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In 1991, the then-Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Eyskens famously retorted that “Europe was an economic giant, a political dwarf and a military worm”.
In 1991, the then-Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Eyskens famously retorted that “Europe was an economic giant, a political dwarf and a military worm”. This saying is still often cited both by academia and the politicians alike but – is it still true? A cursory glimpse of the daily news tells us that that the European economies are suffering from stagnation, that the EU is far from being a coherent political and military actor. It is difficult not to be pessimistic at this point of overall lack of enthusiasm for the European project but one has also to be fair. Although the Union is punching below its weight in many areas, the Europeans have come a long way since 1991.
In the short timespan of little more than 30 years, we have seen the creation of the European Union that resembles more and more a federal state. It has a complex, multilayered institutional structure, far-reaching policy competencies in some of the most sensitive national policy areas such as home affairs, trade policy and monetary policy, but also foreign policy and defence policy, which albeit still remain intergovernmental. The end of the Cold War and the bipolar world order at the beginning of the 1990s rushed in a short period of euphoria for a new era of peace and democratisation. The European Union, still now the world’s most successful peace project, benefited from the atmosphere. The foundation for its Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) as well as Justice and Home Affairs policies were created during the 1990s.
The 1990s also saw the beginning of the EU’s most ambitious enlargement process that would concluded in 2014 with the accession of 11 post-communist states, all of them turned around into more or less functioning liberal democracies and market economies, as well as Cyprus and Malta. Inspired from its success in exercising ’normative power’, the EU launched in 2004 the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) that seeked to further extend the ring of stability, democracy and prosperity to the EU’s Eastern and Southern neighbours. The ENP was devised as a kind of an enlargement light policy, with a similar reform agenda and conditionality but without the carrot of EU accession, in belief that closer relations with the EU would provide enough of an incentive for the neighbours to carry out costly economic and administrative reforms. In 2003, the European Security Strategy (ESS) was adopted, identifying the potential security challenges: terrorism, proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction, regional conflicts, state failure, organised crime and (since 2008 reform) cyber security. The 2009 Lisbon Treaty sealed the upgrading of the EU’s political nature, strengthening the European Defence Policy and Common Foreign and Security Policy, mainly by creating the post of the EU High Representative/Commission Vice-President to give the EU ’one voice’ in foreign policy and the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European diplomatic instrument to serve her. So, the EU has emerged as an evolving security actor that commands already now an intricate toolbox. The European foreign and security policies are also widely supported by the citizens- a substantial majority of the Europeans want the EU to exert ’strong leadership in world affairs.