political revue


Year LXIII, 2021, Single Issue, Page 34



A European Foreign, Security and Defence Policy
and Europe’s Role in the World*






Those who coherently support the idea of European integration have always recognised that the achievement of complete unification requires the adoption of a true common European foreign, security and defence policy. This is because Europe’s effective and irreversible unification depends on its ability to establish a federal state with the capacity not only to create solidarity-driven economic unity (by using appropriate economic policy instruments, including a single currency and supranational fiscal capacity), but also to act on the international stage.

Having recalled this, I herein focus on the fact that the European Union (EU) today faces major challenges — real existential threats to its security — that make it imperative to seriously address, at last and without further delay, the problem of its ability to act at international level. I begin by attempting to clarify, briefly, the nature of these challenges.

The Crisis of the Global Order.

It is, in my view, very clear that the unprecedented web of existential challenges now facing humankind has had the crucial effect of globalising [so to speak] the “unite or perish”[1] choice that was at the root of the start of the process of European integration after the Second World War. Broadly speaking, the current situation facing the EU and the world can be broken down into three challenges.

— The first concerns the field of security in the strict sense and comprises the following aspects: the resumption of the arms race (following its easing after the end of the Cold War), which has led to a proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) that now also include cyberweapons; the multiplication of wars (especially civil wars) related to the backwardness and chronic instability of entire world regions (particularly the Middle East and Africa) as well as to the phenomenon of failed states; the scourge of terrorism and international crime. It is important, at this point, to highlight the link between the current situation of widespread and extremely dangerous unrest and the end of the bipolar world order that marked the start of the transition towards today’s multipolar system, in which there are no powers capable of exercising a stabilising leadership role. By contrast, the old bipolar system, being founded on the two superpowers’ hegemony over much of the rest of the world, guaranteed a situation of relative stability.[2]

— Moving on from these purely security issues, the nature of the second challenge is economic and social. It, too, has multiple aspects: the now chronic global economic and financial crisis that is fuelling growing tensions the world over; the growing gaps between different parts of the world, exacerbated by situations of chronic instability and by environmental imbalances, which are generating massive migratory flows that, among other things, risk seriously jeopardising the process of European integration; and the monetary chaos associated with recourse to competitive devaluations, which is having retrograde effects on the global market. The fundamental problem to highlight in this regard is that globalisation is ungoverned. In fact, although a strongly integrated global economic system has taken shape and allowed great progress to be made — billions of people, in China and India in particular, are gradually attaining Western-level standards of living —, this system is flawed by the very serious problems mentioned above, not to mention the pressing need for greater digitisation, which is a huge problem. Essentially, while society and the economy are assuming global dimensions, political institutions, due to the incompleteness of European unification and the serious inadequacies of the global economic organisations, remain predominantly national in size and scope.[3]

— The third challenge is the environmental crisis, whose most dangerous manifestation is global heating, although the increasingly catastrophic spread of diseases linked to disruption of biodiversity is a further aspect. It is now clear that without urgent and radical steps to promote environmentally sustainable methods of production and lifestyles, the possibility of human life on our planet will start to look seriously in jeopardy. Once again, the real problem is a lack of governance, in this case of global interdependence. 

These existential challenges make it desperately urgent to start a process geared at changing the way the world is organised internationally — a process of gradual but effective strengthening and democratisation of the current system of international organisation at world level, pursued with the aim of achieving peaceful and democratic unification of humankind. Because they are, indeed, challenges that concern the world as a whole, and as such can be properly addressed only through peaceful global cooperation. For this reason, the key problem to be solved has to be the transformation of the multipolar world order (now emerging in the aftermath of the bipolar era and, more recently, the decline of US hegemony) from a conflictual system into one built on cooperation. A crucial way to pursue this objective would be to endow the UN with more powers, not only in the field of military security but also in the socio-economic and environmental fields. Its fundamental governing body should be a Security Council whose seats should be filled and decisions taken (on a majority basis) not by the main Allied countries that emerged victorious at the end of WWII, and were given the power of veto, but rather by regional groupings of states — still to take shape and become stably established — alongside the larger states that already constitute macro-regions. This formula would allow all states, many through their regional unions, to contribute to governing the world. The aforementioned Security Council should be flanked by a universal parliamentary assembly — this would initially have to be made up of representatives of the parliaments of the regional unions and of the aforementioned larger (macro-regional states) —, thereby ensuring that all peoples, too, have a say in governing the world.[4]

It falls to the EU to play a key role in pursuing this vision.[5] To understand this, it is sufficient to remember that Europe itself was constructed precisely with a view to promoting a fairer, more peaceful and more environmentally sustainable world. Essentially, Europe, in its international action, has long sought to act as a “civil power”, in other words, one that seeks to overcome power politics in favour of organised and peaceful international cooperation. With humanity’s very survival at stake, there can today be no denying that the world as a whole is now confronted with the need to overcome the system of sovereign states (also known as the Westphalian system after the 1684 peace agreement that marked the end of the Thirty Years War and constituted a key moment in the formal establishment of an international system based on absolute state sovereignty). The irreversible historical crisis of this system (due to the deepening interdependence between states and the increasing destructiveness of war) is the key to understanding the contradictory developments of our age, in which power politics and national self-interest coexist, in a complex and precarious balance, with an increasingly strong need to overcome them. It is worth pointing out that, in this context, the EU’s need to work towards the overcoming of power politics and, therefore, absolute sovereignty, is particularly pressing and deep seated.

First of all, European integration — an ambitious process of unification among sovereign states that began after the catastrophe of two world wars — constitutes the first significant response to the historical crisis of the Westphalian system. Second, it is crucial that the EU succeed in exporting its experience, because unless progress can be made towards a fairer and more peaceful world, the whole European way of life (liberal democracy, the welfare state, human rights, environmental awareness, low military spending) will be in jeopardy, and with it the very process of European integration. A further point to bear in mind is that Europe’s position as the world’s leading commercial power implies a particularly profound of level interdependence with the rest of the world, and therefore makes it vital for the EU to pursue a global economic system that is not only better governed and more balanced, but also socially and ecologically more sustainable. Indeed, in formally setting out what it envisages as its international role — specifically, in the Treaties establishing European unification, and in the 2003 declaration by Xavier Solana, EU High Representative for CFSP, on a secure Europe in a better world (a concept subsequently reiterated in European strategy doctrine) —, the EU does not focus solely on European interests and European security, but stresses the objective of world peace, to be achieved through solidarity, the rule of law, the liberal-democratic system, the globalisation of human rights, regional integrations, and multilateralism as opposed to unilateralism. The EU’s programmatic inclinations are concretely reflected in the leadership that the EU, in spite of its still incomplete unification, shows in areas such as development and food aid, peace missions and the pursuit of human rights, as well as in its key involvement in initiatives like the International Criminal Court and its commitment to the fight against global heating.[6]

Having said all this, it is obvious that Europe could realise its natural vocation immeasurably more effectively if, in addition to its economic power, it could manage to become, through a truly common foreign, security and defence policy, a fully-fledged global player, unrestrained by national vetoes. A single example encapsulates this point: were the EU, as a single entity, to be given a seat on the UN Security Council (in place of France), this would be the first step towards achieving regionalisation of this organisation; in other words, it would finally kick-start the strategic process that is needed to make the UN stronger and more democratic.

Specific Threats to European Security. 

The urgent need to federalise European foreign, security and defence policy derives not only from the challenges faced by the world as a whole, but also from two very real threats to European security originating from regions lying on its borders.

The situation of the Middle East and Africa constitutes the most serious danger. For decades, European security has been threatened by the chronic instability of these regions, which is reflected in a number of phenomena: civil wars, religious antagonism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the potential for international wars with incalculably ruinous consequences, failed states, terrorism, increasing and out-of-control migratory flows, and the dangers to energy supplies (including the great Saharan solar energy project).

Clearly, Europe must do everything possible (even deploying military forces on the ground) to help bring stability to the Middle East and Africa. But it must be equally clear that this considerable endeavour, to be effective, has to be part of the great plan for pacifying, integrating and democratising these regions that the advocates of European unification (including Altiero Spinelli)[7] have been proposing for decades, taking as their historical model the great Marshall Plan for the pacification, integration and democratisation of Europe that the United States launched in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The necessary plan to stabilise the regions to the east and south of the Mediterranean must include three key elements: a conference on security and cooperation in the Middle East, including Iran (to promote disarmament, confidence-building measures, nuclear-free zones, and cooperation in the technological, environmental and human rights fields); a particularly strong commitment to overcoming the phenomenon of failed states — a term that, to a greater or lesser extent, describes the condition of all the region’s states —, which means creating functioning state institutions as the essential prerequisite for a genuinely democratic evolution; the launch of processes designed to lead to regional integration along the lines of European integration.

The player best placed to pursue this great plan is the EU, working in collaboration with the United States, and ideally Russia, as well as with progressive forces in the area. Clearly, the EU, on account of its experience of regional integration-pacification (a model for other similar processes), its geographical position, its solemnly declared foreign policy objectives, and its political and economic resources, is called upon to play a decisive role. In short, the EU must assume leadership of the peace and stabilisation policy for the Middle East and Africa. And that means undertaking to allocate to it, for a very long time to come, enormous economic and security resources, comparable to those poured by the Americans into the Marshall Plan, and, as such, incomparably greater than the EU’s useful, but clearly inadequate, efforts to date.

To be equal to this vitally important task in the regions to the east and south of the Mediterranean, the EU must first solve the problem of its own weakness on the international stage, which is an effect of the limitations due to its confederal structure that prevent it from acting effectively in the fields of foreign, security, defence and finance policy, and of its associated lack of democratic legitimacy.

The other threat on the EU’s doorstep is constituted by the neo-imperial tendencies being displayed by Russia. In this regard, the fundamental challenge is to stabilise Russia, by favouring its economic and social progress — this will entail overcoming the country’s overwhelming dependence on fuel exports and deepening its integration with the economies of Europe and the Western world in general — and, consequently, its evolution towards a more democratic political model. Essentially, it means creating the conditions for eradicating the neo-imperial tendencies that clearly stem from Russia’s socio-economic backwardness and authoritarian regime.

The route to go down, therefore, is not the one chosen by America. Indeed, the USA, opting for what amounts to a policy of isolation and encirclement (in particular through enlargement of NATO), is effectively pursuing Russia’s disintegration, which would be a geopolitical catastrophe. Instead, the EU, rejecting the American line, should support the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union project, which offers the possibility of fruitful cooperation arrangements, in the commercial, production and technological fields, between the economies of the area. Such agreements have progressive potential, as they could allow these countries to reach the economies of scale and the political dimensions they need in order to be able to develop and acquire political weight, which is fundamental in a world in which regional groupings are destined to become the main positive and constructive forces in international politics. The EU should also work to promote Ukraine’s evolution into a federal-type state that might act as a bridge between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union. All this is part of the prospect of building a “European Common Home” within which NATO, OSCE and the Council of Europe could be merged.[8]

To conduct this policy, which would be a valid response to the threat to European security linked to Russian instability, the EU — it must be reiterated — must seriously endeavour to federalise its foreign, security and defence policy in order to become independent (no longer reliant on the US for protection), and therefore able to pursue the great European Common Home project, and at the same time capable of putting a stop to Russia’s neo-imperial tendencies.

The Nature of the European Defence System. 

I have tried, herein, to set out the fundamental reasons that make it essential to move to federal governance of Europe’s international relations and, in this context, have shown that the EU is structurally placed to act as a civil power. From these considerations, we can draw clear some conclusions regarding the nature of a future European defence system.[9]

— Let us consider, first of all, the guiding principles involved. The fundamental task before us today, in terms of security, is to build an international police force as an instrument of state building, an objective that also requires action in the field of development aid, the creation of administrative structures, and so on. From this perspective, the creation of a European army — the national armies would become national guards5 — must be understood, from its conception, to be part of efforts to strengthen the UN, at the disposal of which Europe’s security forces would have to be placed. This choice would have to be formally rooted in the Constitution of a European political union, which, in addition to highlighting peace as the guiding principle of European foreign policy, would also have to include specific and formal undertakings to limit sovereignty in favour of the UN and to involve Europe’s armed forces in international policing duties.

— These guiding principles have concrete implications for Europe, in terms of its efforts to achieve military mobility, unification of its armed forces, fully integrated with peace corps, and the capacity for long-term deployment of troops and resources in the Middle East and Africa (in the framework of the policy to stabilise these regions with a view to promoting the formation of integrated regional groupings). Compulsory civil service for young people (to be done at local, national or supranational level) should also be introduced as a key aspect of Europe’s international role.

— With regard to WMD, European policy will have to include a strategy that not only combats their proliferation, but also pursues their elimination. There will also have to be an undertaking to transfer to a reformed and strengthened UN the arms of this kind that the political union would necessarily inherit from the national armies.

— Whenever the question of European defence is raised, it is always argued that huge costs would be involved, making the proposal incompatible with the maintenance of a welfare state. However, this argument fails to take into account the fact that the sheer scale of American military spending (taken as benchmark) is a result of the USA’s position as the world’s strongest superpower, a position that has driven it to seek a largely hegemonic solution to the problem of global governance. In actual fact, implementing the kind of peace policy that a federal Europe would be equipped to pursue would not push up overall expenditure. To appreciate this point, one need only consider the enormous waste that is generated by the current national-level organisation of military spending in Europe, by the lack of standardisation of equipment, and by the dispersion and overlapping of research activities. Because of this waste, Europe, to match the USA’s military capability, would need to spend five or six times the amount the Americans do. Instead, the creation of a European federal armed forces would allow enormous savings and, therefore, a military capability equal to the security and peacekeeping role Europe is called upon to play. In fact, rather than increasing current level of overall expenditure, it could well decrease it. Moreover, as a significant potential collateral effect, this solution would probably free up resources that could be channelled into development cooperation and efforts to stabilise the troubled areas around the world, particularly those on Europe’s doorstep. 

* Translation of a presentation given at the conference entitled Chi ha paura del “Leviatano europeo”; globalizzazione, euroscetticismo e crisi della democrazia nel mondo, Varese, Italy, 14-15 April, 2021.

[1] This phrase was used by French foreign minister Aristide Briand in 1929 when presenting the first proposal for European unity to come from a national government.

[2] See S. Pistone, Political Realism, Federalism and the Crisis of the World Order, The Federalist, 58, Single Issue, (2016), p. 16, and Id., Political Realism, The Federalist, 62, Single Issue, (2020), p. 76. Also, U. Morelli, Power Politics. The European Union and the International System, The Federalist, 62, Single Issue, (2020), p. 44.

[3] See A. Padoa-Schioppa and A. Iozzo, Globalizzazione e Unione Europea: sfide e strategie – Profili istituzionali del Green Deal, Policy Paper n. 42 of the Centro Studi sul Federalismo, Turin.

[4] See L. Levi, Crisi dello stato e governo del mondo, Turin, Giappichelli, 2005.

[5] It should be recalled that the Schuman Declaration highlighted world peace as the horizon towards which European unification is destined to move. See S. Pistone, The Federal Prospect of Federalism in the Schuman Declaration, The Federalist. 42 n. 2 (2000), p. 113. See also Id., L’unificazione europea e la pace nel mondo, in L’Unione Europea e le sfide del XXI secolo, edited by U. Morelli, Turin, Celid, 2000, and A. Padoa Schioppa, Sfide planetarie, come affrontarle, Il Federalista, 62 n. 3 (2020), p. 233.

[6] Cf. A. Majocchi, Carbon pricing. La nuova fiscalità europea e i cambiamenti climatici, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2020.

[7] See A. Spinelli, PCI che fare?, Turin, Einaudi, 1978.

[8] See S. Pistone, Considerazioni orientative sul tema della Casa Comune Europea, PiemontEuropa, 34, n. 1-2 (2009).

[9] Cf. S. Pistone, Gli obiettivi della politica estera europea e la natura del suo sistema difensivo, Eurobull, 29/6/2019 and D. Moro, Verso la difesa europea. L’Europa e il nuovo ordine mondiale, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2019.




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