Foreign policy is of central importance to the economic prosperity and well being of EU citizens and citizens around the world. While today’s perception is that the Union’s prosperity and security have suffered as a result of economic crises and instability, the Union continues to be one of the most prosperous and safest regions in the world and a standard many regions, nations and peoples around the world aspire to. The large number of people seeking to make a new life within our Union and third countries who continue to seek to join the Union are testament to this.
To remain secure, prosperous and free, the EU needs to respond to the challenges and opportunities the global environment presents. An effective response hinges on the EU's ability to make choices and prioritise areas where it can and wants to make a difference. Trade, humanitarian assistance and development cooperation are key policy areas in this respect..
Trade, pursued through bilateral and multilateral agreements, has long been recognised as an engine for growth and jobs, as well as helping to promote other goals including human rights, development, energy security and environmental protection. In trade and development policy, the EU potentially wields significant power. Although the EU represents the largest trading partner for 80 countries and the second largest for a further 40, its declining economic dynamism, the high demands it makes of its trading partners, and what it is willing to offer may be hampering the EU's leverage.
Proof is the difficulty the EU is facing to conclude negotiations on investment or free trade agreements with several major partners. In addition, new challenges are emerging as the EU seeks to move beyond the elimination of tariffs to cover non-tariff barriers as well – as in the case of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Negotiations over non-tariff barriers often entail regulatory convergence, which require a thorough understanding of the needs, interests and procedures of sectorial regulators and social actors.
Nevertheless, in economic terms the TTIP is a potentially win-win project that, if successful, can create jobs and business opportunities, eliminate red tape, and stimulate growth. An ambitious and open TTIP would not just be a free trade and investment agreement. It would be a strategic endeavour that, by establishing the largest free-trade area in the world, may inject momentum into the development of global rules in areas where multilateral negotiations have stalled.
In trade policy, the EU still needs to find effective ways to manage tensions that may arise between trade and non-trade objectives. And within non-trade objectives, a distinction needs to be made between the general pursuit of fundamental freedoms and specific human rights issues which are tied to trade as such, including labour and health standards and property rights. Furthermore, the balance between multilateral, regional and bilateral trade agreements is changing. While in some cases – notably Asia – bilateralism can pave the way to inter-regionalism, in other cases, there may be trade-offs warranting more careful reflection. The EU is also vulnerable to the ramifications of underlying political and security tensions. Disputes and conflicts affect trade routes, financial flows and a regional order in parts of the world that are of paramount importance to the EU.
A coherent pursuit of trade and non-trade objectives is also required in both the neighbourhood and the wider world when trade policy is used as a foreign policy means. This, in turn, calls for deeper cooperation between different stakeholders in the negotiation and implementation of trade agreements. When trade agreements are pursued to achieve economic goals, successful negotiations often hinge on trade being part of a wider relationship, including access to research funding, visa liberalisation and development cooperation. At the same time, introducing energy and climate components in trade and investment agreements can promote the transfer of low-carbon technologies, and exchange best practices in terms of governance and regulatory regimes.
As the largest global combined donor, the EU is a leader in development cooperation and humanitarian assistance. While traditional goals in development cooperation and humanitarian assistance remain in place – such as the eradication of poverty, the preservation of life and the alleviation of suffering – the approach towards achieving them is evolving. The EU’s Agenda for Change emphasised human rights, democracy and good governance along with sustainability and inclusive growth. It also shifted attention from funding inputs to development outputs. Today, attention is focused on adopting a post-2015 agenda and sustainable development goals (SDGs) in order to eradicate extreme poverty and address all dimensions of sustainable development by using realistic and measurable targets.
Humanitarian assistance, however, is a policy that is yet to adapt to changing global circumstances. While the main objective remains to provide an immediate response in order to save lives and reduce suffering, humanitarian actors are faced with humanitarian crises becoming the ‘new normal’, with ever-increasing needs. New policy action therefore aims at enhancing resilience, disaster risk reduction, and bridging more effectively the transition towards development cooperation.
In addressing the humanitarian crises in war-torn and refugee-hosting countries, the EU must insist on the full application of international humanitarian law, the protection of civilians and the respect of human rights in conflict situations. The EU's diplomatic, economic, migration, asylum and security policies need to account for the deep connections between Europe’s southern neighbours and their neighbours in the Gulf and sub-Saharan Africa in order to help put out the fires ravaging the region, from Libya to Syria, and Iraq to Yemen.
In development policy, greater coordination with Member States’ own policies will increase impact, but better implementation requires overcoming the fragmentation of financial instruments both across Commission services and between the EU and the Member States. Joint Programming is a promising step forward in this regard. Also, as development cooperation widens its horizons post-2015 to address global challenges and develop new forms of cooperation with emerging economies, it becomes all the more necessary to devise a joined-up approach. Such an approach needs to build partnerships beyond the EU and across the public-private divide, and account for the inter-linkages between development, on the one hand, and governance, security, trade, migration, energy, climate and cyber on the other. A step forward in this respect is the Policy Coherence for Development. Further efforts in this direction can help ensure that the Union can bring its full weight to bear on driving an ambitious and deliverable post-2015 agenda.