A conference organised by Friends of Europe focused on the EU’s influence on the international scene. The EU’s potential need of military capabilities to overcome new security challenges also emerged in the debate.
The first part of the debate revolved around the definition of the rationale and key components of the EU ‘soft power.’ According to the Commission, the main justification for this approach lies in the need for the EU to defend the interests of its citizens, while projecting its own political, socio-economic and cultural values on the international scene. For so doing, the EU clearly favours persuasion (e.g. cooperation agreements with third countries) over military might – obviously because it lacks the corresponding capacities. At a wider scale, ‘soft power’ boils down to the promotion of multilateralism and international law to widespread peace, democracy and the respect of human rights all over the world.
The panel unanimously praised enlargement as the most successful ‘soft power’ policy, because it contributed to enhance the EU’s political credibility on the face of the world while also offering “political and financial visibility’ to the new member states. Against this yardstick, speakers pointed at differentiation, comprehensiveness, coherence and dialogue as main factors of success.
The most significant challenge the EU has to live up to was summarized as follows: does ‘soft power’ suffice it for the EU to become a political, economic and cultural global power? On this particular issue, speakers agreed on the necessity for the EU to achieve the right balance between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ instruments – which will imply considerable efforts to improve the EU’s military capabilities.