EU Member States respond differently to tensions in the Strait of Hormuz. Several tankers had been attacked or arrested at the strait, which is important for trading in oil. Great Britain wants to participate in a US defense mission. Germany rejects this.
The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the European Parliament, David McAllister (CDU), calls for common action by Europeans. Especially in this case, that would be obvious: McAllister points out that the EU and the US are basically pursuing other strategies in their Iran policy.
On the Gulf of Hormuz, drone firing and tanker raids have recently toppled over events. Is the conflict in the region threatening to escalate?
The whole world is worried about developments in the Gulf. The fixing of the British tanker by Iran is an unjustifiable interference with civilian shipping. In an already tense situation, the risk of further escalation increases. All sides must be aware that the smoldering conflict can only be resolved diplomatically. There must be no military escalation. The consequences would be fatal.
What about a European military mission to protect merchant ships in the Strait of Hormuz?
We need a common European position and a European response to the tense situation in the Strait of Hormuz. Formal requests from NATO partners should be carefully considered. Since the EU and the US are pursuing fundamentally different approaches to Iran, I do not consider a common mission under the leadership of the Americans to be realistic.
The US is pursuing a foreign policy of maximum pressure, the EU one of kindly admonishing and asking. Is that the wrong approach to be taken seriously in the world?
The US and the EU are pulling together in many foreign policy issues. In dealing with Tehran we have different views. The EU has always relied on consistent diplomacy rather than a policy of maximum pressure. And with regard to Iran, the US suspension of the US nuclear deal has, at least, not calmed the situation in the region.
On the subject of Iran, EU foreign ministers agree by way of exception. Nevertheless, they have failed to save the nuclear deal.
The JCPOA Nuclear Agreement is the only way to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. That's why we Europeans stand for the agreement, as well as Russia and China. We appeal to Iran to continue to abide by the agreements, and to the Americans to return to the negotiating table. This conflict can only be resolved diplomatically.
However, the US accuses Europeans of contributing to terrorist financing through the Iran deal and of supporting a state that commits extreme human rights abuses and seeks hegemonic power into the region.
The agreement with Iran has so far served its purpose of preventing the nation's nuclear armament. However, the role of Tehran in the region is highly problematic. That goes for the ballistic missile program, for systematic destabilization in the neighborhood, especially in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, and not least for the totally unacceptable and vile threats against Israel. These points should be clearly and clearly addressed outside the nuclear agreement. But this works better when all parties sit together at the negotiating table.
Anyone who looks at what is going on in world politics gets the impression that Russia, China and Iran are doing what they want. And the US as a protective power is no longer reliable. How bad is foreign policy about the European Union?
We are in a geopolitical era. A new competition of the major powers threatens the international order as we have come to know it. At the same time, the EU's geostrategic neighborhood is as unstable as it has been since the Cold War. This presents enormous challenges for the common foreign and security policy of the European Union.
Foreign policy is becoming increasingly confusing and complex.
Right. That is why it is so important that we ensure the strategic sovereignty of the European Union and make the European defense operational. In terms of trade policy, the EU is on an equal footing with the world powers, but in foreign policy we are not so far. In European foreign policy, we need to speak with one voice and should, for example, move from the principle of unanimous decision making, in which each Member State can veto EU joint decision-making, to a qualified majority.
Jean-Claude Juncker wanted to abolish the principle of unanimity in foreign policy in his term. It does not succeed.
For years now, the European Parliament has been calling on all parties and the majority to replace the unanimity principle in foreign policy with qualified majority voting. But that first requires the approval of all member states. It fails so far. Ursula von der Leyen, who was supported by all EU heads of state and government in her candidacy as President of the European Commission, has announced her intention to work for majority decisions in foreign policy. That could give the project new impetus.
Many countries want to maintain unanimity. How can the problem be solved?
It should be started in some selected areas, such as sanctions, civilian missions or human rights issues. For me, it was a particular disappointment that the EU foreign ministers failed to convict the brutality of the Maduro regime in Venezuela because one country – Italy – has refused. This damages the credibility of European foreign policy.
Can you understand the concerns of those countries that do not want to give up unanimity, such as Ireland?
Of course, turning away from unanimity for each country means that it could be outvoted on certain issues. But that is already true today for those policies that are voted by a qualified majority. If we want to secure our strategic sovereignty and assert our influence in the world, we must come to bolder decisions in the common foreign and defense policy. This hardly succeeds if we rely on the agreement of all 28 member states in every foreign policy decision.
Russia and China mercilessly exploit the unanimity principle for their own benefit.
The greater European unity and determination, the stronger our position is also vis-à-vis Moscow and Beijing. So far, the EU has shown a remarkably high degree of unity in Russia's sanctions: Moscow must implement the Minsk agreements in order to ease sanctions. With regard to China, a format such as the annual 16 + 1 meeting does not contribute to the strength of the European Union. It is deliberately initiated by Beijing to split Europe. The appropriate format to negotiate with China would have to be 28 + 1, including the Western Balkans.
That is not so.
As an EU, we are so successful in trade policy because we act in a united spirit. There we meet all the powers of this world at eye level. If EU Member States are alone or in small groups, that is not the case. One should be aware of this in all capitals of the EU.
Progress has been made in recent years in the common security and defense policy, although again not all states participate there.
Here we have indeed gone the bravest steps. The on-going permanent structured cooperation (Pesco) has been an open, inclusive process from the outset, with 25 of the EU-27 now in the process. This includes a militarily neutral non-NATO member such as Ireland. Only Malta, which in principle rejects military cooperation under the EU umbrella, and Denmark, which is currently unwilling to embark on further integration, do not participate in Pesco. All other EU members are there. That is an immense success.
Let's move from foreign policy to a look into the future. What does the world look like in 25 years? Is it a world in which China determines everything?
We may then face a decision as to whether world politics will be determined by G2 – USA on one side and China on the other – or by G3: the third player would then be the European Union. If, as Europeans, we want to preserve our values of democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, equality, human dignity and human rights – our "European Way of Life" – in a globalized world, then that is only possible if we move closer together. Only together, we have a chance to become a serious foreign policy actor, instead of a plaything other major powers. Therefore, a more closely coordinated foreign, security and defense policy is not just an abstract mind-set in Brussels. It concerns all people in Europe.
Does NATO still exist in 25 years? Trump is not enthusiastic about a common EU defense.
NATO has proven itself as an alliance. It guarantees our security and that we can live in freedom and democracy. That is why I am convinced that NATO will continue to exist in 25 years and beyond. The transatlantic relations are so robust – political, economic, cultural – that they will outlast the tenure of President Trump. A strong US and a strong EU is not a question of either-or.
More: Shipping companies do not believe that a US protection mission will help. A European mission from the perspective of German shipowners "worth considering".
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