The outline of the European Union’s basic foreign policy is that we should be encouraging and helping countries move towards democracy. This I am not against. However, the current approach of punishing a country for not doing as the EU commands leads to resentment and that ‘anti-EU’ feeling spreading across the continent. If we look at countries such as Russia and China, no such criteria exists. Those wanting to trade and that have something to trade, will. This makes them more appealing choices over their Western European neighbours.
Expansion as a Foreign policy
Those who now pursue the rejoin option for the UK will tell you the EU is internationalist in its outlook and has the simple aim of helping countries develop and flourish. The EU’s attempts at a foreign policy show just how wrong it is to reach this conclusion. The EU has produced multiple decelerations (see the Lisbon Treaty) to try and prove that it can be a real force in the global political economy and have a distinct foreign policy. The final outcome of this work came to be known as the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). I know, catchy name.
Apart from its unremarkable name, what does CFSP actually achieve? It sets into motion the goal of a European army and promotes the idea of expansion as a foreign policy. There are issues with both goals, but this article will focus on the latter. Expansion can become a foreign policy objective by asking countries to change their ways to fit the EU’s criteria, and in response they are given access to a large trading market. The accession criteria was made in 1993 and is a direct response of wanting to use expansion as a foreign policy aim. Forcing a nation to change so they fit the western view of acceptability is morally dubious at best and openly coercive at worst, especially when the countries are desperate for help. Poland is one such example of a desperate country seeking help from the EU and the latter using this to enforce strict rules.
This now habitual bullying and push for expansion is however at its most dangerous when it comes to African countries and promises of European aid. Rich, Western European counties telling the developing world how to act … sounds familiar.
Foreign policy failures
Taking the earlier case study of Poland, to push itself up the accession criteria moves were made towards a democracy by introducing free and fair election and by cutting debt as a proportion of GDP. But since joining, the country shows all the hallmarks of slipping away from the democracy created. Quite simply, a democracy achieved begrudgingly is unlikely to be sustainable. Beyond all the bully tactics and failed foreign policy there is an overwhelming feeling that a powerful elite of European countries is dictating to the rest of the world. It is this justified feeling that has been a factor in the rising significance of populist movements across Europe; including our old friend Poland.
The rise of populism
Growing populist feeling reflects the pure hypocrisy of the accession criteria together with the objectionable policy of expansion. Whilst Turkey cannot join because of a debt too large as a proportion of GDP, most countries already in the EU would also be ineligible for membership if this target was the sole criteria. The EU seems to take a two-pronged approach when it comes to policymaking. On the one hand, debt is allowed to climb despite lecturing other countries outside the EU about debt reduction. On the other, austerity measures as punishment for fiscal misbehaviour are readily imposed on countries like Greece, with the threat of no bail out and rising insecurity for millions. But as long as the EU reigns supreme, the heads of state did not seem to mind one bit.
In the Brexit debate, one big issue was not discussed that should have been discussed; the EU’s expansionist agenda as a form of foreign policy. The subsequent rise of populism, in light of general discontentment and the trading alternatives offered by China and Russia, could prove to be the EU’s downfall.