1 song, 27 voices: EU Foreign Policy in tune

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From the challenges of Brexit to the recent events in Afghanistan, the EU’s foreign policy is under pressure from many directions.

Having served as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini knows better than most the strengths of the bloc and the dynamics of its international relationships.

Currently serving as Rector of the College of Europe, she is passionate about the importance of bringing people together to collaborate on a better tomorrow.

In the first of a new season of the #TechFit4Europe podcast, Mogherini talks to Microsoft’s Casper Klynge about power dynamics and how Europe can shape the tech agenda.

1. Diversifying the tech conversation

In April 2018, during her tenure as the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Mogherini was the driving force behind the Global Tech Panel, which brings together representatives from the tech industry, the world of investment, and civil society. Back in 2018, she described how the panel had strengthened her conviction that a new conversation is needed between diplomacy and technology leaders on solving problems together.

Mogherini wants to ensure new and diverse voices become part of the collaborative effort to shape a new conversation around Europe’s place in the global technology landscape. It’s an attitude she’s brought to her role at the College of Europe, where she introduced the position of diversity and inclusion adviser.

There are still many roles within government where women are underrepresented, she points out, and that needs to change.

“You have women doing health, and welfare, and family and maybe foreign policy. But what I would really like to see is women in defense, women in finance, women as heads of state and government with key responsibilities in sectors that are commonly perceived as male-dominated,” she says.

“I think universities and research institutes have their parts to [play] there. But I see, for instance, with a lot of pleasure, that many women are becoming rectors of big universities… in Europe. This is an encouraging step.”

2. Unlocking stalemates through interaction

Mogherini believes that this push for more collaborative working is fundamental to developing a long-lasting European tech agenda.

One reason it is especially relevant to the technology sector, she believes, is that innovation and regulation can often be perceived as opposing forces.

Meaningful interactions between regulators and the private sector could unlock any real, or assumed, stalemates – technology businesses need clear guidance from policymakers, and policymakers need to understand their responsibilities to civil society and the business community.

Mogherini likens the scenario to past challenges, and suggests they offer clues to the direction of travel that is needed today.

“Nobody tackles systematically at the global level an issue that is global in nature. (…) With digital, it’s the same. Whenever we have an issue that becomes strategically so relevant and [doesn’t] fall into any of the traditional boxes of policymaking… you have a moment of uncertainty on whose role it is to address this issue,” she explains. “And again, it can be a problem or an opportunity. But [there are questions around] who works on it and how you create a multilateral framework for that.”

3. Same song, different tunes

This is a critical time for Europe’s foreign policy, and the bloc needs to demonstrate its ability to effectively operate a common foreign policy.

When the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, there was no one to fill the void. Despite initiatives like the Capability Development Plan, which aims to support defense decision-making at EU and national levels, the EU has no joined-up military response for events like those that unfolded in Afghanistan.

But rather than see this as an indication of weaknesses, Mogherini believes there is still good reason to be optimistic about the development of a common foreign policy for Europe.

“I’ve seen many more divisions [within the EU] on internal things than on foreign policy… The fact that you have 27 foreign ministers or 27 defense ministers… doesn’t mean that you don’t have a common foreign and security policy,” she says.

“You don’t need to have one voice. You need to have a common song. You can sing in 27 voices with different tunes, with different modalities, with different capacities to reach out to different interlocutors.”

4. The ever-evolving transatlantic relationship

During the second half of the 20th century, the transatlantic relationship could be characterized by depicting Europe as the junior partner to the more dominant U.S. This, Mogherini believes, was a consequence of the post-war and Cold War period we were living through.

“In the post-war decades, Europe was in the alliance, but not as the senior partner,” she explains.

But, she says, things are now beginning to change.

U.S foreign policy in 2021 is not the same as it was a few decades ago. Domestic issues have become more pressing, and regarded as more of a priority recently. This is a change that presents challenges to the global community, Mogherini says. However, she does not regard it as a wholly negative development.

“It’s true that the U.S. is now more focused on domestic issues,” she says, pointing out that no other country is in a position to influence the development of internal American policies and initiatives.

There are voices within the U.S. arguing that the country should become more protectionist and more isolationist in its outlook. Mogherini argues that it is vital for the current U.S. leadership to work through those and other concerns, and that Europe should watch developments closely. “It’s too… important [as a] country to not be stable and strong inside,” she says.

What this means for the transatlantic relationship is that it has become “more mature”, according to Mogherini, who talks of a “more pragmatic, more realistic state of [the] relationship, where we are family and friends”.

She continues: “This is unbreakable, but we might have disputes. We might have different points of view. We might even have different interests on some specific topics. And, as in a family, you discuss them and you find a way to avoid hurting each other [and find] a common way forward.”

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