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Roundtable discussion on the EU’s role in the changing world order – amid resurgent Russia and Trump-led USA

The Institute for Foreign Affairs and Trade organised a roundtable discussion on the EU’s role in the changing world order – amid resurgent Russia and Trump-led USA on 25th of April. The invited guests were Dr. Kai-Olaf Lang (Senior Research Fellow of German Institute for Iternational and Security Affairs), Dr. Charles Powell (Director of Royal Institute (Elcano) of Spain), and Dr. Csaba Törő (Dean of the Faculty of Law, Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary). The discussion was moderated by Dr. Gergely Romsics (IFAT).

The experts covered a broad agenda which set of topics can be arranged along the themes of Russia’s transatlantic integration prospects, the USA-EU cooperation pertinent to foreign and neighbourhood policy, and the current policy shifts with regard to the EU as a soft power.

Charles Powell reminded that the once brightful ’Grand Bargain’ (the possible USA-Russia rapprochement in the 1990’s) is dead now as the dissidence over various issues like the Middle- East, Ukraine and the START Treaties would not mollify the tense sides. Although the EU-Russia relations strengthened with the first visit of EU’s High Representative of CFSP, Federica Mogherini, to Moscow, the EU would never accept the annexion of Crimea as a fait accompli. He pointed out that divergence between the EU and the Trump administration on some foreign policy points could not deteriorate the bonds, since Europe’s reliance on NATO is our vital security interest, however, a common transatlantic foreign policy playbook does not exist. After all, the Arab Spring was a major setback to the European playbook and, as a consequence, we became more modest in our global strategy. Thus, we gave up on democracy and the buzzword sounds as: resilience, security and stability which inherently forecloses regime changes.

Kai-Olaf Lang elaborated that despite of the reduction of USA engagement in Europe and in the Middle-East, Russia perceives the mild EU- USA involvement in the region a threat which he labelled a diplomatic spree, a distraction from internal stress that could only result in a distrustful and pragmatic cooperation on the Russian side. He regarded the EU as a non-pro-status quo entity, since the eastward EU accession automatically entails diminishing Russian influence in those countries. In the recent years the EU went through a sobering process and accepted that deeming its global strategy efficacious prior to the Arab Spring was self-deceptive and that the normative power of EU only exists by grace of USA hard power. Because the countries in question are deeply divided on the EU or Russian integration we should be careful of the leap forward in the field of enlargement. He concluded that the golden age of liberal democracy has decayed, consequently, multiple modernisation models emerged which pressured us to change our motto of deepening and widening to consolidation and cooperation.

Csaba Törő set forth that the EU-USA-Russia relations could have been drawn always as an asymmetrical triangle (USA and EU being closer to each other), hence, - taking Russian interest of undermining the EU- USA relationship into account - it would be a strategic mistake to include Russia into this systematic cooperation. Given the fact that there is no one-pattern-method for our neighbour to converge, the EU foreign policy should bear the skill of fast adoption and transformation instead of consisting only one ’universal recipe’. The grassroots of the malfunction is conceptual rigidity, after all, diversity and difference are essential and should be allowed, in light of the latter, recent deconceptualisation can be considered an EU foreign policy, as well. He concluded that it is not democracies that are safe, but the EU and its members.