Can the EU become an effective geopolitical power in the Middle East?

By Assem Dandashly, Associate Professor, Maastricht University, and Christos Kourtelis, Assistant Professor, Panteion University

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

Considering the increasing tensions and international competition in a very volatile region, if the EU seeks to become a strong actor in the MENA, it must uphold its values with tangible actions and not with contradictory statements, Assem Dandashly and Christos Kourtelis write.


In the last three decades, there has been a steady increase in the European Union’s efforts to shape the setting of its southern neighbourhood. 

From the launch of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in 1995, and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2004, to the 2008 Union for the Mediterranean, the dominant belief among policymakers in Brussels was that providing both financial and technical support would enable the EU to use its normative power to persuade its neighbours to accept its values.

Progress in the area of free trade helped the EU to further integrate the South Mediterranean economies into the EU market and to advance some of its standards and rules. 

Yet, the events of the Arab Spring in the early 2010s exposed the limits of the EU to promote its democratic norms and values in the region. 

The revisions of the ENP and the emphasis on deep democracy and inclusive growth indicated that the EU had taken heed of its earlier foreign policy errors.

It also had the potential to be the benchmark that people in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) looked to for positive change in the region. 

However, the re-emergence of the EU’s stability-oriented security policy led to compromises in the promotion of democracy and human rights, best seen in the treatment of the migrants and asylum seekers from the MENA region in the last decade and the weak response of the European External Action Service against the democratic reversals in Tunisia and Egypt.

Demands to be seen are not enough

Yet, Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year has propelled the EU to display more assertiveness and cohesion in the neighbourhood. 

The war has seemingly jumpstarted more advancement in the bloc’s foreign and security policy in a matter of months than had occurred in the past several decades.

The latest conflict between Hamas and Israel has appeared as another opportunity for Brussels to demonstrate what EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has boldly declared “the awakening of geopolitical Europe”.

However, the emergence of an effective geopolitical Europe cannot take place with mere demands to be acknowledged as a real power or by jumping on the US bandwagon. 

Without a common defence identity, the EU cannot act as a power in traditional terms and its response to the Hamas attack of 7 October has so far eroded its own values. 

On top of that, it jeopardised diplomatic initiatives to expand its influence in the wider MENA region. As a result, the EU’s existing strategy (or the lack thereof) has had several consequences.

Mere words won’t force a rethink

First, it undermined the potential of the EU to act as a linchpin of a mediation process for resolving the conflict. 

Although the EU policymakers did well to denounce the attack of Hamas, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen only issued a short statement during her visit to Israel, which backed “Israel’s right to defend itself against the Hamas terrorists, in full respect of international humanitarian law.”. 

Such statements are clearly not enough to prevent or stop the deaths of innocent Israeli and Palestinian people, as more firm action is needed. 

When Washington negotiated the Sinai Interim Agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1975, US President Gerald Ford refused to sign new arms deals with Israel until the latter made meaningful concessions. 

That sent a clear signal to the then-Israeli government that it did not have a carte blanche from important international actors to conduct its Middle Eastern policy. Similarly, the EU (with the US) today could use its trade power to achieve geopolitical results and to force all stakeholders to reassess their policies.


A singular foreign policy is needed

Second, the EU has exhibited a fundamental deficit of both vertical and horizontal coherence, as in nearly every recent MENA crisis. 

The issue at hand right now is that the lack of coordination does not allow the EU to forge collective involvement in international diplomacy. 

If the EU wishes to strengthen its geopolitical influence and advance international efforts for long-term peace in the region, policy uniformity is crucial. 

The recent history of Euro-Mediterranean relations offers important lessons for today. 

After the Yum Kippur War, which was sparked by a surprise attack by a coalition of Arab states on the Day of Atonement on 6 October 1973, European politicians demonstrated their capacity to comprehend the security threats that the region’s escalating violence posed for Europe. 


Effective coordination between Paris, London and Bonn led to a distinct foreign policy from the US. This strategy expanded the EEC’s presence in the MENA through the Euro-Arab states dialogue, even if Europe’s diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict diminished in the following years.

Upholding EU values with tangible actions

Third, the EU’s approach to the current crisis can seriously damage its image among the Arab Mediterranean civil societies. 

Surveys demonstrated that citizens of Arab countries in the Mediterranean continued to show trust in Brussels, although the handling of the migration crisis, and the EU’s reactions to the military coup in Egypt and to the Libyan and Syrian crises have attracted more and harsher criticism in the last years. 

The view of Western institutions being unable to offer solutions to this crisis will undermine the much-needed cooperation in the implementation of many EU development programmes with local actors, who will be more keen to seek support from other donors antagonistic to the EU values and geopolitical objectives.

Considering the increasing tensions and international competition in a very volatile region, if the EU seeks to become an effective actor group in the MENA, then it must do this by upholding its values with tangible actions and not with contradictory statements. 


So far, pleas for self-containment and humanitarian support appear as the lowest common denominator and do not signal that the EU has the capacity or willingness to act as a real geopolitical power.

Assem Dandashly is Associate Professor in Political Science at the Department of Political Science at Maastricht University, and Christos Kourtelis is Assistant Professor in European Public Policy at the Department of International, European and Area Studies at Panteion University in Athens.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at [email protected] to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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Kosovo attack: Who benefits?

Jamie Dettmer is opinion editor at POLITICO Europe. 

The European Union and the United States have been trying to persuade Serbia and Kosovo to end their enmity and normalize relations for more than a decade.

There were finally signs of promise in April, when Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti finally gave tacit, if begrudging, approval to an EU-brokered plan that would see the two finally sprinkle some soil over the hatchet.

But despite all the cajoling and coaxing, it wasn’t to be.

U.S. and European officials have insinuated that Kurti was more to blame here, with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell drawing attention to the failure to establish an association of municipalities in northern Kosovo, which would have allowed Kosovo’s Serbs some autonomy in an enclave where they’re a majority.

Behind the scenes, U.S. and European officials have also quietly praised Vučić for a slow and halting tilt toward the West, secretly supplying some arms to Ukraine and moving to reduce Serbia’s dependency on Russian energy supplies.

This is why last week’s astonishing clash between armed Serbs and police in the village of Banjska, in northern Kosovo’s Zvečan municipality, is especially perplexing — and it’s worth asking whose interests it serves.

Kosovo’s leaders quickly blamed Vučić for the attack, which also involved a siege of an Orthodox monastery. A Kosovan policeman and three Serb gunmen were killed in the clash. And Kosovo’s President Vjosa Osmani said Friday that “the (armed) group simply exercised the intentions and the motives of Serbia as a country and Vučić as the leader.”

Osmani maintains Belgrade was trying to copy Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, which began with so-called little green men infiltrating the Ukrainian peninsula. “They are trying to carry out a Crimea model in the Republic of Kosovo, but we will absolutely not let that happen,” she added.

Kurti has called for sanctions to be imposed on Serbia for what he describes as a state-sponsored terrorist attack, warning that if the crime goes unpunished, Belgrade will repeat it. Vučić planned and ordered an attack in northern Kosovo “to destabilize” the country with the goal of starting a war, he said.

In response, Vučić has angrily denied these allegations but has noticeably hardened his rhetoric, possibly as a sop to Serbian ultra-nationalists. More alarmingly, however, Serbia has been building up its forces near the border with Kosovo since the deadly clashes, which the White House has described as “unprecedented.” And according to U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby, on a phone call with Vučić, Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged an “immediate de-escalation and a return to dialogue.”

If Belgrade did have a hand in the attack, however, it would appear to pull against the caution Vučić has displayed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, hedging his bets between the West and Serbia’s traditional Slavic ally. Vučić didn’t join in on Western sanctions against Russia but has condemned the invasion, and says he’s keen to pursue Serbia’s bid for EU membership.

If Belgrade did have a hand in the attack, it would appear to pull against the caution Aleksandar Vučić has displayed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine | Andrej Cukic/EFE via EPA

Marko Đurić, the Serbian ambassador to the U.S., echoes Vučić’s argument that planning or approving an attack in Kosovo at this juncture would make no sense and potentially ruin Belgrade’s improving relations with the West. “We have a lot to lose by any kind of escalation in Kosovo,” he told POLITICO — including harming the country commercially.

Đurić also said the attack has complicated the country’s domestic politics, noting that “the far right in Serbia is going to try and exploit this to the greatest extent possible.”

But Kosovo’s leaders have a case against Belgrade that needs answering.

To support the allegation that Vučić endorsed the attack, they highlight the role of Milan Radoičić, the deputy leader of the Serb List — a party that dominates Serb politics in northern Kosovo and has close links with Vučić’s Serbian Progressive Party.

Nicknamed the “boss of the north,” Radoičić admitted to organizing and leading the attack in a statement issued by his lawyer, saying he was solely responsible. “I didn’t inform anyone from the government structures of the Republic of Serbia about this, nor from the local political structures from the north of Kosovo and Metohija, nor did I get any help from them, because we already had had different views on the previous methods of resisting Kurti’s terror,” he said.

But Kurti dismisses the idea that Radoičić would have gone ahead without Vučić’s approval. “I have no doubt that Radiočić was only the executor. The one who planned and ordered this terrorist, criminal attack on our state, in order to violate our territorial integrity, national safety and state security, is none other than President Vučić,” he told reporters.

Other officials in Pristina also say it would be stretching credulity to think Aleksandar Vulin, the head of Serbia’s BIA intelligence agency, would have been unaware of a planned attack.

Bojan Pajtić, a Serbian law professor and former president of the autonomous province of Vojvodina within Serbia, agrees the Banjska provocation wouldn’t have gone ahead without the security agency’s knowledge, saying it is improbable that the BIA would have failed to notice an operation being prepared by a heavily armed formation consisting of dozens of people in such a small area. “The BIA normally knows who drank coffee with whom yesterday in Zvečan,” he said.

“When an incident occurs that is not accidental, but the result of someone’s efforts, you always wonder whose interests it is in,” Paltić said. “In this case, it is certainly not in the interest of Aleksandar Vučić, because after the last attempt at dialogue in Brussels, in the eyes of the West, in relation to Kurti, he still looked like a constructive partner.”

Pajtić isn’t alone in querying who’s interest the attack was in, and so far, both Washington and Brussels have been extremely cautious in their comments. European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano said the EU will wait for the completion of the investigation before coming to any conclusions on what he described as a terrorist attack. Washington, careful to keep its language neutral, hasn’t been specific about who it blames either.

This, of course, stands in sharp contrast to Moscow, which predictably grandstanded as Serbia’s traditional protector, accusing Pristina of ethnic cleansing in northern Kosovo — the very same lie used to try to justify Russian President Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“This incident, the most serious example of violence in Kosovo for years, turned the tables on Vučić,” said Dimitar Bechev, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe. And he, too, questioned whether the attack was a rogue operation by Serbian ultra-nationalists and Kosovo’s Serb leaders.

“Should the story of Radoičić freelancing be corroborated, it would appear that Vučić has lost control over his erstwhile proxies,” he said.

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Moldova ramps up EU membership push amid fears of Russia-backed coup

CHIȘINĂU, Moldova — Tens of thousands of Moldovans descended on the central square of the capital on Sunday, waving flags and homemade placards in support of the country’s push to join the EU and make a historic break with Moscow.

With Russia’s war raging just across the border in Ukraine, the government of this tiny Eastern European nation called the rally in an effort to overcome internal divisions and put pressure on Brussels to begin accession talks, almost a year after Moldova was granted EU candidate status.

“Joining the EU is the best way to protect our democracy and our institutions,” Moldova’s President Maia Sandu told POLITICO at Chișinău’s presidential palace, as a column of her supporters marched past outside. “I call on the EU to take a decision on beginning accession negotiations by the end of the year. We think we have enough support to move forward.”

Speaking alongside Sandu at what was billed as a “national assembly,” European Parliament President Roberta Metsola declared that “Europe is Moldova. Moldova is Europe!” The crowd, many holding Ukrainian flags and the gold-and-blue starred banner of the EU, let out a cheer. An orchestra on stage played the bloc’s anthem, Ode to Joy.

“In recent years, you have taken decisive steps and now you have the responsibility to see it through, even with this war on your border,” Metsola said. “The Republic of Moldova is ready for integration into the single European market.”

However, the jubilant rally comes amid warnings that Moscow is doing everything it can to keep the former Soviet republic within its self-declared sphere of influence.

In February, the president of neighboring Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, warned that his country’s security forces had disrupted a plot to overthrow Moldova’s pro-Western government. Officials in Chișinău later said the Russian-backed effort could have involved sabotage, attacks on government buildings and hostage-taking. Moscow officially denies the claims.

“Despite previous efforts to stay neutral, Moldova is finding itself in the Kremlin’s crosshairs — whether they want to be or not, they’re party of this broader conflict in Ukraine,” said Arnold Dupuy, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

“There’s an effort by the Kremlin to turn the country into a ‘southern Kaliningrad,’ putting in place a friendly regime that allows them to attack the Ukrainians’ flanks,” Dupuy said. “But this hasn’t been as effective as the Kremlin hoped and they’ve actually strengthened the government’s hand to look to the EU and NATO for protection.”

Responding to the alleged coup attempt, Brussels last month announced it would deploy a civilian mission to Moldova to combat growing threats from Russia. According to Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat, the deployment under the terms of the Common Security and Defense Policy, will provide “support to Moldova [to] protect its security, territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Bumps on the road to Brussels

Last week, Sandu again called on Brussels to begin accession talks “as soon as possible” in order to protect Moldova from what she said were growing threats from Russia. “Nothing compares to what is happening in Ukraine, but we see the risks and we do believe that we can save our democracy only as part of the EU,” she said. A group of influential MEPs from across all of the main parties in the European Parliament have tabled a motion calling for the European Commission to start the negotiations by the end of the year.

But, after decades as one of Russia’s closest allies, Moldova knows its path to EU membership isn’t without obstacles.

“The challenge is huge,” said Tom de Waal, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe. “They will need to overcome this oligarchic culture that has operated for 30 years where everything is informal, institutions are very weak and large parts of the bureaucracy are made viable by vested interests.”

At the same time, a frozen conflict over the breakaway region of Transnistria, in the east of Moldova, could complicate matters still further. The stretch of land along the border with Ukraine, home to almost half a million people, has been governed since the fall of the Soviet Union by pro-Moscow separatists, and around 1,500 Russian troops are stationed there despite Chișinău demanding they leave. It’s also home to one of the Continent’s largest weapons stockpiles, with a reported 20,000 tons of Soviet-era ammunition.

“Moldova cannot become a member of the EU with Russian troops on its territory against the will of the Republic of Moldova itself, so we will need to solve this before membership,” Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureșan, chair of the European Parliament’s delegation to the country, told POLITICO.

“We do not know now what a solution could look like, but the fact that we do not have an answer to this very specific element should not prevent us from advancing Moldova’s European integration in all other areas where we can,” Mureșan said.

While she denied that Brussels had sent any official signals that Moldova’s accession would depend on Russian troops leaving the country, Sandu said that “we do believe that in the next months and years there may be a geopolitical opportunity to resolve this conflict.”

Ties that bind

Even outside of Transnistria, Moscow maintains significant influence in Moldova. While Romanian is the country’s official language, Russian is widely used in daily life while the Kremlin’s state media helps shape public opinion — and in recent months has turned up the dial on its attacks on Sandu’s government.

A study by Chișinău-based pollster CBS Research in February found that while almost 54 percent of Moldovans say they would vote in favor of EU membership, close to a quarter say they would prefer closer alignment with Russia. Meanwhile, citizens were split on who to blame for the war in Ukraine, with 25 percent naming Russian President Vladimir Putin and 18 percent saying the U.S.

“Putin is not a fool,” said one elderly man who declined to give his name, shouting at passersby on the streets of the capital. “I hate Ukrainians.”

Outside of the capital, the pro-Russian ȘOR Party has held counter-protests in several regional cities.

Almost entirely dependent on Moscow for its energy needs, Moldova has seen Russia send the cost of gas skyrocketing in what many see as an attempt at blackmail. Along with an influx of Ukrainian refugees, the World Bank reported that Moldova’s GDP “contracted by 5.9 percent and inflation reached an average of 28.7 percent in 2022.”

“We will buy energy sources from democratic countries, and we will not support Russian aggression in exchange for cheap gas,” Sandu told POLITICO.

The Moldovan president, a former World Bank economist who was elected in 2020 on a wave of anti-corruption sentiment, faces a potentially contentious election battle next year. With the process of EU membership set to take years, or even decades, it remains to be seen whether the country will stay the course in the face of pressure from the Kremlin.

For Aurelia, a 40-year-old Moldovan who tied blue and yellow ribbons into her hair for Sunday’s rally, the choice is obvious. “We’ve been a part of the Russian world my whole life. Now we want to live well, and we want to live free.”

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EU’s foreign minister says Beijing needs to push Putin to stop war

Speaking in Florence at the annual State of the Union conference, EU Foreign Affairs chief Josep Borrell gave his thoughts on the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and Europe’s place on the world stage.

Mr. Borrell. It’s been one year since we sat here together on the same stage in Florence. The world’s perhaps no safer than it was this time last year. How has the year been for the European Union, and how has the year been for you?

Josep Borrell

Well, this has been a difficult year, certainly, mark a new war. Suddenly the war is at our borders and we have a been very busy trying to support Ukraine. But at the same time this year, we have seen the emergence of China as a big power, an assertive power, and we have seen the fragmentation of the world. And other countries, big countries, populated, growing quickly and not willing to take sides on the Ukrainian war. Yes, voting in the United Nations against the invasion, but politically sending a message that shows that there is a feeling of, well, this is not our war. It is going to be very bad for us. On directly high prices of electricity, high prices of energy and food. So I think that for us Europeans this year has been the year of taking stock of a much complex reality, a fragmented world with a big clash between the two superpowers, the US and China. And once again, the real dramatic reality of a war in our borders that cost a lot in terms of money to us and to the Ukrainians in terms of lives.

And do you feel like you’ve become somewhat a war diplomat? Do you feel like you’re prioritizing Ukraine a lot and sometimes perhaps you might not have time for other issues?

Josep Borrell

Well, more than diplomacy, we are doing diplomacy. But in Ukraine, unhappily, unhappily, this is not the moment for diplomatic conversations about peace, is the moment of supporting me to militarily the war. So I feel as a diplomat, but I feel also as a kind of defense minister of the European Union, because I spent quite an important part of my time talking about arms, ammunitions. I never thought that I was going to spend so much time thinking about how many artillery shells we Europeans can provide to the Ukrainians, for example?

Indeed, this time last year we spoke a lot about sanctions. The focus of the EU was sanctions and more sanctions. Now, as you say, it’s more focused on defense. Do you feel when you’re meeting behind closed doors with ministers, do you feel like the EU is in, is in war mode?

Josep Borrell
Well, the war has united us. There is nothing that can unite you more than an enemy, a threat, and the feeling of facing a threat, a real existential threat has united us more than any, any speech, any theoretical approach about the need of integration. And it has united also the West. The transatlantic relationship has never been stronger like today.


Josep Borrell
 Yes. Well, with President Biden, maybe with President Trump, things would have been different. But today, yes, in front of the war in Ukraine, the West, meaning by the West, the trans-Atlantic people, Canada, United Kingdom, US, Europeans have shown a remarkable unity. And I think that one of the mistakes of Putin was to think that the Europeans would not be united because of the energy dependency, for example, and that the public opinion in Europe would get tired of supporting Ukrainians and that the US and Europe would have a quarreling about who does what and which share the burden. This is not the case.

And we saw this week President Zelensky of Ukraine traveling to Finland. He was also in the Netherlands, he was in The Hague. Do you think that Europeans are still concerned about the war in Ukraine? Do you think it’s still on their minds?

Josep Borrell
Look, it’s not the same thing in Florence, as in Vilnius…is not the same thing in the south of Europe, than in the Baltics. The Baltics are in the front line. And they have a sincere feeling that if Ukraine falls, they will be the next. For them, it’s an existential threat. If you live in Sevilla, you live in the other border, the other end of Europe, you don’t have the same perception. But if you look at the polls, the great majority of Europeans agree on supporting Ukraine.

Just before the big news, in Brussels, there was the €500 million Ammunition Production Act just announced by the European Commission, also known as ASAP. How big a deal is this? Do you think it could be a game changer? This plan?

Josep Borrell
To the scale of the problem, it’s not going to be a game changer, but it’s a signal that Europe has to increase its defense capabilities. And the defense capabilities starts by the industrial capabilities. Our industry is at very, very low level from the point of view of the capacity of production. For a peace situation that’s okay. But for a war, no. So we have to ramp up. We have to increase this capacity.

Do you think people are on board with supporting this investment in arms and they wouldn’t worry that we’re funding a war instead of a recovery?

Josep Borrell
You know, everybody prefers but to the guns, me the first. But I think that people, the people who are in charge – parliamentarians, high level politicians at the national level of European level – have to send a message. We didn’t want this war. We were not looking for it. But the war is a reality and you have to face it. And everybody wants peace, yes, but for the time being, unhappily, Putin is continuing the war and Ukraine has to defend. And if we don’t support Ukraine, Ukraine will fall, in a matter of days. So, yes, I would prefer to spend this money increasing the, the well-being of the people, hospitals, schools, the cities, as the mayor is asking for. But we don’t have the choice.

What would be your message to Vladimir Putin?

**Josep Borrell

Well, the only message that the international community and certainly the Europeans are sending is ‘Stop this war. Stop this war. And stop bombing Ukraine, withdraw your troops’. I know he’s not going to do it, but every time I listen to some world leader saying I want peace. Yes, OK, if you want peace, push Russia to withdraw. Push Russia to stop the war. Don’t tell me ‘Stop supporting Ukraine’. Because if I stop supporting Ukraine, certainly the war will finish soon. But how? How the war will finish. It doesn’t matter? Yes, it matters. It is the most important thing. The war cannot just finish because Ukraine is unable to defend itself and it has to surrender. And the Russian troops will be in the Polish border and Ukraine will become a second Belarus. Do you want this kind of ending for the war? No.

Well, as we’re sitting here in Florence, the situation on the ground does not look good. Do you see any workable peace plan on the table to stop the war?

Josep Borrell
The only thing that could be called a Peace plan is Zelensky’s proposal because the Chinese peace plan, while it’s not a peace plan, it is a set of wishful consideration, wishful thinking, but is not a peace plan. The only one is the one that has been proposed by the Ukrainians, but certainly will not be accepted by the Russians. But let’s face the reality. Like it or not, the reality is Putin continues saying, I have military objectives and as far as I don’t get these military objectives, I will continue fighting. So the peace plans are good, but you need someone that wants to talk about peace. Really. If you do find someone who says ‘I have military objectives and I will continue bombing, I will continue fighting until I get them’. Well, what kind of a peace talks that you want to do?

But I just want to ask you, do you think the focus is more on defense now because there’s a feeling that the sanctions were not as effective as they could have been or they didn’t work as fast perhaps, as they could have?

Josep Borrell
Three days ago, it was in Latin America and I was talking with a president of a great Latin American country. And he told me, look, you are doing with Russia, with your sanctions, the same thing that the allies in 1919 did with Germany. And I told him ‘look, I don’t understand, what is the comparison?’ Germany had to face war reparations that certainly were disproportionate and pushed the Second World War. But our sanctions to Russia has nothing to do with that. We call sanctions, and in fact, the word sanctions does not exist on the European treaty. If you go to a European treaty and you look for sanctions, the word sanctions doesn’t exist. It’s only the restrictive measures, which are the restrictive measures. I don’t…

So do they work? Restrictive measures?

Josep Borrell
Yes, they work. Certainly they work, but they are not instantaneous. It’s like a diet? Do you want to go on a diet? You’re not going to lose 30 kilos in one week.

And nobody’s going on a diet in Florence. Josep Borrell one more question. What about the Chinese head of State Xi? He had a phone call with President Zelenskyy. Did you find that phone call reassuring? Do you think they can play a role as a peacemaker?

Josep Borrell
Since the beginning, I said China has a role to play. And then I was strongly criticized because certainly China is on the side of Russia. But even if it is on the side of Russia, I think China has a role to play. China is a permanent member of the Security Council. China is the one who has the biggest influence in Russia. China has not provided arms to Russia until now. The US was considering this possibility, this has not happened until now, and the fact that President Xi talked with President Zelensky well, even if he didn’t mention war, but they talk. It’s a good thing. And certainly we have a…we are very much interested in not pushing Russia on the side of China too much.

And on China, you had a visit planned to Beijing recently, but you caught COVID.

Josep Borrell
Yes, I got COVID. And maybe it was not so bad because Beijing was crowded with Europeans. There were so many that maybe it was not a good moment to go. I will go.

It was a blessing in disguise, perhaps. Indeed it was, it was an interesting time because Emmanuel Macron, the French president, was there. He brought along the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. What would your stance be vis a vis China? How can you find a stance regarding China that pleases everyone?

Josep Borrell
On the EU, U.S., China triangle – we are closer to Washington, certainly, but we have to have our own way and we are working on that. One of the most important things I am doing now is to prepare a report for the next European Union Council to present our view on China, because China certainly is a partner How not? Is a competitor? Yes, it’s a competitor, but the U.S. is also a competitor, economically speaking, and is a rival. But what kind of a rival? Is China, a threat to the national security of the Europeans, like Russia? In Versailles the head of state said Russia is a threat to our national security. We have never said that about China. And I think we don’t, we should not be against the rise of China. China will become a great power, like it or not. The important thing is how China will manage its power.

And what about Europe? Because this event, of course, it’s all about Europe. It’s all about the European Union as a potential power. And the language of power is your signature phrase. How are we doing? I mean, are we taken seriously on the world stage?

Josep Borrell
Europeans have to learn to use the language of power. But there are many kinds of power. Power is not just military power and not just sending troops and occupying territories. But look, now, at that moment in Bur Sudan, in the south of Sudan, there are European war ships taking out of Sudan, about 200 European citizens. This is a way of showing power.

And on Sudan, what more can the EU do on the international community to stop the conflict?

**Josep Borrell
**There’s very little of what we can do in Sudan. It’s a civil war between the two, two generals with two armies. Nobody will intervene militarily in Sudan. In Sudan, the only way of acting is trying to get a cease fire, among them through international pressure and Europeans, who are one among others. We don’t have a surplus of power, but we have certain powers. And the more united we are, the bigger this power will be. And this is, for me, the lesson learned in front of a war, in front of the electricity prices going up. We need more unity in the world in which we live. We Europeans, we are too small. If we want to survive, we have to be more united. We have to abandon the unanimity vote on foreign policy.

Well, that was my next question, because nine countries also agree with you, including France and Germany. A letter was sent this week on this very point, putting an en unanimity. Will that ever fly?

Josep Borrell
Well, the problem with abandoning unanimity is that it requires unanimity. You need unanimity to abandon unanimity.

And hence my question, will it ever fly? I mean…

Josep Borrell
Well, I know it’s difficult because everybody wants to keep their veto right, Because unanimity means each one has the veto, right. Unanimity means that if I don’t like it, I block it until I get something else. Well, this is not the way we could work in a world that runs very quickly where there are big states, China is a state. The U.S. is a state. India is a state, too. We are not a state. We are a club of states. And we have to have rules that make us able to decide quicker.

You have one year left. Of course, here we’re all talking about the European elections next May or June. We’re still waiting for the date to be confirmed. What would you like to achieve in that last year?

Josep Borrell
A just peace in Ukraine. It’s the most difficult endeavor, but certainly, and this is the thing that matters more today for us, a just peace in Ukraine. And if I could say a second one is a better understanding with the rest, because there is the West and the rest. A better understanding with them to try to prove that they really matters for us, that we are not only engaged with Ukraine, that we are able to face their complaints, their resentment, and to make them understand that Europe is no longer an imperial or colonial power. It belongs to the past, but it is clear force of peace in order to face the global challenges. And the global challenges is not only climate, it is the debt and development to work more with them because we still have a too much Eurocentric approach to the rest of the world.

Josep Borrell Thank you so much for speaking to us here at the State of the Union.

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