EU to label Russia a ‘strategic challenge’

Federica Mogherini [Unión Europea en Perú/Flickr]

Until the illegal annexation of Crimea, the European Union had labelled Russia its “strategic partner”. But in the new EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, which is expected to be unveiled at the end of June, the bloc will label Russia its “strategic challenge”, a diplomat said yesterday (30 May).

More than a decade after the 2003 European Security Strategy prepared by Javier Solana, EU leaders tasked foreign affairs chief Mogherini to prepare a new EU Global Strategy to guide the Union’s global actions in the future. The Strategy will be presented by Mogherini to EU leaders at the 28-29 June summit, days after the 23 June referendum of Europe in the UK.

All eyes focus on language about Russia in EU Global Strategy

The language on Russia is the most discussed element of the EU Global Strategy, the guide for the European Union’s global actions in the future, which is being prepared by the Union’s foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, diplomats said today (19 May).

Mogherini was the first to say, in September 2014, just before being appointed as the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, that Russia was no longer the EU’s “strategic partner”, referring to the phrase which described until then the relationship between the Union and its largest neighbour in hundreds of official documents.

Mogherini: Russia is no longer the EU’s strategic partner

Federica Mogherini, the Italian foreign minister appointed to become the next EU foreign affairs chief, said in the European Parliament today (2 September) that Russia was no longer the EU’s “strategic partner”, referring to the phrase which describes the relationship between the Union and its largest neighbour in hundreds of official documents.

Speaking to a small number of Brussels journalists, an EU diplomat said the draft text of the Global Strategy had been slightly trimmed down from 25 pages “maybe to 20”, as the European External Action Service, which is led by Mogherini, was trying to “erase the irritants” from its initial draft.

‘Red lines’

Regarding the “red lines” invoked by some member states, the diplomat enumerated the issues of asylum, migration, Russia, EU enlargement, defence policy and energy policy.

But he described as “positive” the general mood among member countries about the text, adding that some found it “a little bit too long”, and also “not very readable for the general public”.

On Russia, he said that the basis of the language used in the draft were the European Commission’s “Five principles” of EU-Russia relations, published in March 2016. But he added that some countries found the current formulations too prescriptive and wanted them softened, while others insisted that the country should be named as aggressor in Ukraine.

“The main part of this language is limited engagement with Russia on issues of other interest. […] Russia, as I remember, would be labelled as a ‘strategic challenge’. Not a partner, not an adversary, but a strategic challenge, which I think is very good diplomatic language”, he said.

The diplomat said it had not yet been decided what kind of endorsement the paper would receive from EU heads of states and government. Most probably EU leaders would “welcome” the paper, not “endorse” it. The last such paper, the 2003 European Security Strategy prepared by Javier Solana, had been “endorsed” when it was presented at an EU summit.

Diplomats prefer the text to be adopted via the regular ministerial meetings in the Council of the EU, including the foreign affairs and defence Council, but also possibly the energy and trade Councils.

Asked if the UK had presented its red lines, the diplomat said he was not aware of it. The UK is indeed in a special position as the paper would be presented just after the UK referendum on Britain’s continued EU membership.

Asked about Nord Stream 2, the project to double the capacity of gas delivered by Russia to Germany across the Baltic Sea, the diplomat said that the Global Strategy would include language to make sure that such projects are in line with EU law before they are announced.

Tusk joins ‘Visegrad Four’ in attack on Nord Stream 2

The ‘Visegrad Four’ countries (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) found a powerful ally at the EU summit which ended today (18 December) in the person of Council President Donald Tusk, who repeated most of their arguments against the Germany-favoured project.

Asked about the ideas of a European army, floated by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the diplomat said the draft paper didn’t include any references to it.

Juncker: NATO is not enough, EU needs an army

The European Union needs its own army to face up to Russia and other threats, as well as to restore the bloc’s standing around the world, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a German newspaper yesterday (8 March).

UK, Central Europe frown at Juncker’s European army

During an interview on 8 March, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that the EU needed its own military, in order to deal with the Russian threat, as well as to restore the bloc’s standing around the world.

  • 23 June: UK referendum.
  • 28-29 June: EU summit, Global Strategy to be presented and published.

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