Friday

22nd Jan 2021

Stakeholder

Post-Covid is a different world - EU needs to secure a role

  • MEPs call for the European Union to strengthen its foreign policy presence to be able to defend its interests in the new geopolitical era, or else. (Photo: Renew Europe)

The Covid-19 crisis shook up the world profoundly, and we haven't found the politics to cope with it yet. That is the harsh but undeniable conclusion of a new parliamentary report by MEP Hilde Vautmans (Open Vld/Renew Europe) agreed by the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee (AFET) earlier this week.

Many EU countries are so overwhelmed by the latest wave of Covid-19 cases that the immediate medical and economic impact understandably takes precedence. But the geopolitical effects of the crisis could also haunt us for decades to come.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The coronavirus is 'a game changer', the report argues, altering the context of foreign affairs and global security issues, adding to socio-economic as well as political risks.

It changes the relationship between the world's biggest players, and undermines some of the values the EU has been trying to promote for decades.

MEPs note a lack of global leadership and cooperation in the initial phases of the coronavirus response. The US opted for an outright isolationist stance, which could dangerously undermine not only relations with other partners – notably China – but also the multilateral system as such.

The decision to withdraw funding from the World Health Organization sets an awful precedent.

China, on the other hand, has refused to be transparent about its measures to handle the pandemic, while some of them clearly risk exacerbating the human rights situation within the country.

The impact of China's renewed diplomatic efforts notably in Africa are also uncertain. The Vautmans reports signals a fear that Africa's debt and dependance could be a source of instability later.

Yet China is not the only country using the fight against Covid-19 as an excuse to crack down on the civil liberties of its own population and as an opportunity to destabilise liberal democracy in other countries. Russia's spreading of false information and political paranoia comes in for specific scrutiny.

In light of such disturbing trends, the EU response has been slow and disjointed.

The global race for pharmaceuticals highlighted yet another example of Europe being unable to make its size count when it really matters.

The Foreign Affairs committee calls on European leaders, and in particular high representative Josep Borrell, to make the best possible use of the foreign policy tools it has to tighten bonds with allies. This implies establishing a more relevant presence in Africa and offering a more realistic membership perspective for the Western Balkans. It also means building up a number of new tools, notably sufficient and credible military capacities, such as the European Peace Facility, to beef up its presence in the neighbourhood.

Better digital and communication strategies are needed to be more resilient to new and hybrid threats and technologies, and to counter disinformation.

MEPs underline that the ending the unanimity rule in foreign affairs would help make the EU more of an active player, as the case of sanctions has recently shown.

"The European Union has still to position itself in the new world order, and it is a weakness for both the EU and for multilateralism," MEP Vautmans summarises the report's findings.

"A unified and determined European presence on the world stage could serve to rebuild the global rules-based order after the damage done in recent years, and it is an absolute necessity for Europeans to defend their interests internationally."

The report concludes with an appeal for the Conference on the Future of Europe to start soon, as it would provide the proper platform to discuss the merits and limitations of Europe's foreign affairs policies.

Author bio

Hilde Vautmans is a Belgian MEP, where she has served since 2014. She is the Renew Europe coordinator on Foreign Affairs and the European Parliament standing rapporteur on China. Previously, she was group leader for the Flemish liberal-democrats Open Vld in the Belgian Chamber of Representatives.

Disclaimer

This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.

Renew Europe has a plan to combat gender-violence

This is not about supposedly traditional values – when was violence against women ever a value? – it is about living up to the European values we all signed up to. We have to put pressure on Poland.

Coronavirus

Europe is back in (partial) lockdown

The burden on healthcare systems all across the bloc, as a result of the autumn surge in coronavirus infections, is triggering new nationwide lockdowns and restrictive measures in nearly every EU member state.

Let Turkey's journalists report freely

According to IPI's figures, 79 journalists remain behind bars in Turkey. While this is down from a high of over 160 in 2018, the figure still makes Turkey one of the world's leading jailers of journalists.

News in Brief

  1. Netherlands imposes curfew to halt new corona variant
  2. Green NGO fails to stop Europe's biggest gas burner
  3. Swedish minister reminds Europe of Russia's war
  4. Spain: Jesuit order apologises for decades of sexual abuse
  5. NGOs urge Borrell to address Egypt rights 'crisis'
  6. EU conflict-area education aid favours boys
  7. EU told to avoid hydrogen in building renovations
  8. Hungary gives initial ok for UK and Russian vaccines

Synergy need to tackle climate change in Mediterranean

The Interreg Med, a cross-border initiative of 13 countries around the Mediterranean Sea, has made the fight against climate change the cornerstone of its strategy for the next years - since the region is facing irreversible environmental damage.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  2. CESIKlaus Heeger and Romain Wolff re-elected Secretary General and President of independent trade unions in Europe (CESI)
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersReport: The prevalence of men who use internet forums characterised by misogyny
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic climate debate on 17 November!
  6. UNESDAMaking healthier diets the easy choice

Latest News

  1. EU leaders keep open borders, despite new corona variant risk
  2. EU and Cuba appeal for Biden to open up
  3. Portugal's EU presidency marks return of corporate sponsors
  4. MEPs chide Portugal and Council in EU prosecutor dispute
  5. EU warns UK to be 'very careful' in diplomatic status row
  6. A digital euro - could it happen?
  7. US returns to climate deal and WHO, as EU 'rejoices'
  8. Big tech: From Trump's best friend to censorship machine?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us