Jean-Claude Juncker: Ukrainian Lessons

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The challenge the Ukrainian crisis poses to the European Union's foreign and security policy can be precisely measured: 50 metres - the distance between the Justus Lipsius building where the heads of EU governments hold their regular summits, and the Berlaymont headquarters of the European Commission just across the road.

As close as they are on opposite ends of the bustling Schuman roundabout in the heart of Brussels’s sprawling EU quarter, both buildings stand as examples of the EU's present foreign policy deficiencies, as well as its opportunities.

The illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia, and the ongoing political instability in parts of Eastern and Southern Ukraine have cast a spotlight on the EU's foreign policy as a whole. Europe cannot remain silent when international law is being violated in our immediate neighbourhood.

Beyond the immediate question, important as it is, of what Moscow's precise role in Eastern Ukraine is, the EU must make sure it brings to bear its full economic and political weight in order to uphold international law, democracy, and human rights.

Our common European project was designed to create and foster peace on our continent, allowing our countries to prosper within that framework. The EU has always sought amicable relations with Moscow, and it is in our interest to keep all diplomatic channels open. But this also requires decisive steps by Moscow to de-escalate the situation swiftly. A key issue is now that free, democratic elections can be held in Ukraine on 25 May, without any interference. This will be a true test-case of Russia’s willingness to go back to a constructive dialogue with the international community.

The EU's response so far was built on phased sanctions, a concept the EU has successfully developed over the years. This was the right approach at the right time, making clear our wish to preserve the integrity and peace of the international order while keeping open our ability and willingness for negotiations.

Nonetheless, these developments put into question Europe's capacity to project its values onto the global, or even European stage. If Russia further escalates the situation, the next stage of sanctions must follow immediately. We should also consider cutting off the flow of finance from and to Russia, as this is a message that will be felt by the oligarch around Mr Putin.

For me, as candidate for President of the Commission, the Ukraine crisis shows how important is that Europe acts united when it comes to foreign policy. There is still a long way to go. I believe we cannot be satisfied with how our common foreign policy is working at the moment.

First of all, we need better mechanisms in place to anticipate events early and to swiftly identify common responses. To begin with, we need to make sure the EU's member states navigate with the same map. As the Ukrainian crisis has again highlighted, member states differ in their historical experiences and (real or perceived) political or economic dependencies. What is needed is a common understanding of Europe's values and the importance of the European peace project in our world. We have to ensure these different maps converge into one, in order to be able to strengthen joint analyses and policy-making instruments. The EU's External Action Service is the right tool to do so, and it is readily available. In order to be effective, however, it needs to be more strongly integrated with the experienced machinery of the European Commission, which wields substantial expertise in crisis management.

Secondly, we need to be more effective in bringing together all the tools of Europe’s external action: trade policy, development aid, our participation in international financial institutions and our neighbourhood policy must be combined and activated according to one and the same logic. For this to happen, the next High Representative for Europe’s Foreign and Security Policy will have to be a strong and experienced player to combine national and European tools, and all the tools available in the Commission, in a more effective way than we have seen over the past months. He or she must act like a true European Minister of Foreign Affairs, in concert with our European Commissioners for Trade, Development, Humanitarian Aid and Neighbourhood Policy. This will require the High Representative to play his role to a greater extent within the Commission College, including other external relations Commissioners acting as deputies for the High Representative in case of a justified absence from College meetings because of foreign policy related institutional obligations or missions abroad. I will only accept a High Representative who is able and has the experience necessary to play this role to the full.

Thirdly, I believe that we need to work on a stronger Europe when it comes to security and defence matters. Yes, Europe is chiefly a ‘soft power’. But even the strongest soft powers cannot make do in the long run without at least some integrated defence capacities. The Treaty of Lisbon provides for the possibility, for those Member States who want to do so, to pool their defence capabilities in the form of a permanent structured cooperation. It also allows, for Member States who want to do so, to engage in joint EU missions in crisis zones if needed, as would have been necessary from the start in Mali or in South Sudan. And for Member States to create synergies when it comes to defence procurement. In times of scarce resources, we need to match ambitions and resources to avoid duplication of programmes. More than 80% of investment in defence equipment is still spent nationally today in the EU. More cooperation in defence procurement is therefore the order of the day, and if only for fiscal reasons.

Fourthly, when it comes to enlargement, this has been undoubtedly a historic success and created a zone of stability and peace on our continent. However, Europe now needs to digest the addition of 13 Member States in the past 10 years. Our citizens need a pause from enlargement so we can consolidate what has been achieved among the 28. This is why, under my Presidency of the Commission, no further enlargement will take placed rover the next five years. Ongoing negotiations will of course continue, and notably the Western Balkans will need to keep a European perspective. But there will be no further enlargement. Alternatives such as association agreements and privileged partnerships will have to be given priority. As regards Turkey, the country is clearly far away from EU membership. A government that blocks social media is certainly not ready for accession.

Ultimately, the hallmark of a successful European foreign and security policy is what it can achieve that cannot be achieved nationally. The EU must come back to its roots, and do those things together that are best done together. To do this, we need to make clear that co-operating at EU level does not involve a loss of national sovereignty, but instead allows for new room for manoeuvre. As times have repeatedly shown, the EU is best - for its citizens, and its constituent nation-states - when it stands together in unity.  

It is time to build a real bridge between the Justus Lipsius Council building and the European Commission. Anyone familiar with Brussels’s notoriously chaotic traffic situation knows how important this is - not as a one-way path, but to allow for a safe interchange, in both directions. The faster we make progress on this, the stronger Europe will be when it comes to preventing crises in our neighbourhood from escalating further.

Jean-Claude Juncker is the lead candidate of the Christian-Democratic European People's Party (EPP) for the European elections in May and former Prime-Minister of Luxembourg.