On 3 March, Dr. Joris Larik, Senior Researcher at The Hague Institute, provided expert testimony at a hearing organized by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in Brussels. The EESC is an advisory body of the EU that gives a voice to civil society, comprising European employers’ associations, trade unions, and other non-governmental organizations. As one of four experts, Dr. Larik had been invited by the EESC’s study group on the forthcoming EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. The study group is currently drafting an opinion on the role of civil society in EU external relations (REX/463). The EU’s Global Strategy is to be presented in June to the European Council for adoption.
In his presentation, Dr. Larik drew on the findings of the expert consultation organized on 8 and 9 December 2015 by The Hague Institute in the framework of the EU’s strategic review process, which was entitled The EU’s Contribution to Common Global Rules: Challenges in an Age of Power Shifts. The consultation was carried out for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands with support from the European External Action Service.
Focusing on the necessity to promote and develop globally shared norms and rules, Dr. Larik distinguished three dimensions:
- Stand up for international law and human rights: Firstly, existing internationally accepted and consolidated rules, which form the bedrock of the contemporary international legal order, including international human rights law, must continue to be steadfastly defended by the EU. The new Global Strategy should express in unambiguous terms the EU’s continued support for these rules, not least since the new strategy will have a considerable signaling effect outside of the EU. On the contrary, conveying any impression that the EU’s commitment to the strict observance of international law and human rights is faltering risks serving as an invitation to authoritarian states to further crack down on civil society organizations.
- Promote global ownership: Secondly, in moving forward in the development of the international legal order, it is imperative to foster a joint sense of ownership and genuine global legitimacy. In the 21st century, this means two things: on the one hand, that norms need to be buttressed not only by a coalition of mostly Western states, but by the vast majority of states from across different world regions; on the other hand, that not only states are included in the processes of norm formation, contestation, and implementation, but also non-state actors representing the different dimensions of civil society. Touting the allegedly exclusively ‘European origin’ of norms and ‘exporting’ them to the rest of the world, on the contrary, is counterproductive and likely to lead to a backlash. The new strategy therefore should make clear that the EU is committed to develop international norms together with the international community at large, rather than impose its values on others.
- Embrace innovative governance mechanisms: Thirdly, in addition to developing further global norms as they exist today, there are other areas which can be described as “normative lacunae”, i.e. for which a globally accepted, rules-based approach remains wanting. Cyberspace, on which The Hague Institute has also conducted policy-oriented research, is a case in point. Moving beyond states-centered, backroom diplomacy, more inclusive forms of norm formulation are being used here in the form of multistakeholder arrangements such as the NetMundial 2014 conference in São Paolo, which are more apt in giving a voice to all parties concerned, including and especially civil society. The EU, given its own experience with new modes of governance and managing a variety of different interests in both its internal and external policies, is well placed to serve as a connector, facilitator, and promoter of efforts to close normative gaps using innovative forms of governance. The new Global Strategy, therefore, should not just acknowledge, but embrace these arrangements and underline the EU’s preparedness to serve as a pillar buttressing these emerging forms of governance.
In closing Dr. Larik expressed the hope that in the EESC opinion on the Global Strategy, the common narrative of the ‘relative decline of Europe’ in the world could be challenged, as it presupposes a perspective of pitting ‘black boxes’ such as the EU and other global powers against each other. Instead, it would be more useful to focus on whether civil society across different countries and world regions, working in tandem with states that subscribe to open, rules-based societies, are gaining ground or are fighting a losing battle vis-à-vis the primary detractors from such societies, above all repressive, revisionist, and corrupt regimes, organized crime, and terrorist organizations. The EU’s new Global Strategy, on its part, should set out the ways and means through which the EU can contribute to tip the balance in favor of the former.