Committee guide: Foreign affairs committee to focus on neighbourhood policy

Common EU foreign policy is popular with citizens, but the institutions must communicate better to combat the rise of Euroscepticism, writes David McAllister.

David McAllister | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

By David McAllister

David McAllister (EPP, DE) is chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs

03 Apr 2017

A mid the growing number of challenges - and opportunities - we face outside the European Union, the 73 members of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee (AFET) contribute to defining our EU foreign and security policy and scrutinising its implementation. We focus on how European funds are used and our support is required for all international agreements signed by the EU.

Among the achievements in the first two and a half years of the legislature, we can highlight the adoption of a new EU global strategy. The revision of the previous one was a demand by the Parliament. We need to give our foreign policy a strategic direction.

Our committee supported EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in her efforts, now we have to make it meaningful and implement the strategy. The various crises in our immediate neighbourhood prove the need for a strong united European response.

Besides following these developments, our committee has been focusing on relatively new topics such as counter-propaganda or the crossover between climate and security challenges in the Arctic.

We have also been working more closely with other committees, including in the internal policy field. Indeed, foreign and internal affairs increasingly overlap.

Our main focus in the coming two and a half years will lie on our neighbourhood as well as that of our neighbours’ neighbours. We will continue the careful monitoring of the situation in our eastern and southern neighbourhood, which remains tense.

Our committee has an important role to play when it comes to monitoring the security situation in eastern Ukraine, where the conflict continues, and in the reforms undertaken in the context of our bilateral relations, in the interest of our partners’ citizens.

Moreover, there can never be too much attention given to a region at our doorstep - the Western Balkans.

It’s not only that the EU is incomplete without the Western Balkans; ignoring the region could have tragic consequences, leading to renewed tensions. Despite the remaining challenges, EU-oriented reforms and accession preparations remain on track.

The foreign affairs committee will continue to closely follow the situation closely together with the other institutions. We discussed this very recently with both Mogherini and enlargement European neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

Our committee will also try to contribute to closer transatlantic relations. It is in our interest to continue our work together to strengthen the basis of our common values - democracy, freedom, the rule of law and human dignity.

Like any other committee in the European Parliament, we are preparing to deal with the consequences of Brexit. Yet it is too early for a final assessment of its impact on the EU’s common foreign and security policy.

It will only be possible to analyse this after the negotiations on the new agreement between the EU and the UK are finalised. Nevertheless, we can still have our expectations. My wish would be that the UK’s foreign policy stays as close as possible to the EU’s.

It’s time to build bridges to overcome the atmosphere of political instability and rivalry that also has an impact on the EU. This is one of our main challenges ahead. European polls show that citizens are convinced that a common EU foreign policy is an efficient way to act. In fact, it remains the most popular of the EU’s policies.

Yet many people do not really know what the EU is doing in this field and it’s up to us to address this. We do not communicate enough, or at least not well enough.

In the meantime, the EU’s opponents use simple misleading arguments to fill the gap when the reality is complex. We need to find a way to explain that the Commission, the Parliament and the member states are all working together in the interest of European citizens’ future.

However, we take our decisions in a context of a fragile economic recovery, radicalisation, a migration crisis and the fuelling of instability both within and without the EU by Russia.

As we celebrate 60 years of the Rome treaty, we should keep in mind that we cherish the organisation that gradually grew into the EU and brought the longest period of peace and prosperity - despite some crises - in Europe’s recorded history. Looking around us we should not take our lasting peace and prosperity for granted. 

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