Photo: A visual summary of the 2016 Dahrendorf Symposium by illustrator Jorge Martin.

Impressions from the Symposium

In March 2016, the Dahrendorf team at LSE launched a competition for PhD students to submit a short essay on the themes being addressed by either the Europe, Russia & Ukraine Working Group or the Europe & North America Working Group. The aim was to encourage and promote new research in these areas from early career academics. In this blog post, one of our winners, Luigi Scazzieri, reflects on the image of European security presented at the Dahrendorf Symposium, concluding that, whilst Europe faces many challenges, it arguably lacks both the means and the vision of how to effectively address them.

The range of themes covered by the panels at the Dahrendorf Symposium successfully conveyed the immense scale of the challenges confronting Europe today. These challenges are both external and internal. Externally Europe faces a range of threats – both immediate and more long term – within its close neighbourhood and beyond. Close to home, the main challenges are the ongoing migration crisis and the wars in Syria, Iraq and Libya, as well as continued troubles in Ukraine and increasing Russian assertiveness in Eastern Europe. More broadly, the rise of new powers creates the need to manage the transition to a multipolar international system at a time when the future trajectory of the transatlantic relationship seems unclear and a US shift towards isolationism can no longer be ruled out. Internally, Europe is struggling to cope with the terrorist threat, the rise of populist parties and the risk of fragmentation posed by a possible British exit from the European Union. Europe’s cohesion seems to have been undermined.

The Symposium panels consistently highlighted that many of these challenges are interlinked and that the division between the domestic and the international is, in many cases, no longer clear. In fact, the combination of poverty, climate change, authoritarian politics and failed states has contributed to war and increasing instability in Europe’s immediate neighbourhood and, in turn, to the migration flows which have tested Europe’s cohesion.

The general tone of the Symposium discussions was that Europe’s response to these multifaceted crises has been inadequate. This has been due to an inability to ‘project power’, which prevents Europe from forging an effective response to the challenges it faces. Arguably, this stems from two distinct factors: a lack of internal cohesion and vision, and a lack of tools. In terms of cohesion, Europe’s responses have been hindered by divisions between member states and by the tendency to avoid issues until they have become too large to ignore. In the case of migration, the crisis was seen only as Greece and Italy’s problem until the numbers of migrants increased in magnitude and began to directly affect other member states. Europe also took a hands-off stance towards Libya after the overthrow of Gaddafi, ignoring the rise of instability in the country and the gradual collapse of the state. Aside from lacking cohesion, Europe also lacks the tools to act effectively and this contributes to its tendency to be passive. This lack of tools is not limited to military, but also encompasses the lack of country expertise in the EEAS and continuing compartmentalisation of EU foreign policy between intergovernmental CFSP/CSDP and the supranational trade, aid and development policies managed by the Commission.

Partly in view of the failures of past military interventions in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, there is a temptation to seek national solutions or resort to isolationism in an attempt to build ‘Fortress Europe’. But panellists argued that such a move would amount to giving up on shaping the international environment and becoming a passive actor rather than an active agent. Indeed, such a path is unlikely to mitigate the challenges facing Europe. Therefore, the way to address current challenges is not only to engage more but also to ensure that this engagement is effective. The question is how to achieve this.

Neither the lack of cohesion nor the lack of tools is an easy problem to solve. Much can be done to foster conversation about foreign policy between member states, but little can be done to ultimately change countries’ strategic interests so that they converge on a shared understanding of the issues. The ongoing process of crafting an EU Global Strategy may be useful to highlight common understanding and to outline the EU’s ambitions, but ultimately – as highlighted by Dahrendorf Senior Fellow Sir Robert Cooper – agreements over which policies to pursue will have to be found by member states on a case by case basis.

In terms of capabilities, it is somewhat easier to envisage how to improve on the current situation. Relatively small institutional reforms can do much to bring about more cohesion to all instruments of the EU’s external action by aligning CFSP/CSDP with trade, aid and development policy. Small investments can contribute to improving the EEAS’s expert capabilities and its ability to better forecast international developments. But ultimately, Europe will also need larger investments in military capabilities. In this sense, the panels highlighted some positive developments such as Germany’s recent financing and shift to a more proactive posture.

Ultimately however, the largest challenge for European foreign policy may be that of balancing interests and values in addressing each of the challenges it faces. It is often said that the two should coincide but this is not always apparent and often there is simply no easy way to pursue both effectively, as in the case of the recent deal with Turkey. This is a dilemma to which there is no ready-made solution.

About the author:  Luigi Scazzieri is undertaking doctoral research at King’s College London. His current research focuses on the EU’s responses to crises in the European neighbourhood during recent years, with specific focus on the policymaking process. More broadly his interests lie in European foreign and security policy making, European governance, and transatlantic relations.

The opinions expressed in this blog contribution are entirely those of the author and do not represent the positions of the Dahrendorf Forum or its hosts Hertie School and London School of Economics or its funder Stiftung Mercator.