Europe In The World

Discussion Paper 

Europe in the World: beyond classical international affairs

20 May 2008 - v 1

In most policy fields, the European Union's role has both internal and external aspects. Europe's actions towards the outside world and internal policy making are rarely completely disconnected. Our political choices can and should be informed by their effects both inside and outside the European Union. From that vantage point, foreign policy can be understood in the broadest possible sense to encompass not only traditional international politics, but also our economic and trade policies, climate and environmental policies, migration policy and cooperation in the field of Justice and Home Affairs.

The Lisbon Treaty provides the EU with the opportunity to develop more effective and more coherent policies to address the challenges the EU and the world are facing and the necessary tools to implement them. Taking the added value of European cooperation as main principle, this approach will help frame our political programme.


1. The role of the European Parliament will continue to grow. The Lisbon Treaty gives the EP an equal voice in almost all policy fields. After years of institutional debate, time has come to make the switch to content. We focus on communicating the importance of having a strong and coherent left / social democratic block in order to be able to shape the European political agenda.

2. That agenda is based on the one hand on our political principles and, on the other hand, should connect more strongly to our voters' expectations: what is the state of European cooperation and where are we heading? Which are the issues that need a European solution, a common approach? Which issues are best dealt at other levels of government and therefore deserve a reluctant approach from Brussels?

Solidarity is and remains an important principle for European social democrats. Europe is first and foremost a community of values. At the same time, the European Union is an instrument to realise our political goals, more than it is a goal in itself. To overcome the scepticism among our voters, the European Union will have to deliver results in those field where citizens most expect it to.

3. A European Union of the added value focuses on those policy fields in which European cooperation most complements national policy making. The European Union should concentrate on main issues, not policy details. Most 'added value' can be found in the 'external role' of the European Union and its interconnection with the internal challenges we are facing: twenty-seven member states together carry more weight than each of them separately.

4. If we take that approach, we can consider the European Union's role in the world in the broadest possible sense - beyond the classical themes of international affairs (peace and security, international intervention, diplomacy). That means bridging policy fields, including issues concerning peace and security, international trade, development, human rights, migration, the fight against international terrorism, but also Europe's economic position in the world.

5. By making the connection between internal and external aspects of such themes, it is much easier to demonstrate the significance and often necessity of common action in a European framework.

The way the internal market further develops, for example, is connected to Social Europe, but also with the need to continue to strengthen Europe's economic position in the world. Local and national environmental policies cannot be disconnected from common European environment and energy policies, which in turn are a crucial ingredient to Europe's ambitions for a strong global climate pact. Or the link between issue of migrant integration in member states, the challenge of developing a common asylum and migration policy and the effects those will have on societies surrounding Europe.

Such an approach circumvents much of the discussion on subsidiarity: it makes clear that European policy making answers to concrete challenges that member states cannot cope with on their own.

In those case where questions of subsidiarity do pose themselves explicitly, we aim for the clearest possible demarcation of responsibilities. In some case this might necessitate a further elaboration of European legislation, for example concerning the relation between the internal market and public services.


The Lisbon Treaty provides the EU with the institutional possibilities to deliver on this double role (internal - external). The Treaty also strengthens the position of both the European Parliament and national parliaments.

  • The EP gets full co-decision in almost all policy fields, including agriculture, international trade and Justice and Home Affairs. Only Treaty changes and Foreign Affairs remain purely intergovernmental.
  • The member states have to take into account the results of the European elections when nominating the President of the European Commission. As a result this could lead to a much stronger connection between the political balance in the European Parliament on the one hand and the multi-annual policy framework and political make up of the Commission on the other.
  • The coherence of Europe's external actions could improve considerably due to the fact that the High Representative for the Common Foreign Policy will also serve as Vice-President of the European Commission, giving him control over the funds available for external policy. At the same time, the European Parliament's influence will grow, among others through its role as budget authority.
  • A recent Euro Barometer poll showed what European citizens expect from the European Parliament. The most important themes identified are climate change, the fight against terrorism, consumer and health protection and a common energy policy. In various member states voters also attach above average importance to migration policy, human rights and gender equality.
  • From other opinion polls it becomes clear that voters do have great expectations from European cooperation, but are often disappointed about the results of European policy making, about internal splits or the fact that, in their view, Europe focuses on the wrong subjects.
  • The above mention Euro Barometer poll also indicates that citizens feel the European Parliament, of all European institutions, should be the one with the most influence.
  • The role of national parliaments in the European policy process will also grow with the Lisbon Treaty. That should be accompanied by a clear demarcation of responsibilities. It is crucial, in this respect, to find a balance between the wish to decide issues as close to citizens as possible and the need to tackle certain things at the European level.


Without claiming to be exhaustive, we might focus on the following broad themes, making interconnections both horizontally and vertically between issues, policy fields, and levels of government. For each of the points below, the relation between internal and external aspects is noted.

1. Energy/climate: Achieving sustainable energy supply is a challenge for each member states separately. But a certain measure of European energy solidarity should be agreed upon and arranged. In the long term, our energy supply can only to secured if European countries act together, so as to prevent being divided by producer countries. At the same time, this theme is intimately connected to Europe's position in the global climate debate.

2. Fight against terrorism: the effectiveness of our actions within national borders is necessarily limited. Europe is an area of free movement; the Schengen Treaty has dissolved most internal borders. European agreements and cross-border cooperation in this area is necessary, while securing the right balance between security and civil liberties, but also has to be translated into Europe's foreign policy.

The issue touches equally upon our relations with the Islamic world (alliance of civilizations vs. clash of civilizations), which in turn can't be seen separate from the issue of migrant integration in many member states. Here, Europe should aim at gradual democratisation and embrace dialogue with all democratically inclined movements as an instrument.

3. Development, international trade, globalization:  The European Union is the world's biggest economic block and largest donor of development funds. But Europe's policy often lacks coherence. Reform of the Common Agricultural Policy is needed, not only to bring European spending in line with our priorities, but also to offer developing countries a fair chance on our and their own markets.

Our relations with developing countries are, furthermore, not disconnected from the broader dynamics of the world economy and, notably, the growing role played by the big emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India and China. The economic and political influence of these countries in Africa is growing, the consequences of which are not entirely positive, while they also challenge our own economies.

4. European economy / internal market / Social Europe: The implementation of the Lisbon agenda and further development of the internal market matter for both the quality of European employment and the position of Europe in the globalized economy. Both are necessary to retain our competitiveness internationally. The application of internal market rules to areas where public interests are at stake, needs a careful approach, however. Public services should not be subordinated to market rules at all cost.

In addition, we need to be aware of 'silent integration', when the consequences of European legislation only become visible after interpretation by the Luxembourg court. Careful transposition into national law is of course imperative in this respect. In some cases, however, if the Court's judgements have far reaching consequences for national social arrangements, adjustment or clarification of European legislation may prove necessary (Laval & Viking vs Sweden, Objekt & Bauregie vs. Niedersachsen).

Social Europe cannot, at the same time, be seen separate from internal solidarity with countries and regions facing economic problems, nor from our trade policies and aims in WTO negotiations. In this respect, there is a certain division between countries and region with a primarily industrial base and those more focussed on services and trade, that needs to be overcome.

5. Relations with third countries / Neighbourhood Policy: Member states' relations with third countries are more and more formulated and formalised in a European framework. Europe should focus, in the first place, on those countries where its influence is greatest: the neighbouring countries to the East and South. In order to retain influence in countries without direct membership perspective, the European Union should seek other formulas to intensify relations, both to the South and to the East.

6. Finally, a number of more classical foreign policy dossier continue to be of great importance. In these fields a more visible an coherent European role is much needed:

  • Promoting respect for international law and effective multilateralism.
  • non-proliferation and the 'internationalisation of the nuclear fuel cycle' (Iran, North Korea)
  • an active contribution to the Middle East peace process
  • crisis management, civil-military missions and humanitarian intervention

In these fields, the European approach should clearly distinguish itself from that of other global players (US, Russia, China), including a strong focus on promoting the respect for Human Rights. Dialogue and bridging differences to arrive at peaceful solutions characterizes this approach.

Jan Marinus Wiersma


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