Europe in the World

Posted by: Kati Temonen

Copyright Juha Roininen
© Juha Roininen

The fourth day of the FutureLab Europe Annual Forum was dedicated for the topic “Europe in the World”, during which the group learnt about foreign policy issues from both top-down and bottom-up perspectives.

How is Europe seen in the wider world and what the current challenges for the European foreign policy are both in the peripheral areas as well as more globally, not forgetting the ordinary citizens’ views on the representations of Europe in the world. Some of these questions were answered during the stimulating panels with the analysts and experts on European foreign affairs.

Visit to the European Parliament

Before going deeper into the topic of the European foreign policy, the FLE 2012 group had a chance for a quick visit to the new visitors’ centre of the EP, Parliamentarium, inaugurated less than a year ago. The interactive exhibition provided each of us participants with a basic explanation on the workings of the European Parliament and other institutions, as well as a strikingly well made ‘timeline’ on the historical events contributing to the strengthening of European integration.

Following the visit to the Parliamentarium, the group had an opportunity to see the Parliament working in practice at the Foreign Affairs Committee of the EP. The agenda of today was to meet the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt to discuss the European Institute of Peace, which Minister Bildt regarded as an essential instrument for safeguarding the European interests and values at large. At the same time, Bildt’s meeting with the Committee provided with a comprehensive yet concise review of the key foreign policy issues, beginning from the discussion on the upcoming elections in Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia, to the update of the current situation in Syria.

Human rights and the EU in the world

Marietje Schaake is a Dutch MEP, currently holding the position of the rapporteur for the first EU strategy for digital freedom in foreign policy. Her presentation gave an interesting insight to the many opportunities as well as threats that new technologies bring us, highlighting the access for information as a basic human right on the one hand, and education on the risks and opportunities of the digital era, on the other. Human rights is one of the most important of the European values, yet, one may ask to what extent EU is acting as a global player on strengthening not only press but also digital freedom. We should hence look further from the so-called “crisis bubble” to the situation in Turkey, Russia, in the Caucasian countries as well as China.

The last panel discussion, The EU in the World, combined the views of the EPC Senior Policy Analyst Rosa Balfour, as well as a EU Foreign Affairs Adviser. Firstly, Ms Balfour’s presentation called for an innovative thinking about the European foreign policy, taking both the impacts of the crisis as well as the changes of the demographic patterns into an account. She stressed the importance of the direct involvement and activism of the citizens on the pan-European level, for instance through different NGOs and sub-states. The question stands: what do the citizens of the EU want to be represented in the world? According to the Foreign Affairs Adviser, we need to look at this question differently from the inside out, and the following trends to transform the foreign policy can be identified: the changing nature of the system, the locus of power, the types of partners, the threats and the issues.

Subsequently, the EU Foreign Policy needs to be both flexible as well as comprehensive in order to respond efficiently to what is happening outside Europe. The old and new policy issues need to be combined to a new coherent whole. Resembling Ms Balfour, the Analyst denoted that there is a need for a move from the formal processes to the more informal or flexible ones – first of all, moving from the states to the people, and secondly, to the comprehensiveness of covering also new areas of issues such as water and education.

For us FutureLabbers, the discussions of the day reminded ourselves, like one of the panellists indicated, that Foreign Policy is being done every day regardless the crisis and that it can even help the crisis, and that the empowerment of the individual citizens will be an imperative part of this process.