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The Uncertain Legacy of Crisis: European Foreign Policy Faces the Future

20 Oct The Uncertain Legacy of Crisis: European Foreign Policy Faces the Future

One significant outcome of the European financial crisis was the impact on Europe-Asia relations. For the first time in history, Europe started taking Asia seriously. But now, the crisis in Ukraine has overtaken the foreign policy agenda, to the detriment of Europe’s relations with Asia, said Dr. Richard Youngs, Senior Associate, Carnegie Europe, during a public lecture at the SIIA. At the recent Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit held from 16 to 17 October, the media focused almost entirely on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meetings with Western leaders on the sidelines of ASEM, rather than covering the summit itself.

The EU Centre and the Singapore Institute of International Affairs (SIIA) co-organised a public lecture on European foreign policy at the SIIA on 20 October featuring views from Dr Youngs, who is also currently a visiting fellow at the EU Centre in Singapore.

Russia is currently the EU’s biggest foreign policy headache. But this was not always the case. For the past decade, the EU viewed Russia as being in the Western camp. “The thought was that Russia was moving in the same direction as everyone else,” explained Dr. Youngs. Now, things have dramatically changed. Previously, it was widely agreed that the EU’s top priority was building closer ties with Asia. Today, the focus is on dealing with Russia.

Unfortunately, the EU has had a poor track record of reacting to international developments. “The EU has been behind the curve in realising how much the global balance has changed,” said Dr. Youngs. For instance, the EU persuaded Ukraine to align itself more closely with its Western neighbours. But the EU did not account for Russia’s response, and in retrospect, it could have done more to support Ukraine and pre-empt the current crisis.

The wider issue is that the situation in Ukraine could derail the growing relationship between Europe and Asia, by diverting the attention of Europeans – as the news coverage of last week’s ASEM summit showed.

Dr. Youngs admitted that many Asians are already sceptical about Europe, and perceive Europeans as only seeking closer ties with Asia because of the trade and investment potential that the region’s developing markets have to offer. “But I think the EU is also looking at how to support Asia in a meaningful way,” added Dr. Youngs.

The EU is unlikely to become a security guarantor in Asia like the United States, but it could help Asia in building robust regional structures, and sharing lessons learnt from its own institution-building. In addition, Europe and Asia could hold more dialogues on areas like counterterrorism, given the current threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).