EU Ambassadors’ Conference 2020: “The EU needs to practice the language of power, not just speak it”

This afternoon, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission, Josep Borrell, addressed EU ambassadors in the closing session of the 2020 EU Ambassadors’ conference.

In his presentation, Josep Borrell said that in a competitive world, the EU needs to ‘practice the language of power, not just speak it’. Both wider political trends and the corona pandemic have required the strengthening of the EU as a political project, building a Union that acts and protects. The High Representative/Vice-President instructed EU Ambassadors to ensure an active EU in the global arena and to fly the EU flag and speak the EU’s voice.

The High Representative/Vice-President reviewed with the EU Ambassadors the main external priorities for the EU, beginning with the need for action to secure the EU’s neighbourhood. This requires the mobilisation of the full EU toolbox, including suitable crisis management capabilities and a willingness to use these, in support of clear political goals. Important initiatives are underway to strengthen defence cooperation among member states, notably through Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the work on a Strategic Compass to promote a shared threat assessment. Using Belarus as an inspiring example of the fight for democracy, Josep Borrell called for continued EU action in support of those around the world who fight for their democratic rights.

Describing climate change as a ‘systemic crisis’, the High Representative/Vice-President also stressed the importance of the EU to continue to lead on climate change diplomacy, to ensure that all major emitters come forward with ambitious climate goals.

The High Representative/Vice-President looked forward to working again with a US administration that values partnership with democratic allies and real dialogue. Josep Borrell stressed that ‘a capable and strategically aware EU is the best partner for the US – and also what we ourselves need’.

Josep Borrell described the EU-Africa relationship as a strategic issue and called for a ‘modern, ambitious and creative approach going beyond the prism of the past’.

Regarding EU relations with China, he underlined that China is simultaneously a partner, for instance on climate action; a competitor, notably in economic terms; and a rival, with China actively promoting alternative forms of governance and a different approach to fundamental rights.

Noting the high impact of the pandemic on Latin American countries, Josep Borrell called for deeper EU engagement with the region, including closer cooperation in multilateral fora.

In terms of how the EU could enhance its international impact, Josep Borrell called for making full use of all the EU’s instruments and policies and combine these to ensure coherence and build leverage. The use of the EU’s new external spending instruments should be geared towards the Union’s strategic priorities. The Team Europe approach that was born in the pandemic and which brings together the actions of EU institutions and member states, acting under one banner should become the norm everywhere.

Calling EU Member States ‘the ultimate deciders’, the High Representative/Vice-President noted the need to build trust and a common sense of purpose. The EU has to safeguard its ability to act, also when Member States are divided. This requires an honest debate on a selective use of qualified majority voting to ‘avoid paralysis and delays’.

Finally, the Josep Borrell stressed the central role that multilateral cooperation and partnerships, notably with the UN, NATO, the African Union and ASEAN have played and will continue to do in the future.

The High Representative/Vice-President was addressing EU Ambassadors from the EU’s 143 Delegations and Offices around the world, the heads of EU military and civilian operations and the heads of the European Commission Representations in the 27 EU Member States at the end of a week-long annual conference, which was opened by the High Representative/Vice-President on Monday 9 November.

During the week, EU Ambassadors exchanged with high-level speakers, including the Presidents of the European Council, European Commission, European Parliament and European Financial Institutions, as well as the Commission Executive Vice-Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Commissioners on the European Union’s internal and external activities, global developments, and the EU’s strategic outlook. This year’s programme included sessions on multilateralism in an increasingly multi-polar environment and how to uphold the rules-based international order; the EU’s leading role in global climate action; the global response to the coronavirus; the EU’s Security and Defence agenda; enhancing trade and the EU’s strategic autonomy; and on promoting democracy, human rights and gender equality in an age of disinformation and battles of narratives. Ambassadors also discussed migration policy, promoting the EU’s outreach to international partners, and enhancing the EU`s public diplomacy efforts.