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19th Jan 2020

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Integrated EU foreign policy is 'decades away', says EEAS official

  • EU and Asian leaders met in Brussels for a summit last year (Photo: Belgian presidency)

An integrated European foreign policy is still decades away, despite the rising challenges posed by China and other states, a senior figure in the EU's external action service (EEAS) has said.

One reason for this is Europe's desire to retain its heterogeneous make-up, EEAS chief operating officer David O'Sullivan told a conference on the 'Asian Century' in Brussels on Tuesday (21 June), organised by the Friends of Europe think-tank.

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"We are not going to see a dramatic shift to an integrated foreign policy for many decades," O'Sullivan told delegates.

The former director-general of the European Commission's trade department conceded that Europe's global standing was likely to decline further in the coming decades, but he cautioned against doom-mongering.

"I don't dispute the fact that Europe's relative importance will decline as Asia grows ... but do not forget that Europe is still the largest bloc of consumers in the world," he said.

"US companies make more profit in Belgium than in China, so let's just put a little bit of water in the wine."

Rather than sizing up pecking-order positions, the key issue was to strengthen institutions of global governance in order to effectively tackle the inevitable crises of the decades to come, said the senior diplomatic figure.

The G20 was heralded as a key forum in tackling the global financial crisis when it erupted in 2008, but since then progress has slowed.

EU commissioner for international cooperation Kristalina Georgieva said granting the EU a seat at the East Asia Summit would be an important first step towards improving interregional communication.

Europe has been lobbying hard on this issue after the US and Russia recently gained special representation at the summit meetings, among the the world's largest multilateral events.

The leaders of India, China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia and Australia regularly meet at the forum, but "the story of EU involvement, unfortunately, is a sad one," Jonas Parello-Plesner wrote in research note for the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank last October.

If the 21st Century was to be truly an 'Asian Century', the region, and in particular China, would have to match its growing economic prowess with greater "global leadership", said Georgieva.

The US sent soldiers to Europe to fight the forces of Nazism, noted the Bulgarian official.

"But like 1941, we aspire for Asian leadership in global affairs. With wealth comes global responsibility. That would earn the place in history of the 'Asian Century'."

Georgieva's officials have recently returned from North Korea, one area where Europeans would like to see China exert its considerable leverage, amid reports of malnutrition due to failed economic policies.

"The evidence of children dying is there ... the question [for the EU] is whether our assistance can be channeled to these people or will merely end up in the pockets of the wrong people," she said, indicating that a decision would be taken in the coming days.

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