EU’s Conundrum of Strategies: Is There an Orderly Jigsaw on the Horizon?

Zane Šime |

Original date of publication on the UACES Ideas on Europe platform: 27 January 2016

The grandness of the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy lies in its potential to render the existing conundrum of various EU strategies into a more orderly set of strands with a clear vision regarding their mutually complementary role.

Strategies are inbuilt in EU’s genome. These policy documents define EU’s aims, approaches in tackling challenges and addressing common issues.  EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy (hereafter – EUGSFSP) is being designed with an aim to “enable the Union to identify a clear set of objectives and priorities for now and the future. On this basis the European Union can align its tools and instruments to ensure that they have the greatest possible impact”. The EUGSFSP refers to other existing initiatives, which should be streamlined according to the needs of this particular strategy. This short overview of several EU’s strategies is aimed at providing a broader context on how the EU Global Strategy of Foreign and Security Policy fits in the existing conundrum of EU strategies. Consequently, it provides few suggestions for consideration in the context of the EUGSFSP drafting and implementation process.

EU strategies are designed, coordinated and their implementation is overseen by Directorates-General of the European Commission, as well as European External Action Service. It is a common practice that prior to the drafting process a public consultation takes place. Then, during the drafting process of a strategy states come together to identify areas of mutual interest, where they see the added value of a joint action. It could be termed as the “business as usual” practice.

Broadly speaking, these policy documents are being discussed on two levels. The European level encompasses inter-service consultations and public consultations, as well as the European Council and its working groups. The national level is characterised by working groups which gather all national (and in certain cases subnational) entities involved in the implementation of the relevant strategy.

Overall, EU strategies vary in structure, level of details in terms of the implementation process, approach on measuring achievements, as well as vagueness or concreteness of goals. For example, DG MARE coordinates the EU Maritime Security Strategy (hereafter – EUMSS) which excels in its detailed approach towards actions to be pursued. One of DG REGIO’s facilitated strategies is the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (hereafter – EUSBSR), which, as its name suggests, has a regional focus and is characterised by broad descriptions of policy areas, getting closer to implementation once the flagship projects are explained. The European External Action Service is leading the EU Central Asia Strategy, which since 2007 defines a tailored approach to each of the five countries involved. These are just three examples of a much wider pool of EU strategies dedicated to regional matters or a specific policy area.

The reason why EU strategies are described as a conundrum is that they are far from being unique in terms of issues they are addressing and geographic areas they are aiming at covering. Here are few examples of overlapping responsibilities. Both the EUMSS and the EUSBSR aim at strengthening the cross-sectoral cooperation and synergies between information, capabilities and systems of various authorities in domains of maritime surveillance, preparedness for emergency situations and marine pollution. Moreover, the EUMSS has its own external dimension (called “Workstrand 1”), which defines actions to be undertaken in cooperation with the third parties. Similarly, EUSBSR encompasses cooperation with non-EU countries. In addition, the Strategic Review “The European Union in a changing global environment: A more connected, contested and complex world” covers regions which have already their specific EU strategies in place, such as the previously mentioned EU Central Asia Strategy.

Why is it worth pointing out these commonalities? The success of EU tools and instruments lies in their complementary nature. When it comes to the EUGSFSP, it would be advisable to go beyond the “business as usual” practice outlined above and render the existing EU strategic conundrum in a more orderly jigsaw. Namely, the EUGSFSP would explain the role of other relevant EU strategies and clarify their unique contribution to attaining the EUGSFSP goals. Such an approach would also help to pool the existing expertise for more coordinated actions and streamline initiatives taken under various EU frameworks, as well as avoid duplication of activities.

However, such an endeavour demands additional coordination of input and effort both from European and national levels. On the European level, it requires brainstorming regarding the future inter-service coordination of various strategies in order to increase the overall awareness of various EU strategies among different divisions of EU institutions. On the national level, it requires extended consultations. These discussions should not be limited to the so-called “usual suspects”, such as authorities dealing with foreign affairs, defence and military matters. It should incorporate inputs from other governmental bodies involved in the national steering of different EU strategies. All in all, if the EUGSFSP really is aimed at being grand, these suggestions might help to render the EUGSFSP impressive and overarching not only in words but also enshrine it in its nature and scope.