The EU's Global Strategy and Development in an Increasingly Chaotic World

Published on 2nd April 2024

The paradox of our age

We are facing serious turbulence in an increasingly chaotic world.

Three major phenomena are coming together. Natural shocks - even if man-made - such as climate change and pandemics. Technological shocks - the digital revolution and generative artificial intelligence. And finally, the increasingly frequent attacks on international law. The international order founded on rules was not perfect.  But since 1945, it has ensured a degree of global stability.

These times are a paradox. Humanity and human intelligence are capable of the greatest achievements. Green technologies. Revolutionary vaccines. Generative artificial intelligence. On the other hand, we are not able to eradicate hunger and extreme poverty. Or guarantee universal access to education for girls and boys. And we have a war on the European continent.

The geopolitical phase: a fragmented world

In 8 decades, we have gone through different phases. First, we experienced a bipolar world for almost 45 years, structured by the rivalry between the United States (the Western world) and the Soviet Union (the Soviet bloc). The collapse of the USSR gave way to a unipolar world, dominated by the hyper-power of the United States. A new power then emerged - China. This gave the impression that we had moved into a new duopoly.

In reality, we are now in a chaotic phase. Continental and regional blocs and groupings are interacting with each other in sometimes tumultuous ways. More or less structured groupings emerged: G7, G20, G77, BRICS. But some of these groupings are filled with nuances, differences, and rivalries. The BRICS are a motley crew, with China and India as adversaries. And even in the G7, a rather coherent alliance, I can testify there are sometimes very sensitive nuances. On climate change and development financing, for example. We are clearly moving towards a multipolar world in which coalitions of variable composition are being organised.

The EU's global strategy and development

In this context, our European strategy consists of: (1) defending the values in which we believe: human dignity and freedom. (2) Fighting for a fairer, more sustainable, and more prosperous world. (3) And ensuring cooperation in a multipolar world where all regions and groupings interact peacefully and as equals. All this within a rules-based international system.

But today, the rule of law and the basic principles of international law - notably territorial integrity - are under attack and being violated. By one of the five countries that are supposed to be their guarantors, as permanent members of the Security Council.

In this unstable and dangerous world, the European Union is determined to be stronger and more influential. To defend our values. And to protect the security, well-being, and interests of our citizens.

Development as an issue of global stability and security

Working for development is, of course, a moral imperative and a matter of human dignity. It is unacceptable that that 9.2% of the world's population faces chronic hunger. Or that four billion people have no public social protection.

But combating inequality is also a global security issue. This is why the Sustainable Development Goals are at the heart of the United Nations' action. They are based on three pillars: development, peace and security, and human rights.

The Summit of the Future, called for by Antonio Guterres and to be held during the next United Nations General Assembly, will be a key moment to relaunch a genuine drive towards the Sustainable Development Goals.

Acting for development is not an act of charity. It is a question of mutual interests. And mutual interests are dealt with through partnerships. When we say "partners", we mean "relationships between equals". I'm convinced that it's through relationships based on respect, trust and openness that we can be convincing and effective. This includes sharing universal values.

But we must be careful. The world doesn’t need lecturers or paternalism. We want to develop relationships with our partners in the South that are based on transparency and responsibility -- accountability. The European Union has no hidden agenda: not about our values and not about our interests.

This is the spirit of our EU-African Union summit that we held in Brussels in 2022. We concluded a strategic partnership. This represents a genuine new start in our cooperation with Africa. We are working with Africans to bring about African solutions by Africans.

The EU is also extremely committed to reducing debt and reallocating IMF Special Drawing Rights to developing countries. More broadly, we are advocating for a reform of the international financial architecture in all international fora. I'm thinking in particular of the Breton Woods institutions, the IMF and the World Bank. The challenge is twofold: greater financial power and greater representativeness.

In 60 years, the capital of the World Bank has been divided by 7 in relation to the world's Gross Domestic Product. And the governance of these institutions no longer represents today's world. Many countries had no international presence because they were still under colonial rule. They therefore need to be given much greater financial capacity. And their representativeness needs to be radically reformed.

Who else but the European Union can take up this fight with our partners in the South within the United Nations? The same obviously applies to the United Nations Security Council, where 60 countries have never had a seat. And where Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean are not systematically, let alone permanently, represented. And in the G20, it is the support of the European Union that was decisive in ensuring that the African Union was included as a full member. I believe that continental and regional organisations have a growing role to play in shaping global cooperation. That's why I proposed the idea of a summit that would bring together with the European Union regional organisations -- such as the African Union, ASEAN, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Arab League and Gulf countries.

All these EU initiatives are aimed at making the international system fairer and more effective. At restoring its legitimacy. And in the context of today’s serious crises, the democratic world bears a particular responsibility to avoid double standards.

Since Russia launched its war against Ukraine, we have done our utmost to make all our partners aware of the danger: if we allow territorial integrity, international law, and humanitarian law to be violated with impunity in Ukraine, these principles will be at risk everywhere.

The crisis in the Middle East is severely testing Europe's determination to ensure that the same basic principles of international order are respected throughout the world. Since the day after Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel, these principles have been tragically called into question. We condemn this despicable attack by Hamas in the strongest possible terms. Just as we unwaveringly support Israel's existence and the Israelis' right to security. And we are determined to fight anti-Semitism everywhere, in all its forms, again and again. Just as we remain determined to demand that international law and humanitarian law be respected. All the more so when this responsibility falls to a democratic state. The situation of the Palestinians in Gaza, in particular the million and a half Gazans cornered in Rafah in Dantean conditions, is unacceptable. They must be guaranteed essential services and humanitarian aid. A lasting ceasefire is therefore imperative. The resolution finally passed last week by the Security Council must now be applied.

Among the tens of thousands of civilians killed in Gaza, I would like to pay tribute to the memory of hundreds of humanitarian workers, at least half of whom worked for UNRWA.

Action for development is not just a major issue in itself. It is also the ground on which the establishment of a more legitimate and effective international system is playing out.

Vassilis Vassilikos, a Greek diplomat and writer said: "Peace is not an idea, it is action". There is no better way to put it. Peace is only real and lasting if it rests on solid foundations: basic security, individual fulfilment in a caring society, and prosperity. These foundations are built stone by stone, brick by brick.

By Charles Michel

President of the European Council


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