Conceptualising Foreign Policy

Posted on 10. December 2014

by Ia Melkadze

ia-melkadzeReflections on the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum

The fourth Berlin Foreign Policy Forum convened 200 participants, among them high-profile politicians, diplomats, journalists, experts and young activists. The Forum’s livestreaming reached out to a wider public. The online followers of the Forum participated in this high-profile foreign policy event by posing questions on the Forum’s social media profiles.

As explicitly declared beforehand, the central issues of the EU’s and Germany’s foreign policies were to be discussed, considering the recent crises around the globe. The Forum coincided with the period of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which gave it a particular symbolic meaning. The Forum participants seemed to share the joy of the celebration of freedom as much as the concerns regarding the dividing lines emerging 25 years after the end of the “Cold War”.

The 4th Berlin Foreign Policy Forum fostered lively debates through its panel discussions and breakout sessions. The opening session of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR/VP), Federica Mogherini, offered a refreshing journey into the concepts of international relations’ theories.

  • The EU as a Global Player

According to HR/VP Mogherini’s keynote speech, the EU can act as an important global player only if it succeeds at the regional level. As she mentioned this, the EU High Representative referred to the EU as a normative, soft power. She stressed that the EU Member States, along with common values, share common interests in the foreign policy area, and that those interests could be realised via the teamwork of all 28 Member States.

The German Foreign Minister seemed to be aspiring to the idea of teamwork as well in his keynote speech, even though his and Mogherini’s definitions of teamwork did not fully converge. It was clear that Steinmeier prefers amultispeed Europe. To reinforce his position, Steinmeier put forward the example of the EU’s success story in the negotiations with Iran about its nuclear programme, which despite the uniform EU signature, worked with a 3+3 format.

  • Security

According to HR/VP Mogherini, security in Europe is first and foremost understood in military terms. She further unveiled her ambitious plan to strengthen the European Defence Policy (the policy that was thwarted from the beginning in the 1950s and later revived with a primarily civilian aspect). Notably though, this part of her speech did not find great acclaim.

  • Partners and the Rules of the Game

The US remains the most important strategic partner of the EU. However, Europe still expects it to play according to fair, frank and clear rules. As HR/VP stated in her speech, one of the first things that she has started to work on were the EU’s global partnerships. German Foreign Minister Steinmeier also stressed the importance of the US as the EU’s strategic partner. He regretted that within the ongoing transatlantic debates, differences prevailed rather than the abundant similarities.

  • The New World Order

“Our world is in search of a new order. And this search doesn’t resemble a peaceful discussion in a seminar”, stated Minister Steinmeier. The Forum participants seemed to agree that, unfortunately, the end of the Cold War did not bring about the end of history or the expected worldwide triumph of democracy.

  • Transition

While it was mentioned that Ukraine cannot afford to fail its democratic transition, the reverse was true for Russia. It is obvious that Europe has lost hope for Putinist Russia’s democratic transformation or its ability to think “rationally”. During the whole forum, Russia’s democratic transition was not discussed. The majority of the forum participants considered the sanctions and their consequences as a viable tool.

  • A More Pragmatic Foreign Policy

In conclusion, the prevalent idea coming out of the debates on the EU’s and Germany’s foreign policies was to have a more pragmatic outlook. With all the crises in the EU’s neighbourhood and beyond, it seems that the EU will make use of the already existing tools at its disposal, but in a more strategic way. The transatlantic relations remain crucial but require structural changes, i.e., introducing the “rules of a fair game”. Germany, as a significant player, globally and within the EU, seems ready to support the EU’s efforts. It is furthermore ready to assume a more active role and will try to foster the search for a “common ground” between all Member States, in order to effectively tackle the crises in this era of the formation of the “New World Order”.