Today we woke up bright and early in order to prepare for the high level foreign policy related briefings from officials at the European External Action Service, which is more commonly referred to by the acronym EEAS. The EEAS is the institution in the European Union that acts almost as a diplomat by carrying out the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. As the world’s second largest economy (in nominal terms) and unique geopolitical situation, the European Union is undoubtedly a top global actor. They play an important international role in a number of areas including diplomacy, trade, humanitarian aid and development, migration, crisis response, financial matters and promotion of human rights. The EEAS brings coherence and coordination to all of these roles. In addition, it is responsible for carrying out the CSDP or Common Security and Defense Policy, and comprises the collective military expertise of the EU, which is crucial for peace-keeping operations and crisis management. The EEAS harmonizes all these policy areas, even in the context of an increasingly globalized world where Europe is facing a complex and uncertain security environment.
If all of this sounds complicated, a good comparison to help understand the role of the EEAS is to think of it is the equivalent to the US foreign affairs or the US department of state. Except that instead of doing diplomacy on behalf of the American people, the EEAS does it on behalf of the European citizens of 27 different nations; making sure their voices, and the collective voice of the Union, are heard all over the world. The representative of this job is called the High Representative, a position currently held by Frederica Mogherini, who also sits in on the European Commission meetings and the council of EU foreign ministers. The High representative position is a great symbol of how the EU coordinates its foreign policy by working closely with other EU institutions.
The first briefing we had the privilege of taking part in was by Mr Martin Dihm, the Senior Strategic Communications Advisor of the Strategic Communications Division of the EEAS, a highly qualified official who was previously the EU ambassador to Papua New Guinea. The subject of this briefing was the function and role of the European External Action Service. In addition to what I described previously, I found it incredibly fitting that he opened the briefing with a discussion about when the EU received the Nobel peace prize in 2012, emphasizing how the European Union primarily began as a project to facilitate peace among its member states after decades of war and far-reaching devastation. Even when talking about the origins of the EEAS, it’s imperative to understand it in the context of the European peace project. This was the first of three main points he asserts are crucial to the role of the EEAS in terms of European stability: peace, economic prosperity, and power. “The EU is rich” he put simply, and accurately, to summarize his discussion about the strength of the euro as a currency and the wealth of the European economy in terms of purchasing power. Economic prosperity is key to ensuring a stable Europe, and the single market is largely responsible for this prosperity. His final point was about the power of Europe, asserting that the EU creates a louder and larger voice through which all the member states can speak together. This is essential to understanding the importance of the European External Action Service, because as I mentioned earlier, it is the vessel through which this voice is heard throughout the world.
The subject of the second briefing was especially relevant due to the recent US political environment: EU-US relations. The briefing was given by Mr Rafal Domisiewicz, an EEAS Policy Officer with Polish origins who works primarily in the US Canada Division. Recently, because of the upcoming NATO defense ministers meeting, the media has been covering the infamous and repetitive complaints by Donald Trump that the EU (or rather, 23 out of the 28 member states in his imprecise assertion) “owe massive amounts of money” and don’t pay their fair share for defense. Domisiewicz did a tasteful job of highlighting this issue by opening with a statement that building relations with the US is often about trying to emphasize the added value of the EU (to the US), and maintain that Europe is a valuable partner both economically and politically. He also discussed the Marshall Plan in a way I found unique, especially because I have studied the Marshall Plan in many different contexts – history, cold war ideological struggle, and European Union integration, you name it – but he explained it from the US perspective in a very novel way. He asserted that the Marshall Plan was never merely an altruistic gesture by the US, but that in addition to helping rebuild Europe after WWII it was most importantly an investment in the America’s own security interest because it helped the US gain strategic allies. This strengthened his argument that Europe is important and a vital asset in the strategic national security interest of the US. Of course, the Marshall Plan was one of the most important foreign policy initiatives to form the foundation of the EU-US relationship that exists today, one that has lasted for decades because of our shared values, the most important of which are human rights, democracy, and a free market according to Domisiewicz. He finished by mentioning that recognizing and maintaining these values is key to achieving our common interests on the global stage, notably in the military cohesion, space, energy, and trade sectors.
The third and final briefing was given by Mr Angel Carro Castrillo, on the subject of the global strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy. Castrillo was an official of French origins, and a Senior Adviser in the Strategic Planning division of the EEAS. Castrillo used a simple equation (something the engineers in our group have been long missing at this point in the trip) to concisely explain the premise behind the EU’s global strategy for their foreign and security policy: shared vision + common action = a stronger Europe. To unpack that equation a bit, he meant that the volatile status of the world around calls for a more confident and responsive European Union, which requires an outward and forward looking European Foreign and Security Policy. This means that solidarity is vital among member states, because working together in a unified way will help the EU be more effective in achieving its objectives. He synthesized the argument for the importance of EU integration down into a phrase that will probably always stick with me: “There are two types of European states: small ones, and those who don’t realize they are small”. To me this means that a united Europe holds an economic and political weight that is much more profound than that of any individual member state. With an increasing number of factors challenging the internal cohesion of the EU, like growing inequality, the age gap, and climate change, speaking and acting with one voice and one united policy is the only way for Europe to maximize its interests in the current international environment. Visiting the institution that facilitates this process was a unique and compelling experience, and our group left with a much deeper appreciation for how European integration is necessary both for the prosperity of Europe and its strategic foreign partnerships.