Beyond the 27: Why the EU still matters on the world stage

Stamped on the boxes of military aid delivered to the front lines in Ukraine; etched into the glass and steel of the laboratories making Promethean advances in climate science and technology; emblazoned on the sleeves of aid workers rescuing over 120 million victims of humanitarian disasters around the globe annually; stood resolute, bearing witness to European diplomats achieving historic agreements, such as those ending the Balkan Wars; carried to humanity’s furthest frontier on the Orion spacecraft: the golden stars of the European Union are prominent in all critical areas of the modern world.

A world more globalised today than ever before, rewarding those able to utilise its full potential and punishing those who shut themselves in. Isolationism is dead, a relic of the twentieth century. The European Union cannot be satisfied with dealing only within the boundaries of its 27: to succeed and to thrive it must look beyond the horizons of the Mediterranean and Caucasus, and assume an active role in global affairs. In other words – European foreign policy is more important than ever.

The European Union cannot be satisfied with dealing only within the boundaries of its 27

In 2014, when Russian troops invaded Crimea and the Donbas, the European Union and its member states abetted this violation of international law through their feeble response. Eight years later, the Union stormed out of the gates with sanction packages, military aid and unconditional support for Ukraine. 

Although a clear strengthening of the EU’s external policies divides these two fateful dates, it is understandable to wonder whether had these recent actions been taken all those years ago we would still have to lament the current situation. Much remains on the road to a Union capable of acting as a serious global player, with the possibility to match actions to its words. 

New ideas are desperately needed… we are playing catch up for years of lost discussion

This road has been travelled before, and previous attempts to morph the EU away from a purely “civilian” power have met with successive failures. From federalist dreams to intergovernmentalist realism, the driving forces of European integration have so far been unable to provide a credible solution to the lack of European external power. 

Henry Kissinger once emblematically asked, “Who do I call if I want to talk to Europe?”, and while the recent creation of the office of High Representative for Foreign Affairs may have answered this question, still Europe remains unable to speak with a single voice. Still we are forsaking our allies and giving our adversaries the false impression that the Old Continent is a spent force.

To avoid another 2014 capitulation, or another 2022 shock, it is clear that there needs to be greater development of a truly European foreign policy. New ideas are desperately needed to vitalise an area historically seen as a secondary and even tertiary issue, or beyond the remit of the EU – we are playing catch-up for years of lost discussion. 

Still we are forsaking our allies and giving our adversaries the false impression that the Old Continent is a spent force

This is why we have founded the Oxford Charlemagne Institute, a student-run think tank dedicated to researching and discussing all aspects of European foreign policy. With the support and guidance of Lord Patten, our senior member, and his wealth of experience, we are researching areas as crucial but varied as the European defence industry, the management of evacuations from countries in crisis, and how the invasion of Ukraine has affected the position of the EU’s easternmost members.

These solely represent the genesis of our exciting project, one that we seek to make as open and welcoming as possible.  We have outlined the importance of EU foreign policy, its shortcomings, and the need for new ideas to continue its development.  We want these to come from all, regardless of the colour of your passport. So, whether you agree or disagree with our firm belief that European Union foreign policy is crucial now more than ever, please reach out to us with your ideas and proposals.

Image Credit: Oxford Charlemagne Institute

Image Description: Logo for the Oxford Charlemagne Institute: a building with seven yellow stars above it.