the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission
As High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission directing the European External Action Service, in which ways did You make use and are You still making use of the unique and special combination of these two important EU institutional functions, in order to facilitate and form a common EU foreign policy?
I remember very well that, when the post of High Representative and Vice-President was established, many believed it would be an impossible job. Today I say: my “double hat” is not only possible to wear, but it is the greatest asset in my daily job, and it is indispensable in order to deliver. Actually, we always referred to two hats, but they are three. I also head the European Defence Agency, which was essential to our work on security in these years.
Europe’s greatest strength is our unparalleled foreign policy potential. I believe that the core of my job is to fulfil this potential, to try and make the most out of all our assets. This is what we have done on security and defence, where we have mobilised resources from the EU budget to incentivise cooperation among Member States.
Whenever we work to address a crisis, coordination between European institutions and Member States is also vital. I can make the example of Venezuela, where I coordinate with Member States within the Contact Group that we have created to work on the political and diplomatic side, while the European Commission has an essential role in tackling the humanitarian dimension of the crisis. Or take migration, which was not even on the European Union’s foreign policy agenda when I began my mandate: we have addressed the need to manage flows and to address their root causes with a combination of investment in sustainable development, cooperation with the United Nations and with local partners, and security cooperation.
All this would have been impossible without the different “hats”. This mix of assets is truly unique, and invaluable. How do you asses the current unity amongst EU Member States, amongst heads of state and government, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and the national diplomatic forces regarding the foreign policy of the EU and which are the most relevant evolutions You have witnessed and helped realize in this perspective?
I have always believed that there is no contradiction between our national interests and our common European interests. On the contrary: Member States are strong when the European Union is strong, and vice-versa. This has become evident throughout our work on defence. Member States realised that the more they joined forces among them, using the tools provided by the European Union, the stronger and safer each of them would become. And this newfound political will have made the impossible come true, after seventy years of failures in the field of defence. In these years Member States have shown unity on most of the fundamental issues of our times.
On Ukraine, we all agree on the need to respect of the Minsk agreements and the territorial sovereignty of the country. On Venezuela, we all want to see free and democratic elections to ensure a democratic and peaceful transition. On Libya, we all work to avoid further military action and to go back to the negotiating table under UN auspices, and the same goes for Syria or for Yemen.
To me, this is only natural − because our national interests converge.
The EU Member States that are currently also Members of the UN Security Council (UNSC) are working very well together in this context. In which degree and in which ways are shared positions in the Security Council amongst UNSC Members that are also EU Member States, facilitated, encouraged and/or coordinated by the European External Action Service (EEAS) and by your Office?
When I started my mandate five years ago, some colleagues told me: do not touch the UN Security Council. That is not for the European Union, it is for Member States only. But today we have regular coordination meetings on our action at the UN, and European coordination in the Security Council has reached an unprecedented level. In New York, the EU Delegation to the UN works on a daily basis with the diplomatic services of our Member States. Our Member States sitting in the Security Council agree on common lines and they hold common stake-outs after the Council’s meetings. In short, they work as a true team. And this makes us a more credible and reliable partner for the world.With EU Member States currently occupying five out of the fifteen UN Security Council seats, we have not only the potential but also the responsibility to be a champion of multilateralism. I think that Member States understood this very well, helping us advancing on as European Union, and building alliances to support the UN agenda in the most effective way.
I believe that speaking with different voices, within the United Nations, is an asset and not a liability − provided that all voices sing from the same song sheet. And this is exactly what we are doing today.
By such cooperation, did the impact of the EU on UN policy and decision making increase during the past five years? What are the raison d’être and merits of the during Your term also increased cooperation between the UN and the EU, between the UN Agencies and European Institutions?
In years when multilateralism and the UN system have been increasingly questioned, our cooperation has made the UN stronger. You will never hear the European Union question whether the UN serves our interests and values. We know it does. The multilateral system is the best tool we have to build sustainable peace and security. The question we always ask is: what can we Europeans do to support the United Nations? Working with the UN and for the UN is the best way to serve the interests of peace, security and global progress.
This support has materialised in tens of different ways. In times of growing financial pressure, we have increased our contribution to the UN system. For instance, without us the UN Agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) would probably have collapsed. And we contribute one-third of the UN peacekeeping budget, more than any other global power. At the same time, we are the strongest supporters of António Guterres‘ reform agenda.
But it is not just about financial support. We have accompanied and supported UN-led talks to address all the main conflicts around the world − from Syria to Libya and Yemen. We are doing all we can to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran − which is not a bilateral deal, but a multilateral agreement endorsed by a resolution of the UN Security Council. We always put our convening power to the service of multilateralism: when there is no multilateral framework, we work to build or rebuild one. From the Paris agreement on climate change to the UN Agenda on sustainable development, none of these agreements would have been possible without the European Union’s leadership.
I am also particularly proud that we are exploring new forms of cooperation between regional organisations inside the UN framework. The best example is our trilateral cooperation with the African Union and the United Nations: together we have saved over thirty thousand people from detention centres in Libya − and this would have been impossible without our cooperation. While others try to dismantle the UN system, we are working to make it more effective and more capable of delivering on the great challenges of our times. We need to expand and improve the system for global governance, not to weaken or to demolish it.
Which are the sometimes hidden but real advantages and merits of a European Diplomacy that can speak by Your Office and the during Your term reinforced EEAS, and also with the 27/28 voices of the diplomatic services of the EU Member State with possibly 27/28 different nuances fitting in a polyphonic harmony, unity and shared ambition?
Cooperation at the European level does not mean that national policies should disappear. Europe is all about “unity in diversity”, not about uniformity. The strength of a Member State can be the strength of the whole Union. Our different histories, geographies and diplomatic services can and should live side by side.
At the same time, our Union’s collective strength is greater than the sum of its parts. Together we are one of the three greatest world economies. Together we invest in development cooperation more than the rest of the world combined. Together we have the second defence budget in the world. Together we are a superpower, even if we do not always realise that.
On the contrary, none of our Member States are big enough to make a different in today’s world. European integration is not about giving up national sovereignty to a supra-national entity. European unity is our only way to regain sovereignty in our difficult world. This is why some other powers are trying to divide us: they would rather deal with small and weak states, than with a Union of half a million citizens. But this is their interest, not ours: our national interest is to invest in a united Europe.
What is the importance and significance of culture and cultural diplomacy for the foreign policy of the EU, as You brought culture at many occasions and also officially at the forefront of European Diplomacy?
Europe is a cultural superpower. Our art, our literature, our cuisine, our music and our architecture are renowned all around the world. We are a hub for research, technology and innovation. Our cultural diversity is a huge asset, and it is what made Europe such an incredible place.
At the same time, culture can be a powerful ally in our daily job in foreign policy. Culture can create bridges beyond political divides. Cultural heritage and tourism can be drivers of sustainable development and help make a country more resilient. The protection or the restoration of historical sites contributed to peace processes and to reconciliation in divided societies.
This is why we have fully integrated culture and cultural diplomacy in our European foreign policy. In these years, we have created a Cultural Heritage Route to promote dialogue in the Balkans and the Balkans‘ integration with the European Union. We have contributed to the reconstruction of cultural heritage destroyed by terrorists − from Iraq to Mali. We have used our Erasmus and Horizon2020 programmes to strengthen links with our neighbours and to create new economic opportunities.
Cultural diplomacy is not just a hobby for intellectuals. It is a cornerstone in our relationship with today’s world. It is vital for Europe, to promote our interests and advance our principles.