International research project produces policy recommendations for EU’s external relations

Hanna Ojanen
“The EU’s common foreign policy often yields better results than each country acting alone,” says Senior Research Fellow Hanna Ojanen.
Tampere University is a member of the international ENGAGE research consortium that will provide policy recommendations for improving the European Union’s capabilities in external action.

“At Tampere University, our special expertise relates, for example, to North Europe since there are no other northern partners in the project. In addition to the positions of Finland, Sweden, and Estonia, we are also looking at the eastern neighbourhood,” says Senior Research Fellow Hanna Ojanen.

Ojanen participates in the ENGAGE project with Professor Hiski Haukkala, who will work as Secretary General at the Office of the President of the Republic of Finland from August 2021 to 2024.

The ENGAGE (Envisioning a New Governance Architecture for a Global Europe) consortium has received EU’s Horizon 2020 funding for the period from 2021 to 2024 and it involves 13 research institutions and think tanks across Europe.

On 16 June, the project will be launched for the general public with a virtual kick-off conference in which Joseph Borrell Fontelles, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Javier Solana, who was the first EU High Representative, will participate.

EU Treaties will be analysed

Ultimately, the research carried out by the ENGAGE consortium will result in a White Paper, policy advice based on strategic, conceptual, and legal analysis.

The EU Treaties have been considered so difficult to reform that hardly anyone dares to propose changes to them. This project will look at the existing legal bases, identifying ideas for their evolution and use in making the common foreign, security and defence policy more coherent and effective.

Ojanen also highlights the synergies between the EU’s different policies. The research project will examine interactions and relationships between foreign and security policy and other areas of EU external action.

The policy recommendations may be related to the EU’s decision-making, such as the need for qualified majority voting in foreign policy. Issues related to neighbours and strategic partnerships may also arise.

More complex than the foreign policies of Member States

The EU foreign policy has much in common with nation states, but there are also differences.

“Indeed, EU’s decision-making is many times more complicated, which is why it appears as the bottleneck or the problem to be solved,” Ojanen says.

What the EU has in common with nation states is that it is also an internationally recognised actor, an observer at the UN General Assembly, a signatory to numerous international agreements and a player that wants to develop a wide range of cooperation with both its neighbours and countries and organisations further afield.

“A common policy often achieves much more than each country acting alone. That is why everyone, in their own way, accepts that there must be a common policy,” Ojanen explains.

In practice, decision-making can be tricky, and the multiple facets of external relations can become so intertwined that it is difficult to control the whole. National interests can sometimes prevent cooperation.

Hungary rocks the common EU boat

According to Ojanen, foreign policy is by no means the most difficult area of EU decision-making despite the differences in national interests. She cites immigration issues and agricultural policy as giving rise to even lengthier debates.

“Recently, we have had a foreign policy situation where unanimity minus one has been found quite easily. Hungary is the minus one that has stood on the other side of the boat on several occasions. This kind of development is accelerating the move towards qualified majority voting,” Ojanen points out.

Hungary’s dissidence has not been reflected in the sanction decisions concerning Russia, but it has been reflected in the positions the EU has taken on China.

Focus shifted to defence policy

The common perception of EU’s foreign policy is that the positive developments of the previous parliamentary term have stalled because the headlines have mainly been dominated by the humiliations imposed by Russia.

According to Ojanen, images and impressions are important. In the previous term, EU’s ability to produce a Global Strategy was an exceptional achievement as such and got much positive attention. The advances made in the last couple of years are different in nature and relate to defence policy more specifically.

“A lot has happened in defence policy, and the European Commission now has a role to play in it, which is quite surprising because defence has always been regarded a national issue. Now, things are happening in defence policy also at the EU level,” Ojanen mentions.

Ojanen sees that the EU’s security and defence policy has turned inwards in the sense that while it was previously thought of as something happening outside of the EU, for example, crisis management, it has now been acknowledged that there are security needs inside the EU too. The focus has shifted to our own security and defence needs.

Text: Heikki Laurinolli

ENGAGE research project

ENGAGE Kick-Off Conference

Senior Research Fellow Hanna Ojanen


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