Why Europe’s problems need global solutions and global problems need European action

The European Think Tanks Group (ETTG) report Our Collective Interest was launched at an event hosted and chaired by Baroness Kinnock in the House of Lords on 20 November 2014. A panel was invited to reflect on the international context and the findings of the report.

Baroness Kinnock opened the session by describing the traditional aid model – resource transfers from North to South – as outdated. As a consequence, the new EU leadership has to tackle a broad range of challenges in the coming years from solving global crises (e.g. Ebola, Syria, CAR, South Sudan…) to reaching ambitious agreements at the international level on the post-2015 framework, the International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis and the climate conference in Paris. She explained that this new development landscape requires a more coherent cross-EU working, a stronger commitment to joint action and problem solving across traditional boundaries, more agile institutional capability and new competencies in brokering development solutions. 3. In his intervention, Charles Grant (Director, CER) set out the international context. At the global level, he described the West – i.e. countries committed to democracy and rules-based institutions – as being weak in the face of growing powers like Russia and China. At the EU level, he noted a change in the balance of power with the rise of Germany as the member state that plays a predominant role in terms of economic and foreign affairs. Looking forward, Charles called for a stronger EU foreign policy where all member states speak with one voice (e.g. not letting China play its game of dividing the EU member states) and for a further integration of the EU’s defence policy to be able to respond to threats and crises (e.g. Ukraine crisis).

Simon Maxwell (ODI, Senior associate), gave an overview of the ETTG report. He explained that while foreign policy tends to be considered in geographical terms, the report adopted a different approach and focused on the underlying causes leading to crises. The team identified five global challenges requiring global actions that go beyond aid: trade and finance; peace and 2 security; environment; governance and democracy; and, poverty and inequality. Simon stressed that action in these areas requires joint approaches both at the national level (i.e. working across government) and at the international level (i.e. engaging in multilateral collaboration). He then explained why the EU has a comparative advantage in tackling these five challenges, and how this would offer benefits both at the domestic and the international levels.

Discussants were then invited to comment on the report. Linda McAvan (Chair of the Development Committee, European Parliament), welcomed the report and its findings. She warned that the EU is at risk of only having the time and resources available to fire fight the numerous crises around the world. She suggested that for the EU to tackle longer-term challenges such as those mentioned in the report, stronger political and financial commitments will be required from the member states. Baroness Falkner (House of Lords) challenged some of the assumptions in the report around the feasibility of working together with other countries in the EU and more globally. She cited as an example the UK’s tendency to have more common interests with Northern countries and Germany while, in practice, some of the best cooperation takes place with France in the military field. She also questioned whether ‘Western values’ such as governance and democracy are still relevant in today’s world. Jeremy Lefroy MP made a written contribution (his full contribution can be found here) lauding the report’s call for action to tackle five key global challenges. He added that three further challenges deserve EU attention: jobs and livelihoods; the rise of nationalism and religious extremism; and, the changing demographics of the world.

The floor was then open for a discussion with the audience which covered topics such as the EU humanitarian budget, the new Triton operation to rescue migrants in the Mediterranean sea, or the reminder of past successes in reaching joined-up agreements best illustrated by the Helsinki Accords concluded in 1975 with their three dimensions around European security; cooperation in economics, science and technology, and the environment; and, humanitarian and cultural cooperation.

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