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21st Jun 2021

Van Rompuy planning 'foreign policy' summit

  • Mr Van Rompuy (l) and De Ruyt. "EU foreign policy needs to evolve, Belgium said." Mr De Ruyt said (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

EU leaders are to gather for a special meeting in September to discuss the foreign policy objectives of the Union, a topic pushed on to the agenda by the quick rise of other regions in the world.

"We have ... to redefine our role in the world, in the new world with emerging powers and the new polarity," said Belgium's EU ambassador Jean De Ruyt on Friday (11 June), while presenting the plan for his country's EU presidency, due to start 1 July.

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The 27 EU member states have been on something of the defensive about their role in the world since the December Copenhagen climate change summit. Despite considering itself a leader in environmental issues, the Union was not involved in the key deal-making negotiations, driving home the emerging new pecking order in the world, particularly the powerful role of China.

In addition, the EU's new rule book, the Lisbon Treaty, while providing for a stronger Union through fewer external relation figures and faster decision-making channels, has yet to be backed up by a change in mindset.

"We certainly have to redefine our relations with the emerging countries, our relationship with India, with China, is not what it should be. It is based on the relationship adapted to a situation of 10 years ago," Mr De Ruyt told an audience at the European Policy Centre think-tank in Brussels.

But discussion around the issue is difficult because prioritising some areas necessarily implies de-prioritising others. Individual member states tend to have pet foreign policy projects, many of which are influenced by past colonial times. An EU diplomat recently remarked that the Spanish, for example, would likely never agree to downgrading relations with Latin America.

"It is a very difficult thing to discuss about because, you can have the cafe du commerce [run of the mill discussion] which is not very dangerous or you can say things that can have a dangerous effect on our relations with third countries because we should not give the impression that we are under threat or on the defensive," the Belgian ambassador said.

The extraordinary leaders' gathering has been called by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. It is to be the second such single-issue summit after he hosted an economy-focussed discussion in February.

September's topic also underlines Mr Van Rompuy own keen interest in external affairs rather than just the economic issues he has been most associated with to date. As the president, his job is to give political impetus to the regular EU meetings but also to represent the bloc on common foreign and security issues at leader level.

The one-theme summit is also a bid to get leaders to really focus and make clear decisions in certain areas, with the traditional European Councils tending to be wide-ranging, discursive affairs producing small booklets of conclusions.

An innovation meeting is planned in October, while Mr Van Rompuy would like EU leaders to discuss energy in January.

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