Press Releases EEAS: Multilateralism and European Strategic Autonomy in a (post)-Covid world

EEAS: Multilateralism and European Strategic Autonomy in a (post)-Covid world

14/11/2020 – HR/VP Blog – Last Friday, I participated in the third edition of the Paris Peace Forum, devoted to the response to the pandemic crisis and the principles that should govern the post-Covid international order.

International political and civil society leaders gathered again in Paris, this year in digital format because of the COVID-19 pandemic, to discuss “challenges the world faces and to address international cooperation and collective action required” (link is external). I intervened  on “Multilateralism in a (Post-) COVID World”, alongside  Natalie Samarasinghe, from the UN, Obiageli Ezekwesili, from the Africa Economic Development Policy Initiative and Clément Beaune, French State Secretary for Europe and Foreign Affairs. The combination of the US elections and the Covid-19 pandemic’s resurgence made our conversation very topical.


Multilateralism is nothing else than the by-laws of the international community, our common house. It defines common standards and introduces stability in the regulation of international relations. This common house is called into question, also because there are more and more co-owners. They have neither the same interests, nor the same vision, let alone the same way of envisaging the reform of our common house. This is what can be called the paradox of multi-polarity without multilateralism.


The crisis of multilateralism did not start just recently with the election of Donald Trump. Which means that it will probably not end up with that of Joe Biden. I see mainly three reasons for this crisis: the multiplication of actors; the return of national sovereignty, above all with actors such as China, Russia or Turkey; and the increasing complexity of problems, which implicitly makes their resolution ever more difficult.


The election of the new U.S. president will certainly change significantly international relations. However, we will not go back to the past. We can expect in different areas some degree of continuity of US foreign policy, with an increasing focus on the Asia-Pacific, and less on Europe. The new administration will be also for sure very much focused on repairing fractures of the American society, which will not go away overnight.


This said, there are a number of changes that can materialise rather quickly with the new US administration. I expect for sure more dialogue and cooperation and a better transatlantic understanding. Also substantive changes with the return on important multilateral projects – in particular the Paris climate agreement, a re-engagement with WHO, and re-joining the Iran nuclear deal. On other issues, such as the WTO reform, we need to see what the new administration has in mind.


Be that as it may, a new US administration certainly cannot exempt us from doing our own work. The EU has to set its own agenda and not wait for others to do it for us. The election of Biden cannot exempt us from doing our own work. We must not succumb to what I have called strategic complacency. No one can take responsibility for our own future. We must be mindful of defending our values and the EU needs its own autonomy strategic thinking, thought and action. Strategic autonomy is not a luxury and even less an illusion. Transatlantic solidarity will be stronger if solidarity among Europeans is strengthened, including in the area of ​​security and defence.


These European efforts will be embedded in working with our partners around the globe.  Revitalizing an effective multilateralism will be a top priority for the EU in 2021. Obviously, we cannot achieve this alone and America’s return to the global stage will serve as an important boost to effective multilateralism. We hope that other countries will follow suit in reversing their selective and self-serving approach to global issues

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