Ten leading European think-tanks met today on 28 January 2015 in Brussels to discuss European course of action for the years to come. This was their fifth annual meeting with agenda fully packed of issues – lagging EU growth and employment, reforms in south-European countries and the latest elections in Greece, migration and EU labour policies, and finally EU neighbourhood policy with increasingly active led by Kremlin military insurgency in the eastern Ukraine.
Though it was expected that the last panel on the EU neighbourhood will be critical of EU institutions and policies, the actual atmosphere in the debate went far beyond that. This can be read from think-tank tweets during the panel.
An overwhelming blame was felt on EU institutions misusing policy instruments. Europe was criticised for being reactive, not proactive, paying a price for becoming a junior partner in foreign relations. There were even suggestions to start new policy from a scratch. EU institutions were main target of blame, though as well EU big member states were given the responsibility for the lack of vision.
As for policy instruments in particular, there was an agreement for a differentiated approach, reconciling with a more for more tailor-made policies. However, it had to be adapted to an overall strategy and to a wider picture of geopolitical relationship. There were some calls for a traditional foreign policies based on power politics.
There were raised demands for a coherent strategy and unified policies of energy union, defence or migration to name a few, though they were claimed scarce.
Russia was mentioned in the discussion, noting that a degree of unity EU achieved on Russia was remarkable. However, an overall symmetry in the EU-Russia relationship was again questioned and called for appraisal. There was an awareness of the risks associated with a lack of strategy.
A special emphasis was given to EU southern neighbourhood. Speakers noted that EU did not learn lessons from the Arab spring. It did not know what to do then and it doesn’t know what should be done today or tomorrow. The overall policy is crisis and a true nature of its relationship in southern neighbourhood remains among unknowns.