Borell speaks about global changes and challenges

EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, delivered an important policy speech on Friday 3 May during which he did a wide tour d’horizon of the current global situation and the challenges it flags up for Europe and for the world. Speaking in an academic setting, delivering the Dahrendorf Lecture at St Antony’s College Oxford, Borrell spoke of a world where there is much more confrontation than co-operation, where there is more polarity and less multilateralism, Borrell spoke about the diminishing role of the United States as world hegemon and the rise of China.

We, Europeans, wanted to create in our neighbourhood a ring of friends. Instead of that, what we have today is a ring of fire. A ring of fire coming from the Sahel to the Middle East, the Caucasus and now in the battlefields of Ukraine, the High Representative said:

Speaking on Russia, Borrell said 

Under Putin’s leadership, Russia has returned to the imperialist understanding of the world. Imperial Russia from the Tzar times and the Soviet empire times have been rehabilitated by Putin dreaming of a former size and influence. 

“It was Georgia in 2008. It was Crimea in 2014. We did not see, or we did not want to see, the evolution of Russia under Putin’s watch. Even though Putin himself had warned us at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. It is important to re-read what Putin said in 2007 at the Munich (Security) Conference that I am afraid that nobody wanted to hear or to understand.” Borell described Putin as “an existential threat”.

In his speech Borell dwelt on the wars in Ukraine and in Gaza. “Now, we have two wars. And we, Europeans, are not prepared for the harshness of the world.” The High Representative said that the way of living of the Europeans, “this best combination of political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion that the humanity has never been able to invent, is certainly in danger. And in order to face these challenges, I think that we have to work on three dimensions: Principles, Cooperation and Strength.”

This is the full text of his speech:

I am the High Representative for Foreign and Security (Policy) – thank you for stressing “and Security Policy”. From this privileged position, I have the great opportunity of looking at the world. And what do I see? 

Well, I see more confrontation and less cooperation. This has been a growing trend in the last years: much more confrontation and much less cooperation.  

I see a world much more fragmented. I see a world where rules are not being adhered to. 

I see more polarity, and less multilateralism. 

I see how dependencies become weapons. 

I see (that) the international system, that we were accustomed to after the Cold War, no longer exists. America has lost its status of a hegemon. And the post-1945 multilateral (world) order is losing ground. 

I see – as you know – China rising to the super-power status. What China has done in the last 40 years is unique in the history of humankind. In the last 30 years, China’s share of the world’s GDP, at PPP, has gone from 6% to almost 20%, while we, Europeans, went from 21% to 14% and the United States from 20% to 15%. This is a dramatic change of the economic landscape. 

China is becoming a rival for us and for the United States. Not just in manufacturing cheap goods, but also as a military power, at the forefront of the technological development and building the technologies that will shape our future. China has embarked on a “friendship without limits” – although all friendships have limits – with Russia, which signals a growing alignment of the authoritarian regimes in front of democracies. 

I said the world is much more multipolar – Yes, that is true. 

(At the same time) middle powers, (such as) India, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Türkiye, are emerging. They are becoming important actors. Whether they are BRICS or not BRICS, they have very few common features, except the desire for getting more status and a stronger voice in the world, as well as greater benefits for their own development.

In order to achieve this, they are maximising their autonomy, not willing to take sides, hedging one side or the other depending on the moment, depending on the question. They do not want to choose camps and we should not push them to choose camps. 

We, Europeans, wanted to create in our neighbourhood a ring of friends. Instead of that, what we have today is a ring of fire. A ring of fire coming from the Sahel to the Middle East, the Caucasus and now in the battlefields of Ukraine. 

Thomas Gomart, the Director of the Institut français des relations internationales, has been analysing what are the chokepoints of the global economy. Several of these points are very close to us: the Red Sea for trade, the Strait of Hormuz for oil and gas, and the Black Sea for grain exports. They are in our immediate vicinity, and in some of them we are engaged even with (EU) navy missions, like it is the case in the Red Sea. 

And there are two wars. Two wars. When I came to Brussels, there were no wars. 

There are two wars where people are fighting for the land. This shows that geography is back. We were told that globalisation had made geography irrelevant, but no. Most of the conflicts in our neighbourhood are related to land, they are territorial. A land that has been promised to two people, in the case of Palestine, and a land at the crossroads of two worlds, in the case of Ukraine. “This is my land”, “No, it is mine”. And this fight for land is shedding a lot of blood. 

At the same time, we see an acceleration of the global trends. Climate change is no longer a future problem. The climate breakdown is already here – it is not for tomorrow, it is for today. The technological transitions – in particular, everybody talks about Artificial Intelligence – are bringing changes that we cannot fully grasp. Demography is also changing rapidly. And when I am talking about demographic balances, I am talking about migration, in particular in Africa where 25% of the world will be living in 2050. In 2050, one out of four human beings will be living in Africa. And at the same time, we see inequalities growing, democracies declining and freedoms at risk.  

This is what I see. It is not very nice, I know. In this landscape, the role of the European Union, and the role of the United Kingdom, is to be defined. I do not know which is going to be our role. But it is sure it will depend on our response to the challenges we are facing – nothing new. Jean Monnet already said: “Europe will be forged in crisis”. But now the urgency, and the gravity of the moment is such that we hear warnings that Europe could die, nothing less. 

L’Europe peut mourir, nous venons d’entendre. 

Well, okay. What do we need to do? 

First, we need a clear assessment of the dangers of Russia – Russia (is) considered as the most existential threat to Europe. Maybe not everybody in the European Council agrees with that, but the majority is behind this idea. Russia is an existential threat for us, and we have to have a clear-eyed assessment of this risk. 

Second, we have to work on principles, on cooperation and on strength. 

But first, about Russia. 

Under Putin’s leadership, Russia has returned to the imperialist understanding of the world. Imperial Russia from the Tzar times and the Soviet empire times have been rehabilitated by Putin dreaming of a former size and influence. 

It was Georgia in 2008. It was Crimea in 2014. We did not see, or we did not want to see, the evolution of Russia under Putin’s watch. Even though Putin himself had warned us at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. It is important to re-read what Putin said in 2007 at the Munich (Security) Conference that I am afraid that nobody wanted to hear or to understand. 

We built a model – the European model – based on cooperation and economic interdependence inside us – and it has been a remarkable success. 70 years of peace among us. We believed that interdependence would bring political convergence through what the Germans call “Wandel durch Handel”. This would bring political change, in Russia and even in China. 

Well, this has been proven wrong. It has not happened. Faced with the Russian authoritarianism, interpendence did not bring peace. On the contrary, it turned into dependence, in particular on fossil fuels, and later, this dependence became a weapon.  

Today, Putin is an existential threat to all of us. If Putin succeeds in Ukraine, he will not stop there. The prospect of having in Kyiv a puppet government like the one in Belarus, and the Russian troops on the Polish border, and Russia controlling 44% of the world(‘s) grain market is something that Europeans should be aware of. 

Everybody is becoming more and more aware of that. Even President (of France, Emmanuel) Macron who at the beginning said: “Il ne faut pas humilier la Russie.” Now, he is one of the voices which is warning more about the global consequences of a Russian victory. But (there are) other voices around the world, like some days ago, the Prime Minister of Japan (Fumio Kishida).  

But I know that not everybody in the European Union shares this assessment. And some European Council’s members say: “Well, no, Russia is not an existential threat. At least not for me. I consider Russia a good friend.”. There are not many, but there are some.  

In a Union governed by unanimity, our policies on Russia are always threatened by a single veto – one is enough – as (Prime Minister of Hungary) Victor Orbán proved by delaying our last assistance package to Ukraine. At the same time, in the United States, political polarisation has delayed the military assistance package for half a year. In the middle of a war, half a year is a lot of time. It can make the difference between winning or losing the war. 

Putin invaded Ukraine under the pretext of the “de-Nazification” of Kyiv, believing that we would be unable to react. It was after the fall of Kabul. And he was convinced that our strong dependencies on their gas would make us to react as slowly and softly as we did in 2014 in front of the invasion of Crimea. 

I was in (the) Donbas in January 2022, some weeks before the invasion started. And I will always remember my conversation with Prime Minister (of Ukraine, Denys) Shmyhal. He asked me: “When they invade us, because they will invade us – there are 150,000 Russian troops on the other side of the border – what are you going to do? Are you going to support us? I am sure that young Europeans will not go to die for Kyiv. But are you going to provide us with the arms that we need in order to resist the invasion?” That question, at that time, in January, in the middle of the darkness and the cold of the winter, I could not answer. I was not sure what was going to be the answer. 

Because the European Union had never provided arms to a country at war. But then, the invasion came and happily, our answer was remarkable and very much united in order to provide Ukraine with the military capacity they need to resist. 

The United Kingdom did that before us. At the beginning, we were talking about providing helmets, and now we are providing F-16 (fighter jets). It is a long way between one thing and another. We went through this long way because Ukrainians have proved to be able to resist. Remember that in 2014, (Angela) Merkel did not want to support Ukraine in front of Russia’s invasion of Crimea. At that time the answer was “no”, because it was going to be useless.  

Now the answer has been “yes”, because Ukrainians have proved to be able to resist.  

Now Putin sees the whole West as an adversary. He made that clear in many of his speeches. Everything, every day is being said and repeated on Russian TV stations: “The West – the whole West, the global West – is our enemy”. And they act accordingly – through disinformation, poisoning our information environment, and the important factory of lies: (with) that Russia is attempting to interfere in our democratic processes, as they have already done and will do – I am sure – in the next European elections. 

Yes, Ukraine is resisting in difficult circumstances, overcoming the fact that the United States and the European Union have not been supplying everything they need to continue the fight. 

And then, another war came. The horrible (terrorist) attack by Hamas of 7 October and Israel’s response – for many people, the disproportionate response – plunged the Middle East into the worst cycle of violence in decades. Just before the 7th of October, many believed that the Abraham Accords had diluted the Palestinian issue. Well, they had not.  It was a way of making peace between the Arabs and Israelis, but not between the Palestinians and the Israelis. 

Jack Sullivan considered that the Middle East had never been so calm, he said one week before the 7th of October. Well, it was not calm. It was not calm, just have a look at what happened in the West Bank to realise that it was not calm at all. 

Now, we have two wars. And we, Europeans, are not prepared for the harshness of the world. 

But as you, Ivan (Krastev), have pointed out, one thing is to be awake – and we have been woken up – and another thing is to get out of the bed. In some cases, we are still in bed. The awakening was clear, but do we understand the gravity of the moment? I have my doubts. And I want to use this opportunity in order to send a message that yes, the moment is a moment of gravity and urgency because we are facing a mix of geopolitical, economic and societal threats. Four of them: geopolitically, economically, technologically, and democratically. 

Europe, the European Union, but more than the European Union, the way of living of the Europeans, this best combination of political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion that the humanity has never been able to invent, is certainly in danger. And in order to face these challenges, I think that we have to work on three dimensions: Principles, Cooperation and Strength.  

Let’s start with the Principles. Principles are important because we say that the European Union is a Union of values. That is what is being said in our treaties. We are a Union of values, and those values are enumerated in the Treaties. They are everything that is good, it is difficult to disagree with these principles. 

Then, there are the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, to put a limit to the actions of the stronger. To put safeguards against our own worst instincts, (given) that we Europeans put (the) world on fire, not once but twice, within half a century. 

In the simplest possible terms, those principles outlawed “the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state.” 

Then, there is International Humanitarian Law to try to regulate how wars are fought and safeguard the protection of civilians. These principles should be the best safeguard against the normalisation of the use of force that we see all over the world. 

I know, however, that to be able to rally the world around those principles, we need to show that we, Europeans, respect them always and everywhere. Is that what we are doing? Well, not to the extent we should. And for Europe, this is a problem. 

Wherever I go, I find myself confronted with the accusation of double standards. I used to say to my Ambassadors that diplomacy is the art of managing double standards. Certainly, something difficult, but it is about (that): to manage double standards.  

But the fact is, people around the world have not forgotten the war in Iraq. Even if some EU Member States did not participate, others participated with a lot of enthusiasm and others withdrew quickly from this war. This is the case of the country I know best.  

What is now happening in Gaza has portrayed Europe in a way that many people simply do not understand. They saw our quick engagement and decisiveness in supporting Ukraine and wonder about the way we approach what is happening in Palestine. 

Yes, I can try explaining how the European Union’s decision-making processes work: unanimity. I can try to explain the different historical experiences of our Member States – very divided among them. At the United Nations General Assembly, 18 voted (on) one side, 2 on the other, and others abstained when the moment came to decide about the ceasefire.  

But the perception is that the value of civilian lives in Ukraine is not the same than in Gaza, where more than 34,000 are dead, most others displaced, (where) children are starving, and the humanitarian support (is) obstructed.  

And the perception is that we care less if United Nations Security Council resolutions are violated, as it is the case by Israel with respect to the settlements, (as opposed to) when it is violated by Russia. 

Yes, the principles that we put in place after the World War II are a pillar of peace. But this requires that we are coherent in our language. If we call something a “war crime” in one place, we need to call it by the same name when it happens anywhere else.  

We all agree that Hamas has sparked this new cycle of violence with their atrocious attack, that we have to condemn once and again. But what has happened in Gaza (in the following)  6 months is another horror. And one horror cannot justify another.  

This is more and more what our societies are feeling, as the passionate debate and the many demonstrations around the world, and in particular in the United States, are showing.  

Second line: Cooperation. 

Cooperation requires an essential ingredient: Trust. If I trust you, I am ready to cooperate with you. I am not afraid to be dependent on you if I trust you.  

But in a world where dependencies are increasingly weaponised, trust is in short supply. This brings the risk of decoupling with large parts of the world. Decoupling on technology, decoupling on trade, decoupling on values.  

There are more and more transactional relationships, but less rules and less cooperation. But the great challenges of the world – climate change, technologies, demographic change, inequalities – require more cooperation, not less cooperation. 

So, what can we do?  

First, certainly, to reduce excessive dependencies. During the pandemic, we realised that in Europe, we were not producing a single gram of Paracetamol. Not a gram of Paracetamol. It was a moment of crisis, and in the moment of crisis, the market was not able to provide what we needed. So, we need to reduce excessive dependencies, for sure.  

We need to diversify our trade links and deepen cooperation with our close friends. The United Kingdom is a close friend and a close partner. We share the same values. We have converging interests on almost all geopolitical questions. In any area where we can cooperate, it would be good for both of us.  

But that is not enough. If I was only talking with people who share the same values, I would stop working at midday. No, there are many people around the world (with) whom I do not share the same values or have contradictory interests. In spite of that, I have to look for ways of cooperating. This is the case of China. We need to work and cooperate with people who (do) not necessarily share the same values or interests.  

Then, we have to have a look at why the world is feeling some resentment about us. Yes, there is a feeling of resentment because people believe that there are different responsibilities. Let me cite only two of them.  

First, climate change. We, Europeans, have produced about 25% of all cumulated global CO2 emissions since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. (Sub-Saharan) Africa 3%, Latin America 3%. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Americans (have) almost nothing of the responsibility, and they share the most important and damaging consequences. 

So, when we talk about fighting climate change, we have to understand their views and the feeling that this is a problem that someone has created, and others pay the consequences. And the only possible answer is to provide more resources in order to face this problem.  

More resources – but it has not been the case. Not always the case.  

Remember, in 2009 in Copenhagen, developed countries committed to $100 billion per year of support to the countries most directly affected by climate change – and this promise took a long time to (be) realised. 

And even now, the United Nations tell us that in order to go through a “just transition” – how we talk everyday about the “just transition” -, we need $2.4 trillion annually to fund clean energy and climate resilience. This will require an unprecedented increase in global solidarity.  

Where is this money going to come from? If it has been so difficult for us to provide $100 billion per year, (how will) the world provide $2.4 trillion, which is the United Nations’ estimate? 

And this brings another side of the action, which is fiscal justice. And at Gabriel Zucman’s initiative, there is no way out without a strong change in some fiscal rules. To start with the minimum tax on corporations and with a minimum wealth tax on the world’s richest people. This could provide the amount of money required to face climate change, which is considered an existential threat for humanity.

The other reason for resentment are vaccines. When the pandemic came, and it was a matter of life or death, in December 2021 rich countries had already used 150 doses of vaccines per 100 inhabitants. 150 per 100 inhabitants. Lower income countries had just 7 (doses of vaccines per 100 inhabitants). We had 150, they had 7. 

And they remember that. I have been talking with some leaders around the world who told me “during the pandemic, I wanted to buy vaccines from you, not ask for them. I was ready to pay for them, but you  told me: Sorry, we do not have (vaccines). Then, I went to Russia and China, and they had.” 

Yes, this has not been forgotten. We can claim that we have been the biggest exporter and the biggest donor. That is true. But at that critical moment, when people were dying, the answer from our side was not a good one. People remind (us about it). Climate and vaccines are two examples of resentment of (the) developing world towards us.  

This has to be taken into consideration because when we talk with them and we talk about values, they say “yes, we share the same values, but we do not share the same priorities. You have your priorities according to your level of development. I have mine.” 

And if you want to put both things together, unavoidably, there has to be a strong level of resources transferred in order to face pandemics when it comes, climate change when it comes. 

The last word is about Strength, and this brings (me) to the security side of my job. 

There is nothing that authoritarian regimes admire (as) much as strength. They like strength. And there is nothing for which they have less respect than weakness. If they perceive you as a weak actor, they will act accordingly. So, let’s try (to demonstrate) strength when talking with authoritarian people. 

This is a lesson that we (in) Europe had forgotten. Maybe because we had been relying on the security umbrella of the United States. But this umbrella may not be open forever, and I believe that we cannot make our security dependent on the US elections every four years. 

So, we have to develop more our Security and Defence policy. I did not expect this part of my portfolio to take (up) so much time and effort, but this is the way it is. 

We have to increase our defence capabilities and to build a strong European pillar inside NATO.  

In the past, when we talked about the European pillar inside NATO, this was portrayed as a step towards weakening NATO, or leaving NATO, or forgetting about NATO. But the funny thing is (that) today, it is the United States themselves who are encouraging us to forge ahead, to increase our capacities, and to do that in a coordinated manner. 

I think that the European Pillar of NATO has to be understood not from the point of view of the European Union alone, but from the geographical approach of Europe as a space which is bigger than the European Union. Not only from an institutional point of view – the 27 (Member States) – but from the point of view of the people who share what it is to be “European”.  

Because you, you are the United Kingdom, you left the European Union, but you are still part of Europe. And there are other people in Europe who are not part of the European Union, because they never wanted to be, like Norway, or they decided to stop being, as you, or they are still queuing to become members of the European Union. So, look at that security issue from a geographical perspective, and not only (from) an institutional one.  

And I think that there, in Security and Defence, we can have with the United Kingdom a stronger relation. We can build more because this is a pure intergovernmental policy inside the European Union. It should not be difficult to expand the bilateral treaties that we already have – like France with the United Kingdom, the Lancaster House Treaties – in order to make security an integral part of a better and stronger cooperation.  

Certainly, we have to think (about) who will pay for this security. I wonder how the Europeans can be able to pay for more security, more fight (against) climate change, more cooperation with the rest of the world, and at the same time to fulfil all the rules of fiscal constraint.   

I want to recall that when the euro crisis came, we invented out of the box solutions in order to circumvent unanimity and look for something that could save the euro.  

Today, we are more or less in the same situation. We have to provide to the Europeans more security, more financial capacity, to work with our partners around the world, (and) to be a trusted partner. This will require more resources.  

Today, in Europe, in Brussels, there is a great debate about how to do it. We did it for the pandemic. We invented the Next Generation EU because it was an existential threat. People were dying on the streets.  

Well, now they are not dying in the streets but they could die in the streets if we cannot offer a security capacity in order to deter those who could have the tentation to expand the war into our territories.  

This is one of the big challenges that Europeans are facing.  

The other one – I am coming back to the situation in the Middle East – is to look for a peace plan.  

I am coming from Riyadh, and in Riyadh I met the Arabs and many Europeans. 

I think that the Arabs have to present their prospects for looking for a political settlement of the situation. I invited the Foreign Affairs Ministers of the Arab countries to come to Brussels and explain which are their proposals. 

We have to make everybody understand that there is not a military solution, that you cannot kill an idea. The only way of killing an idea is to provide a better one. And what could be “the good idea”?  

Well, everybody says that they want the two-state solution. We have been repeating that for 30 years, since Oslo.  

But in Oslo, the two-state solution was not part of the agreement. It was not. They said: “Later, maybe, we could”, but it is not in the text.  

If we believe that the two-state solution is the only solution, then the international community has to engage much more, taking this not as a starting point but as the endgame point.  

And we have to ask to the ones who say that they do not want the two-state solutions, what do they want? 

Yes, you do not want it, what is your solution then? If we exclude extermination or forced migration of the Palestinians, what is the solution? 

When we ask this question to the Netanyahu government, the only answer we get is: “We do not want the two-states solution”. But then, what do you want? 

And this is what the international community has to ask, once and again, in order to look for an answer that could avoid another human tragedy and make these two people work side by side in peace and security.  

It happened in Northern Ireland, it happened in Europe. The old enemies are today good neighbours, and more than good neighbours, they are best friends. It should be possible, but in order (for it) to be possible, the land has to be shared. They cannot be living together, they have to live side by side, in peace and security but each one with their home, their land, their government, their territory, their political capacity. 

This is one of the most important things that the Europeans have to solve, because it is the most divisive thing among us. We have been united in front of Ukraine, we remained united in front of Russia. We have not been united in giving an answer, a basic answer condemning Hamas, asking for the freedom of the hostages, asking for humanitarian support, asking for a political solution. It has to be converted in actions, not just in declarations.  

This will be something that – from now until the end of the year – will be very high on the agenda of the European politics. 

And I hope that we can work together with the United Kingdom in order to look for a solution, and to make us partners on security, to be partners on trying to look for the geopolitical battles of our time to finish as soon as possible knowing that it is not easy. It has never been easy, but we have the moral responsibility of contributing to it because we are part of the problem. We created this problem one way or another, and we have a strong responsibility in trying to solve it. 

The Ukrainian existence depends on us. I know how to finish the war in Ukraine. I can finish the war in Ukraine in a couple of weeks just by cutting the supply. If I cut the supply of arms to Ukraine, Ukraine cannot resist, they will have to surrender, and the war will finish. 

But is this the way we want the war to finish? I do not want (that), and I hope that many people in Europe do not want (that) either.  

On the contrary, we will do whatever we can in order to provide the Ukrainians with the military and political support, and we will provide the people in the Middle East all our political engagement to look for a fair peace. 

In the meantime, we have to continue fighting to make the values and principles that make Europe what it is – I said it at the beginning: the best combination of political freedom, economic prosperity and social cohesion that humanity has never been able to invent. 

source: with the press service of the European External Action Service (Brussels)
photo: Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy