What Europe’s foreign policy priorities should be in 2021

The EU has a responsibility to act as a global player and adjust its foreign policy in line with the fight against COVID-19, writes Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Chair David McAllister.
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By David McAllister

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

06 Oct 2020

The current crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new geopolitical dynamics and has shown the need for a stronger, united and assertive EU foreign and security policy. These changes in the geopolitical environment pose substantial challenges for the EU’s external policies and its position in the world.

The EU has a responsibility to act as a global player and adjust its foreign policy in line with the fight against COVID-19. We need to uphold our ambition of being a ‘geopolitical’ actor, showing unity and assuming a leadership role in promoting our values and strategic interests worldwide.

The EU needs to remain a reliable actor, creating strategic alliances with like-minded democracies, while building ad hoc coalitions with other partners. The rules-based system of international cooperation remains critical for the EU’s external actions, therefore we need to continue shaping international norms and standards in a way that reflects European values and interests.

“The EU has a responsibility to act as a global player and adjust its foreign policy in line with the fight against COVID-19”

For this reason, I welcome the manifold references to external relations in the State of the Union speech by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The Commission now needs to translate these ideas swiftly into concrete measures.

The priorities for the EU external action are still valid. The COVID-19 crisis has caused deep structural changes on the geopolitical landscape. Therefore, a review of the strategic policy frameworks requires starting with the Global Strategy, including the various geographic and thematic strategies such as the European Neighbourhood Policy, transatlantic relations, China, Asia and Africa.

In this context, I am pleased to note that, after many urgent calls from President Ursula von der Leyen herself, she announced in her ‘State of the Union’ speech that the European Commission, together with Vice President and High Representative Josep Borrell, will make a proposal for an EU targeted human rights sanctions mechanism - an ‘EU Magnitsky Act’.

Given the dramatic situation in Belarus or the worrying news about illegal activities in Russia, such as the attempted assassination attempt on Alexei Navalnyi, we need a more predictable mechanism that positions the EU firmly as an active defender of human rights globally.

In relation to that, I also welcome that the Commission explicitly supports changing the Council’s Rules of Procedure to enable qualified majority voting on Common Foreign and Security Policy matters, in particular on human rights issues. Parliament has called many times on the Council to do exactly that.

On the state of play of the EU-UK relations, we have requested that the Commission prepare for all possible scenarios, as negotiations currently have a bleak outlook. We also asked the Commission to present these options to the European Parliament in good time, allowing for the proper treatment of legislative files.

With regard to security and defence, I would like to reiterate the calls to adequately fund the European Defence Agency and the Permanent Structured Cooperation from the EU budget.

In relations to our close partners in the Western Balkans and in our neighbourhood, I welcome the “Team Europe” approach for the recovery, as well as the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans.

As for the new Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021 – 2027, and the Recovery Package, I deeply regret that the European Council has not approved a top-up for external action by amending the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument and European Fund for Sustainable Development envelopes.

“The EU has an essential role to play; enhancing overall crisis management and working within and outside EU borders to contribute to global stability”

This could help address the consequences of the pandemic in third countries in a more comprehensive and effective way, thereby strengthening the EU’s position in the world. Parliament has rightly called for an external budget that matches the ambition of our geopolitical goals.

Finally, the Commission ought to prepare a contingency plan to extend the validity of the MFF spending programmes, including the current external financing instruments, in case an agreement on the MFF 2021-2027 is not reached in time for an entry into force on 1 January 2021.

The EU has a responsibility to act as a global player and adjust its foreign policy in line with the fight against COVID-19. In this respect, the EU has an essential role to play; enhancing overall crisis management and working within and outside EU borders to contribute to global stability. We need to recognise that what happens outside the EU can have a critical impact on its internal security.

Read the most recent articles written by David McAllister - A crucial year for future EU-UK relations

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