Representative, who chairs the EU Council of Foreign Ministers, is forced to seek the unanimity of the 27 partners to take positions that, faced with the risk of a veto, are often late or decaffeinated.

The Spanish has dodged its limitations by resorting to formulas supported by the support “of a vast majority”, which has allowed it to step stronger on such controversial issues as the relationship with Israel. Borrell also advocates activating the article of the Treaty that allows a qualified majority to pass from unanimity in certain areas of foreign policy (such as the imposition of certain sanctions), although so far he has not succeeded.

But despite its limitations, the EEAS has been able to score successes and show its added value compared to a purely national management. Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Borrell’s department coordinated a European repatriation program that returned more than 590,000 EU citizens on flights chartered by Member States and another 60,000 on 270 flights financed by the EU. European civil protection mechanism. “I never thought there could be so many Europeans abroad,” Borrell pointed out after the success of the operation.

In May 2020, the EU also launched an airlift to help countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas fight the pandemic. The flights have brought more than 1,100 tons of medical supplies and almost 1,700 people from the health sector to countries such as Afghanistan, Haiti, Somalia or Venezuela.

Beyond moments of crisis, the EU has also moved towards a citizen dimension of its external presence. The Lisbon Treaty from which the EEAS was born also allowed, as of 2015, European citizens abroad to request protection in case of need at the consulate of any Member State if their country does not have representation. Brussels estimates that the measure favors almost seven million Europeans who reside or travel in areas where their country of origin does not have consulates. Only in the US, China, India and Russia do all EU partners have a consular presence.

The external arm of the Union has also been reinforced with a much broader sanctions policy. To the traditional system of sanctions against certain governments for violations of fundamental values ​​or infractions of the international order (the punishment now affects 30 countries, from Russia to Venezuela, Syria or China), Brussels has added three horizontal regimes against terrorism, cyberattacks and the proliferation of chemical weapons.

In addition, Borrell is confident that the European version of the so-called Magnitsky Law will be approved earlier this month, the norm that the United States adopted to punish those responsible for certain human rights violations even though their country of origin is not subject to sanctions. The European Magnitsky was born impelled by the recent chemical attack against the Russian opponent Alexei Navalni, attributed to the instigation of the Kremlin.