Borrell dreams of ‘making multilateralism great again’

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a news conference following a Foreign Affairs Ministers meeting at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, 19 November 2020. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

In a strategic article published on Monday (14 December), the EU chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, depicts the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on world affairs, warning of growing divergences between world players, backsliding in terms of global poverty and strengthening of the authoritarian regimes.

Borrell contributed the nine-page article, of which EURACTIV obtained an advanced copy, to the French multilingual website Le Grand Continent, which aims at building a political, strategical and intellectual debate at the continental scale.

“For the European Union and its foreign policy, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis will closely depend on the decisions we take in the coming months”, writes Borrell, suggesting that “a strategically aware and more autonomous Europe is a better ally for the United States”.

The EU chief diplomat says the COVID-19 pandemic is the first global crisis since the start of the 20th century in which the United States has not played a leading role so far.

At the same time, the crisis of multilateralism continues: the G7 and G20 are virtually absent; the UN Security Council is paralysed and many sectoral structures, such as the World Trade Organisation or the World Health Organisation, are being turned into arenas where countries are fighting each other.

Borrell notes that the election of Joe Biden in the United States opens up more encouraging prospects for multilateralism but warns that the EU “should not expect miracles”.

“Europe must act alone when necessary, but with others whenever possible,” he writes, noting that even with Biden at the White House, it should not be expected that the EU and the US will agree on everything.

“It would be a waste of time to debate in abstract terms whether we should adopt an approach based on “European autonomy” or “transatlantic partnership”. These are two sides of the same coin: a strategically aware and more autonomous Europe is a better ally for the United States,” Borrell states.

In terms of dealing with the US, Borrell advocates making proposals instead of demands. He says the EU should find a way with the Biden administration to get Washington back into the Iran nuclear agreement and for Iran to return to full compliance.

He further says the EU should continue to strengthen its defence and increase Europe’s operational engagement capabilities, particularly in its neighbourhood.

More concretely, in terms of European security, Borrell says the EU should integrate the whole of the Western Balkans into Euro-Atlantic structures, support sovereignty and reforms in Ukraine, develop “a strong and coherent approach” towards Russia and prevent Turkey from continuing to “drift away”.

As one of the main threats for the EU, Borrell identifies the rise of authoritarian regimes, naming three countries in particular: Russia, China and Turkey, the latter being an ally of most EU countries in NATO and still officially a candidate for EU accession.

He adds that the three countries have common characteristics: “they are sovereignist vis-à-vis the outside world and authoritarian within their own borders. They want their zones of influence to be acknowledged and are determined to protect them from outside scrutiny. Finally, they want to change the rules of the global game.”

The EU chief diplomat warns of a process of isolation of the Western community by Russia and Turkey in conflicts such as Nagorno-Karabakh, Libya, or Syria, a trend which he calls “astanisation” (in reference to the Astana format on Syria).

Astana meeting on Syria takes place without Western oversight

Kazakhstan and Russia urged the US on Friday (16 March) to engage “in a constructive dialogue” in the context of the unfolding tragedy in Syria. But no US or Western diplomats were present at the eight edition of the Syria talks, held in the framework of the so-called Astana process.

“Nature abhors a vacuum: we risk now seeing Russian and Turkish military bases being established in Libya, a few kilometres away from our coasts,” Borrell writes.

Regarding China, which he calls “partner, competitor and systemic rival”, he writes that no European country is capable of defending its interests and values alone against a country of such size.

The rise of China and its competition with the United States will continue to shape the global landscape, Borrell forecasts, apparently advocating for a separate track for the China-EU relations, with a positive agenda on major global issues such as climate change.

Borrell calls for a return to post-World War Two multilateralism, rather than a “clean slate” approach, admitting that many international institutions need reform. “It is high time to “make multilateralism great again”, to paraphrase Donald Trump,” he writes.

Aside from the new US administration, the EU foreign affairs chief urges closer work with Japan, South Korea, Canada, Mexico or Australia on hotbeds of tensions such as Hong Kong, Sudan or Belarus.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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