No, I am not talking about a new train (although the London-Paris Eurostar is about to be moved from Waterloo to King’s Cross, which is very exciting for me, since I live within walking distance of the station), but about a new pan-European initiative, headed by Mark Leonard, and staffed with lots of young bright things: the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).
Its purpose? Amongst others, to develop a more coherent and vigorous European foreign policy, in order to tackle an increasing number of global challenges, including climate change, world poverty, nuclear proliferation and the surge of violent extremism.
There haven’t been many interesting reactions to the birth of the ECFR within the blogosphere so far. Mark Leonard set the tone a few days ago as a guest-blogger on the Economist, while others – including the Dubliner Magazine, the Cult of the Dead Fish and Infowars – simply followed his lead, reproducing the press-release from the launch. Personally, I think the blogosphere should be more about opinion-making than info-replication, so here is my personal take on the new initiative.
Three things excite me about the ECFR. First: its young leadership and unreserved Europhilia, which brings a breath of fresh ideas and enthusiasm to a political debate about the future of Europe that has recently been – to say the least – soporific. Second: its decision to base its headquarters at the heart of the eurosceptic London and its satellite offices in Berlin, Madrid, Paris, Rome, Warsaw and Sofia. This will bring a truly pan-European perspective to the debates, allowing in particular the voices of the South and East to be heard, as opposed to the claustrophobic and incestuous rants of most Brussels-based think-tanks. Third, its very interactive website, blog-inspired, simple to access and to navigate, a sign that the ECFR is serious about taking to people, and is generally a modern, forward-looking organisation.
But while there are many reasons to celebrate, two aspects at least concerns me. The ECFR is heavily-backed by Soros, and while I personally like the man and his ideas, he has certainly made quite a few enemies across the European Neighbourhood. His involvement in the initiative is welcome, for it gives it financial viability, but the ECFR should also ensure it maintains a degree of separation between the issues it’s trying to tackle and the political interests of those who are backing it, lest it be quickly dismissed as Soros’ Council on Foreign Relations.
In addition, it is supported by a string of European politicians and analysts who are all-too-keen to see a stronger Europe in the world. While a more vigorous foreign policy might be the right answer to many of today’s global challenges, it should never come at the expense of Europe’s aimed neutrality, and of the recognition of its responsibilities towards the developing world, which call for caution every time we are tempted to undermine their sovereignty. Preventing genocide is of course admirable, but the last thing we need is another baton-wielding US, bullying nations into doing what we think is right (more often for us than for them). A respect for diversity should, above all, remain at the core of Europe’s foreign policy.
Having said that, I very much look forward to seeing the new star rise high above the other European constellations and I wish good luck to Mark and to all this team!