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Adapting to geopolitical trends: what priorities for the EU?

A Note by the Director (Ditchley 2006/07)
 
(Ditchley mini-conference in Berlin)
 
18 September 2006
Ditchley, we were told at dinner following this conference, is a model for Arcadia, where the laws of hierarchy (and occasionally brevity) are suspended.  Ditchley brought a touch of Arcadia to Berlin on a sultry September day to reconnect with German friends and to give a glimpse of the Ditchley magic to a new audience.  The Ditchley team is especially grateful to the German Governors, the other friends of Ditchley in Germany and the British Embassy for entering into the spirit of the mini-conference so enthusiastically.
In seeking to set priorities for the EU and test whether it was capable of adapting to major geopolitical trends, we identified three major sets of subjects: the EU’s global capability politically and militarily;  its political identity and future direction – difficulties surrounding the Constitutional Treaty notwithstanding;  and trade and prosperity.
Participants paid most attention to the first two sets of issues.  On the last, the pointed question was raised as to whether the EU meant to implement the Lisbon agenda.  But in all three areas the EU was asked to look for win/win scenarios and to find ways of getting more ‘bang for the buck’.
There was a refreshing note of realism in the air.  We were reminded that the 1990s were over: the post-Cold War dividend, the post-historical and post-ideological eras were chimeras.  Grand strategy was back, politics and ideas mattered again.  Nobody dissented from the proposition that the massive, identifiable threats of the Cold War had been replaced by shadowy and intangible ones that were no less deadly for being so.  Did we in Europe have the collective political vision, will and tools to cope?
Underlying all the discussions was the question of whether more or less Europe was the answer.  If we needed more, what did it mean in practice?  And, if politics mattered again, how were we to communicate this to a sceptical and disconnected public?  Some suggested that what was needed was a sense of a European public.  Could such a sense be created?  Given the transnational nature of the threats faced, and the increasing linkages between domestic and foreign policy issues, it was felt that even on strategic matters a European policy debate was necessary.  Without it we would never get to a European foreign policy.  Whatever was done in Europe had to make a difference to its citizens and to our most essential external partners, especially the USA.  Some wondered whether it mattered whether Europe spoke with one voice or with many.  What mattered to the USA was an ability to deliver.  The EU needed to improve both its instruments and its presentation.  We were reminded that, despite current difficulties, there was a good story to tell and that to a large degree it was our own fault that the USA did not take us seriously.  The EU’s record of strategic achievement was laudable: its part in the end of the Cold War; German reunification;  economic coherence; eastward enlargement; monetary union.  But what should come next?  Were we resting on the laurels of past achievement or was there a natural ceiling?  Perhaps a large new objective was needed to inject fresh momentum:  a transatlantic free trade area might be a good candidate.
The point was made that that in terms of global ability to deliver on foreign policy challenges Europe still painted on a small canvas.  It tended to occupy the moral high ground without contributing materially to solutions.  There was no coherent international strategy, let alone agreement on the means to deliver it.  If the Europeans were seen as gingerly approaching a strategic role, the reality was that it was not the EU as a whole, but the larger national governments that retained the capacity to think strategically.  Some felt that with the USA stretched to limits of its capacity, now was the time for the EU to show its worth.  The Middle East beckoned, for instance.  There was an opportunity to ‘get in on the ground floor’.  Nonetheless the reality remained that despite some progress made by CFSP and ESDP, the mix of tools to deal with crises still lacked a larger and more independent military capacity, with common systems.  It might be more affordable than we thought.
 
In trying to delve deeper, participants asked whether the EU should seek to have a global policy, and if so with what tools?  The recent example of Lebanon and the ongoing efforts in Iran showed the EU3 at their best, but it was still the big three.  Did such initiatives risk the EU taking a military burden that it could not shoulder, or had we already arrived at that point?  Would other Member States push back? Most felt that Lebanon was an attractive model:  in such a situation EU could be a serious player if it could sustain the political will, the operational capacity and the vision to work together.  Most felt, however, that since those conditions did not yet exist, the challenge was how to create them.
The important question was raised as to what extent the USA was still committed to seeing itself as a European power?  The Pax Americana was fading. The leader of the free world, now entangled in far away places, had lost credibility in its ability to lead.  Many Europeans were not sure about the magnetic power of the ‘shining city on the hill’.  But was there a Pax Europaea?  To some, the EU appeared dysfunctional, sclerotic and living on borrowed time.  The EU’s ability to project power, hard and soft, was far from global.  Which global priorities should we try and address via the EU, and which via national approaches?  Most participants still saw the need for a strong Atlantic alliance and for it to speak with one voice.  However, NATO was in disarray and stumbling along, with neither debate nor vision about what its future role should be.  Even though the idea of a ‘grand strategy’ had returned, what was really needed was a pragmatic calculation.  The EU needed to think seriously about the need for common force multipliers, for example.  Nations must be prepared to deploy, as well as having the ability to take a common decision to deploy.  In the end we noted that political will and decisions about resources must come first.
Looking at Europe’s political identity and its future direction, participants felt that the future looked equally uncertain.  Whilst most were inclined to defend the EU’s successes, notably EMU and enlargement, further progress would be problematic.  We were urged not to let the wrangling and indecision about the Constitutional Treaty, or the debate around it, dominate our thinking, but we could not ignore it altogether.  The practical mechanics of decision-making with 25 were difficult enough;  and we wondered how it would work with 27 or 28.  More than anything, the conference lamented the fundamental lack of cohesion and clarity about what Europe was for and what the limits of Europe might be.  Where was the emotionally resonant story and where were the win/win options? 
Correcting the democratic deficit was seen as requiring a political legitimacy that enabled Europe to act as a single entity.  Europe appeared to her own citizens, and to a large part of the outside world, as too reactive.  If perceptive and forward-looking leadership was missing, how could political will be generated?  Some participants felt that we needed to put issues high on the agenda that mattered to the coming generations:  climate change, energy, the environment, global health and migration.  All global issues that developing a common strategy towards might help reconnect.
Against this largely critical background, we were urged to remember that the process was unfinished:  the younger generation might not be convinced about the benefits of Europe, but to talk of a crisis was unhelpful.  The European Union was a work in progress that was not just about agriculture and defence; it was also about hearts and minds.  In looking for answers we wondered whether Europe was more than the sum of its parts.  The answer was probably yes in some areas, particularly Pillar I.  There was no escaping the conclusion that in other areas, most notably foreign and defence policy, the EU was less than the sum of its parts:  its machinery was not yet right and tended to get in the way.  We concluded that what was missing was:  leadership, the ability to inspire people, not just attend summits; vision and a sense of direction, not just assumptions and a programme;  effective implementation, not just a restatement of the Lisbon goals;  more capable instruments to deliver policy objectives; and stronger external diplomacy and alliances.  Current and future big players such as China, India and Brazil needed to be woven into a broader strategy.  Above all, the EU had to continue to invest in the trans-Atlantic alliance. 
Given the broad scope of the terms of reference, it was remarkable that the Ditchley laws of (occasional)  brevity were adhered to.  We covered a spectrum of moods, ranging from outright gloom to determined optimism and edged into areas rarely addressed in EU councils themselves.  What all participants accepted was that there was value in the kind of debate that Ditchley does best:  for instance, on refining new principles for the EU, bringing out its natural advantages;  on instruments for dealing with failed states and repressive regimes;  on the conditions for military action;  on ways of bringing Russia back into the picture;  on the task of winning back people’s hearts and minds in the EU.  Britain and Germany, with so much in common, should invest more in a new debate.  Ditchley should be one of the catalysts.
This Note reflects the Director’s personal impressions of the conference.  No participant is in any way committed to its content or expression.
 
PARTICIPANTS
Co-Chairmen:
HE Mr Wolfgang Ischinger

Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, London
Sir Jeremy Greenstock
Director, the Ditchley Foundation
CANADA
Ambassador Paul Dubois

Canadian Ambassador to Berlin
GERMANY
Mr Norbert Arndt

Rolls Royce Deutschland Ltd & Co KG
Mr Joachim Bitterlich
Former German Ambassador to NATO and to Spain
Dr Wilhelm Bonse-Geuking
Deutsche BP AG
Professor Dr Hartmut Dorgerloh 
Stiftung Preussische Schlösser and Gärten
Ms Jutta von Falkenhausen
Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP
Mr Jens Gust
German Embassy, London
Dr Peter Hartmann
Former German Ambassador to the UK
Mr Markus Hipp
BMW Stiftung Herbert Quandt
Mr Jürgen Hogrefe
EnBW Energie Baden Württemberg AG
Dr Josef Joffe
Die Zeit
Dr John Jungclaussen
Die Zeit
Mr Karl-Heinz Kamp
Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung
Mr Eckart von Klaeden
CDU/CSU Fraktion, Deutscher Bundestag
Dr Klaus-Peter Klaiber
Former Assistant Secretary-General, NATO 
Mr Wolfgang Kopf
T-Mobile International
Mr John Kornblum
FA Lazard & Co GmbH
Dr Andreas Maurer
German Institute for International & Security Affairs
Ambassador Gebhardt von Moltke
Deutsche-Britische Gesellschaft
General Klaus Naumann
Former Chairman, NATO Military Committee
Mr Fritjof von Nordenskjöld
German Foreign Policy Institute  
Mrs Alexandra Oetker
Liberal Network
Dr Felicitas von Peter
Active Philanthropy Network
Mr Hans von Ploetz
Former German Ambassador to London
Baron Dr Hermann von Richthofen GCVO
Former German Ambassador to London
Dr Jacques Schuster
Die Welt
Dr Constanze Stelzenmüller
German Marshall Fund of the United States
Dr Rainer Stephan
Barclays Bank plc
Dr Ernst-Joerg von Studnitz
Botschafter a.D.
Professor Michael Stürmer
Die Welt
Dr Peter Theiner
Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH
Mr Kurt Viermetz
Deutsche Börse AG, Hypo Real Estate Holding AG
LIECHTENSTEIN
HE Dr Josef Wolf 
Botschaft des Fürstentums
UNITED KINGDOM 
Lord Aldington

Deutsche Bank
Mr Ashish Bhatt
Deputy Director, Ditchley Foundation
Sir Christopher Mallaby GCMG GCVO
Former British Ambassador to France and Germany
Sir Peter Torry GCVO KCMG
British Ambassador in Berlin
Mr John Weston CBE
Spirent plc, Chairman of the Ditchley Development Committee
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Mr John Koenig

US Embassy, Berlin
Dr Gary Smith
American Academy in Berlin