The EU in the 21st Century

Taker or Shaper?

The EU in the 21st Century : Taker or Shaper? - Jacques Santer


Is the European Union set to be an important player in the next century and make its voice heard? Or, lacking both self-confidence and the necessary decision-making mechanisms, is it to get bogged down in internal wrangling and contradictions? Is it simply to grind to a halt when faced with situations that strike at the very core of its fundamental values?

In the 21st century how will the Union assert its interests on the world stage? How will it foster peace, which was the motivation behind this shared enterprise? Why should the Union's ability to act be expanded, and how?

I. International Relations in the 21st Century Will Be Reshaped Around New Challenges and New Poles

The two ideologically opposed blocs that shaped our reference points during forty years of Cold War have given way to a more disparate world with less distinct reference points, where the concepts of economic power, military power and cultural influence no longer necessarily coincide.

Globalisation is now reorganising the world into large economic regions, characterised by economic and cultural affinities. The power of these regions is based on cohesion and interdependence. They constitute the skeleton of the new world order.

A further development is the increased risk of local conflicts as a result of the geopolitical instability that has followed the end of the two-bloc world.

The relaxation of ideological oppositions, the weakening of State structures and increased economic interdependence will bring new conflicts in their wake. These will basically be the product of uneven development, demographic imbalances, environmental issues and the flouting of human rights.

To date the international community has not been sufficiently able to find a coordinated response to such conflicts, let alone prevent them. This is a global challenge that has to be met by all the countries of the world. And by Europe in particular: Europe cannot remain aloof as an island of stability in an ocean of distress. Europe will not be able to remain a pole of stability, unless it asserts itself as an organisational power in its immediate vicinity and worldwide.

In a global and disparate world, military domination cannot provide sustainable solutions. What is needed is influence based on universally acknowledged legitimacy. Peace can only last if it is founded on the values of pluralism and cooperation, sustainable development and the steadfast promotion of fundamental rights.

This new context calls for a new, more complex type of diplomacy operating on two fronts:

(1) the ability to manage crises collectively;

(2) the proper development of a policy of crisis prevention, based on economic security, cross-border cooperation and the legitimacy that comes from defending pluralism and justice.

The security of tomorrow's world cannot be left up to a single power. This would not be a good thing, either for the Americans, from whom too much is expected, or for the rest of the world, which sometimes feels over-dependent on the United States.

II. The European Union Is Better Equipped Than Any Other Player on the World Stage to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century

The European Union is often seen as an enviable model of regional integration. The challenge was to reconcile feuding nations by creating the practical conditions for peace rather than just legislating for it. Illustrations of this are the single market, the growth in intra-Community trade and the forthcoming single currency.

Reconciliation in the West is now sufficiently consolidated to serve as an inspiration for others. This process is still to be completed in the East. This is the purpose of the forthcoming enlargement which offers us a historic opportunity to unite a continent in peace. We must work to create the conditions that will eliminate the spectre of war between those nations that have already suffered so much.

The Union's 35 years of experience has given it a certain know-how based on practical negotiations and bringing interests and values closer together.

A second advantage that the European Union has for operating on the world stage in the 21st century is the fact that it has already developed relations with all the regions of the world. These relations are complex, respecting diversity and covering not only trade, and technological research and development, but also culture and, naturally, development aid.

The European Community and its Member States are particularly active and influential in dealing with less developed countries. EU Member States provide half of all bilateral development aid in the world. The Union benefits from the cultural and human relations enjoyed for historical reasons by its different Member States and has helped to cast off the colonial mentality and modernize these relations in a spirit of cooperation based on solidarity rather than domination. The Community now has special relations with regions that will represent more than 80% of the world's population in the 21st century.

Community cooperation policy has, from the outset, operated in terms of regional development. The countries involved in the first Yaounde agreements, which became the Lome Convention, are aware that this was not the easiest route to take. Nonetheless, it contributed to the development of a way of doing things that is now being tried out elsewhere.

As the largest economic and trading power in the world, the EU is present in the Middle East, providing 50% of the aid to the autonomous territories, as compared to the United States' 9%. It provides 60% of the aid to Russia and the countries 'of the former Soviet Union, whereas the United States provides only one quarter. It is providing 40% of the funding for reconstruction in Bosnia.

These are just some of the figures and do not take account of the close ties the Union has established with other regions too. In 1995 the Union gave a new thrust to its policy towards the Mediterranean countries. At the Euro-Mediterranean conference in Barcelona in November 1995 the Union negotiated agreements With the majority of the countries in the region and the policy was backed up by considerable financial commitments.

The 11th Europe-Asia Summit was held in London on 3 and 4 April 1998. The EU is currently heavily involved in Asia, which is undergoing a serious financial crisis. The EU was quick to act from the outset, through the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It is providing 30% of the World Bank and IMF money as compared to the United States' 18% and Japan's 6%. But EU support does not stop there.

The Union has managed to develop trade relations with all the regions of the world in the context of trade agreements and the development of a multilateral framework.

These facts and figures are proof of the Union's strength and yet they are not that widely acknowledged. In other words, the Union has yet to learn how to translate its actions into a genuine European influence.

European identity is a further plus-point. This is sometimes doubted within the Union, but its value is acknowledged outside. The diversity within the Union, whether cultural, economic or religious, is rightly viewed as a gauge of pluralism and openness to dialogue. Despite the hiccups along the way, solidarity between countries with different levels of development is seen as a source of hope in a world of harsh inequalities. Respect for fundamental rights is an integral part of our shared heritage. Making sure that they are safeguarded within our borders is now part of our shared agenda.

But if the European Union has all these assets, how come our common foreign policy has achieved so little? It is because our weak points are as real as our strong ones. But these weak points have less to do with institutional shortcomings than with a lack of political will to act jointly. We are an influential trading power that either does not know how to or does not want to make use of this politically. The Member States are highly attached to the perks of national sovereignty and have not yet realised the benefits of acting to defend the general interest of the Union.

III. The Amsterdam Treaty Has Brought the Necessary Changes a Step Nearer

Since the Union has opted to take in the countries of Central Europe, we already need to be considering what this means institutionally speaking. What was difficult to do with fifteen members is going to be even more so with twenty. The Intergovernmental Conference set out to achieve some genuine reforms.

What do these reforms mean for the Union's external identity? Shaper or taker? Four points were prioritized to make the most of the Union's assets.

The first priority is strengthening the economic dimension of our external relations.

Here the primary factor to be taken into consideration is the introduction of monetary union. This will give the Union greater monetary independence, making it less prone to the fluctuations in the dollar that cause so much instability in our economies. The Euro will soon become a currency used for reserves and payments worldwide. I still believe, as I did when I first became Commission President, that the single currency will come into being on 1 January 1999 involving a large number of Member States. This will give the Union more clout with the rest of the world.

We can and we must make progress on common commercial policy. What are the relevant considerations here? It is no longer trade in goods, but in services, intellectual property and direct foreign investments that is today the main concern of international trade negotiations. And yet the Community still has no proper arrangements for negotiating on these issues with a single voice. The powers it does have are often too weak and all too often give rise to procedural disputes between the Community and its Member States. Trying to reach unanimity is a far too demanding condition nowadays. It weakens the defense of our commercial interests. Unfortunately, the Intergovernmental Conference failed to provide the Commission with the means to defend our positions more effectively so that the Union could speak with a single voice in international trade forums. This is an issue that will have to be returned to.

The second priority is to forge a much more explicit common foreign and security policy, which is absolutely crucial to projecting a proper external identity for the Union.

This obviously requires procedural improvements. Nonetheless, even the most perfectly framed procedures would be useless without clear political will. This will needs to be shown by the Member States. It is, therefore, up to them to set clear objectives and show their determination to achieve them.

Our third priority will have to be organising the various elements involved in external relations in a more effective way. This is because the economic aspects of foreign policy are set to come increasingly to the fore and while the European Union is currently very financially active on the world stage, it has not yet managed to translate this into political influence or give it the political visibility it should. External relations activities should all tie in with each other in a way that guarantees consistency and continuity.

This should take two forms. First, we need a better analysis of our external relations as a whole, an analysis which is shared by everyone, both the Member States and the Commission. The setting up of a policy planning unit, bringing together experts from the Member States and the Commission, will make a concrete contribution to bringing our positions closer together and arriving at a shared approach for our common foreign policy.

Second, the new Troika, made up of the Presidency, the Commission and the Council's General Secretariat, will help the Union to act with greater consistency and effectiveness so that our economic and commercial achievements are not wasted when it comes to external political action.

Our fourth priority, which is to strengthen our ability to take and act on decisions, needs political will to be a success. Here there have been two helpful developments.

First, there is now greater scope for decisions to be taken by qualified majority, thanks to the introduction of the concept of constructive abstention. It should be possible for decisions adopted by the Council to be put into effect in a variety of ways depending on the circumstances and the subject matter. This is to be done through the Presidency and the Commission acting together in accordance with their respective powers. The same applies to the external representation of the Union. The appointment of a "Mr PESC", as the French call him, will help give our external activities a more visible political profile.

Second, there is the military aspect. Recent experience in the former Yugoslavia has shown us that some foreign policy actions need to be backed up by military means in order to be credible and effective. This means that it is absolutely essential for the European Union to have a military identity, if we are serious about being players on the world stage and on our own continent. The Amsterdam Treaty made a step forward by acknowledging the Council's power to take political decisions relating to the Petersberg Tasks, as well as opening up the way for the Union to make use of WEU.

This is the first step on the way to redefining the place and the role of WEU with a view to incorporating it into the European Union. Setting out to do this will be the ultimate proof that the European Union is serious about equipping itself to play a world role.


It is true that whether we succeed in being proactive or are condemned to being reactive in the 21st century will depend on the arrangements we will have jointly managed to put in place. However, it would be wrong to see this as just an institutional matter. If we are honest, it is ultimately the Union's confidence in itself and the Member States' confidence in a shared vision of the future that will determine the Union's ability to act and influence the world.

The Union needs to be closer to its citizens, as the governments of all the Member States keep telling us. We need to learn from how the public reacts to the dramas being played out outside our borders. We will not succeed in building a Union that is close to its people, if the people are unable to take pride in the Union's image on the world stage. By the same token, if the Union is unable to inspire confidence and guarantee the security everyone needs, it will not be effective in defending its interests in the world. This means that the internal and external challenges of European identity are inextricably linked.

The 21st century needs a European union that is strong and capable of acting on the world stage. It needs to continue equipping itself with the means to do this and strengthen its will to actually use them.

Jacques Santer is the President of the European Commission. He was a Member and Vice President of the European Parliament (1975-79). Between 1984 and 1995 he served as Minister of Finance, Prime Minister, Minister of Treasury and of Cultural Affairs of Luxembourg. He also acted as Governor of the World Bank ( 1984-89), followed by six years as Governor of the International Monetary Found (1989-95).