Toward an Inclusive EU, Inside and Out
On May 9, French President Emmanuel Macron gave a speech in which he set out his plan for the future of the EU. Here, we imagine a response from Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, that sets an alternative course – albeit one that connects with Macron’s aims. While we have taken the German government’s position into account, we designed this response to be bold and explore the space for Germany to move away from its traditional approach and take on the mantle of reformer.
At the closing ceremony of the Conference on the Future of Europe in Strasbourg on May 9, the newly reelected French president, Emmanuel Macron, set out his plan for the EU. On one hand, he is looking to boost efforts to democratize it by setting up a convention to implement treaty changes. On the other, he wants to increase the top-down nature of power in the EU, increase the distance between the bloc’s core and its periphery, and slow down enlargement. Here, we imagine a response from Germany’s Green foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, that sets an alternative course.
A Europe that Protects People and Values
Our proposed response by Foreign Minister Baerbock connects with Macron’s aims, yet it differs from his approach in important ways. First and foremost, it is rooted in a feminist foreign policy approach, focusing on building human security and democratic resilience across Europe. It looks to strengthen the EU’s ability to sanction rule of law violations, preventing member states from sliding further into authoritarianism. It also seeks to renew efforts to integrate the Western Balkans and catalyze the first steps toward enlargement into Eastern Europe.
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
Dear Fellow Europeans,
Diana Guloz’s first child, Oleksandr, was born in Stralsund, a city on Germany’s Baltic coast, two weeks ago. Diana didn’t plan on coming to Germany; she wanted to stay at home in Kyiv. Even with Russian troops closing in on that city, she fled only as far as its suburbs. But Bucha wasn’t safe. Diana spent two weeks living in fear before she was able to escape.
While Russian aggression endangers the lives and physical security of Europeans, it also poses a challenge to the values of freedom, democracy, and justice that bind Europeans together. For Diana, these values are very real. They offered her not only physical safety, but also a measure of dignity.
The threat from Russia is just the beginning. In the years to come, we will experience ever more disruption from countries with very different ideas about how we should live. They will use myriad ways to press these ideas upon us. As Europeans, we have a responsibility to people like Diana and to ourselves: We must do more to defend our shared values.
That doesn’t mean we should ignore the pressure for change. In Germany, we said that Russia’s invasion heralded a “Zeitenwende,” making it clear that there could be no return to the comfortable status quo ante. Subsequently, we began to challenge long-standing political taboos about our responsibilities and how to meet them. I think we passed that initial test. But there are many more ahead – and, as sanctions and embargoes bite, and the war drags on, our resolve will be challenged.
Germany has long been perceived as the roadblock that prevents the EU from taking more robust action in the world. We are too cautious and attached to a status quo that has proved unsustainable. When decisive action is needed, we often point to a tension between our values and interests, between acting democratically and acting geopolitically. This can translate into timidity. But we must remember: Tension is not opposition, and the EU’s strength lies in its ability to combine values and power in unusual ways.
Using Feminist Foreign Policy to Resolve the EU’s Credibility Gap
Twenty years ago, as the horrors of the wars in the Balkans receded, we learned to speak confidently of Europe’s normative power. We were describing the European Union’s ability to project its norms and values through technical rules and trading regulations. But now it is clear that there was a gulf between grand announcements and real substance. Although we persuaded ourselves that, by doing business, we were promoting our principles, this calculation proved naïve in many ways.
To regain credibility, we now need to address the gap between what we preach and what we practice. I want us to adopt a genuinely normative approach to foreign policy – one that cannot masquerade as a set of commercial principles. I believe in a feminist foreign policy for Europe. Feminist foreign policy is not crude identity politics that blames conflict on men and gives women sole credit for peace. It does not rule out military means when necessary, but it certainly never relies on military power alone.
Feminist foreign policy is a commitment to building just, inclusive, and durable political structures and to encouraging resilience in societies to prevent crises and ensure lasting peace. It means reforming structures that bend to the voices of the loudest and most powerful; shifting focus away from the security of the state apparatus and onto the security of the people whom states are meant to serve; and considering the costs of both action and inaction from diverse perspectives.
The EU has many political layers and pieces. This setup may sometimes seem unwieldy in a world of power politics, but it is the reason why the EU is built for feminist foreign policy: It is equipped to give weight to marginalized voices – both abroad as a foreign and security policy actor and at home. The choices we make will not always be ideal. They will entail costs, sometimes for those we are trying to protect and empower. But difficult choices are often less costly than inaction.
Meaningful Enlargement as an Instrument of Inclusion
Feminist policy is, at heart, inclusive policy. Inclusiveness in today’s geopolitical situation is too often confined to offering safe haven to people like Diana and Oleksandr whose countries have been torn apart by violence. We must do more, especially when it comes to our neighbors. By pursuing a European path, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia have signaled their long-term commitment to European values even at the risk of their own short-term security. They want to belong to the union’s proclaimed “area of freedom, security, and justice” because they – more than most – know just how precious those values are.
To those who urge caution when it comes to enlarging to a region currently hit by war, I want to highlight the costs of further delay. The Western Balkans have spent two long decades on the path from conflict to membership. It is no surprise that outside observers perceive the EU’s commitment as ambiguous to say the least. This perception has hurt our credibility and affirmed a vicious cycle of disillusion, insecurity, and authoritarianism in the Western Balkans. And it has left the region vulnerable to malign influences from both within and without, undermining not only its resilience and stability but also that of Europe as a whole.
Germany may be accused of too much process, too little action. But politics and geopolitics hide behind the current enlargement process, and action is being blocked as a result. We have to fix this.
The EU should be ready to welcome the populations of countries pursuing a European path, even if that means pushing our frontiers further outward. Germany is committed to opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia without delay. Because the stakes are so high, we should consider moving to Qualified Majority Voting for decisions on enlargement, as well as moving away from a binary “in/out” model of accession to one that better encourages and helps political progress. Partial and progressive membership should be offered in stages – subject to strict monitoring of progress toward alignment with EU standards.
I also want to announce a new Franco-German initiative, the Saarbrücken Process, which will build on the achievements of the Berlin Process. Fittingly, it is named after a city located on what for centuries was considered a bloody fault line and is now an arena of flourishing transregional collaboration. The Saarbrücken Process will focus on resolving intra- and inter-regional conflict and building people-to-people contacts – not only within the Western Balkan Six, but also between these countries and EU member states. It will engage women’s and peacebuilding organizations, as well as city representatives from across Europe. We look forward to discussing this with our partners in the EU and Western Balkans in June at the conference hosted by our colleagues in France.
Inclusion Demands a Readiness to Exclude
To demonstrate to our neighbors – and to our rivals – that our values in no way preclude our capacity to take geopolitical action, the EU must tackle the corruption within it. That will show that, even in times of war, there is no binary choice between the rule of law, pluralism, and democratic accountability on one hand, and political unity and the capacity to act to defend Europe on the other. Indeed, if Russia’s disastrous war on Ukraine shows anything, it is that autocratic governments are weak and ineffective.
Over the past decade, we have allowed autocracies to take root inside the EU – in Hungary and perhaps even Poland. We now find ourselves under pressure to turn a blind eye to that in pursuit of unity. We cannot afford for this to continue. We are glad that the European Commission has initiated proceedings against Hungary to reestablish the rule of law when it comes to spending EU funds. But we also need a new, parallel process to address those rule of law violations that do not directly endanger the EU budget.
Dialogue with these governments should always be the tool of first resort. Yet where dialogue proves to be insufficient, the EU needs other tools to robustly defend the resilience of democracy and press member governments to change course. We must have real powers to withhold EU funds from member states that do not respect such central pillars of our union like the rule of law. Indeed, we cannot leave the task of defending our common values to the European Commission and European Court of Justice. Only the outspoken support of member states will enable the EU to use these additional tools and make them count.
Such instruments should be designed to ensure resilience, doing as little harm as possible to local society. The slide from democracy to autocracy has already had a disproportionate impact on women, minorities, and the vulnerable and marginalized. The European Social Fund should remain protected from sanctions. So too should funds related to the Green Deal and digital policy. We need to drive home the point that, in the long run, autocracies offer solutions to nobody at all. We need to restore the trust among member states that autocracies have eroded, thereby improving the EU’s ability to move forward with crucial policy tasks such as green and digital transformation.
European Geopolitics Starts at Home
Making Europe fit for today’s world means, first and foremost, making it able to build resilient and solidary institutions within the EU. To achieve this, human rights must be enhanced not just on paper but in practice. We need to ensure that diverse communities can participate and are represented in decision-making. We need to be world champions not of trade but of diversity – and the work starts at home. We should allocate resources in a way that builds equality. For that, we need fair political structures.
This March, the European Union adopted the Strategic Compass, a first response to today’s geopolitics that focuses on building up classic defense and command structures. But this is only one side of the coin when it comes to achieving security. The German government will work in partnership with the European External Action Service, the EU’s diplomatic service, and the governments of France, the Czech Republic, and Sweden, which will hold the next presidencies of the Council of the European Union, to bring feminist foreign policy onto the EU agenda.
To this end, the Czech government has agreed to hold an informal joint EU Foreign Affairs and General Affairs Council on October 31, 2022, the anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security. In addition, we will work on Council Conclusions on feminist foreign policy that will be released under the Swedish presidency in May 2023.
Political solutions are not only within the purview of Brussels or Berlin. Solidarity, innovation, and transformation are already in evidence in cities and regions across and beyond the EU. In this spirit, I would like to join European Council President Charles Michel in lending my support to the call of Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for European cities and regions to play a crucial part in supporting the reconstruction of Ukrainian cities in the coming years. The subnational level is precisely where we will see whether the EU’s values- and rules-based foreign policy delivers results – whether we achieve our goals for a climate turnaround, implement the Agenda 2030, and hold our own in systemic competition with China and Russia. If we fail, it will be ordinary citizens who will bear the costs.
Onward and Downward
Success lies in listening to our citizens. I am so grateful to those who have invested their time in the Conference on the Future of Europe. The German government supports the efforts to implement the recommendations of the conference and is more than open to treaty changes where necessary. We will also work within the Council to make sure that the European Parliament’s proposals to make our elections more transnational and more democratic come to fruition.
There is so much at stake, both inside and outside of the EU. We need to ensure that we are able to act – together – as member states and as citizens. I am convinced that, if we achieve this, our European project is up to the significant challenges it faces.