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European Ideas on An Interview with Markus Kornprobst about the European Unionís Management of International Crises

6th April 2012

Professor Markus Kornprobst holds the Chair in International Relations at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. He previously taught at the School of Public Policy at University College London and Magdalen College at Oxford University. He held research fellowships at the Mershon Center at the Ohio State University, and the Department of Politics and International Relations at Oxford University. His research appears in leading journals in the discipline such as International Organization, European Journal of International Relations, International Studies Review, Review of International Studies, and Millennium. He is the author of Irredentism in European Politics (Cambridge University Press) and co-editor of Metaphors of Globalization (Palgrave). He was interviewed by Philippe Ternes (European Ideas Ambassador at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna).

European Ideas: Today I would like to welcome Professor Markus Kornprobst, professor of Political Science and International Relations at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna. I would like to talk about the subject of your current seminar, the European Union´s management of international crises. First, I would like to get some general insights on the development and the evolution of CFSP and CSDP. We can see that on the one hand, foreign policy instruments have been developed as a response to exogenous shocks such as 9/11 or the disagreements when it comes to the Iraq war in 2003. On the other hand, we´ve also had internal impulses, such as the Weimar initiative put forward by Poland, France and Germany.

Markus Kornprobst: I think that you are quite right. On the one hand, exogenous shocks have always mattered and I think probably none of them has mattered as much as Srebrenica. When you talk to decision makers on the European level and decision makers on the national levels, then Srebrenica was really a watershed event. I think that applies in particular to politicians on the left. When we look at the Green Party in Germany for instance, then they traditionally had very strong, unqualified pacifistic leanings and one of the ´godfathers´ of this leaning was Joschka Fischer, the former Foreign Minister. Soon after Srebrenica happened, Fischer travelled there and came back with a totally different view. He suddenly then argued in favour of intervention when it came to Kosovo. So I think that exogenous shocks have always been very important.

There is also this other stream that you were talking about, that institutional development has also taken place more or less independently from exogenous shocks, or by trying to learn lessons from exogenous shocks. So I think this agential dimension is very important. When we think about the very beginnings of cooperation in the foreign policy field, in the 1970s, then those were really for the most part institutional developments where some European leaders thought it would be important to find common positions and speak increasingly with one voice in international affairs. I think in these very early beginnings, in the 1970s, it is more difficult to say there was this big exogenous shock. Thereafter, exogenous shocks became very important, e.g. Srebrenica, September 11, Madrid bombings, London bombings etc.

European Ideas: You mentioned the role of European leaders in the 1970s and from then on. What can you say about the role of European leaders nowadays? Less strong personalities: do they favour the development of a common European position or would you argue that strong personalities are lacking nowadays?

Markus Kornprobst: There are two things that come into my mind there. One is about the leaders on the national level. The other one is big agents on the European level. Let me start with the latter. Oftentimes, the most innovative attempt to do something within the European Foreign and Security Policy comes from within the EU apparatus. So when you think about the European Security Strategy for instance, 2003, referred to as the Solana doctrine for which Solana´s advice was very important, there seems to be a lot going on within the EU context with regards to institutional development.

Number two, the national level: I think one thing that is really different now with the current generation of leaders, is that they are quite far removed from the experience of the Second World War. It is a new generation which oftentimes looks at the European Union quite differently. In the past, especially amongst French and Germans you could find this almost unconditional commitment to European unification as the big lesson from the past. There was no strong notion of the national interest and that the national interest can be quite different from the European interest. I think that this is probably most clear in the German context. But I think by now leaders look with a little bit more selfish eyes at the institutional development. That, for me, is a major change and that is I think a problem in terms of the development of institutions, especially developing institutions that could really change fundamentally the decision making around.

European Ideas: This relates very much to how the European Union sees itself, the self-identification of the European Union. Would you argue that the shaping of a European identity should be done from bottom-up, that it should come from civil society organizations or the private sector with European broadcast stations, internet platforms, or would you say that the leading institutions have a major role to play and should try to foster this European sense of identity?

Markus Kornprobst: I think normatively speaking, it would be very desirable if there would be a bottom-up process going on. One of the analogies that we have there, as imperfect as it is, is the making of national identities some time ago – how did that happen? That usually was a coalition between political leaders and intellectual leaders, intellectual elites, be that poets, painters and what have you. I think this kind of coalition brings a project of identity building really forward and we probably don´t have enough of that at the European level and we probably don´t have enough of that when it comes to political elites, civil society or intellectual elites. What you mentioned – thinking very pragmatically say about an EU talk-show or an EU political discussion broadcast on radio about an important topic, then in my opinion that´s overdue, it would make a difference. However, institutionally, we seem to be far removed from that. Let´s say you discuss about the Greek budgetary crisis on national TV, then you just hear the national position all the time. If you had someone from another country represented there, then you would discover that there are lots of different positions. I think that would be very good for European political discourse. And this applies obviously to European Foreign Policy as well. If you have something like Libya or Syria on the table, then debate about this is always di-fold because these debates for the most part take place in national contexts, in the container of the nation state. And then once that debate, usually on a very elitist level, has happened, then a diplomatic representative goes to Brussels to meet his colleagues and they try to form some common output of that.

European Ideas: ... with little space for discussion...

Markus Kornprobst: with very little space for discussion, it´s only the very last step involved. I think if one could turn this ladder around or could put an end to this ladder at all and then look at more fluidity in the discourse, then that would be very useful.

European Ideas: You mentioned a democratic deficit that we might find on the European level. On the one hand, in 2002, with the Convention on the Future of Europe, we had a working group on defence which raised several points to be achieved and one of them was an adequate political scrutiny for CSDP, out of complaints that the CSDP has a democratic deficit. Nowadays, we are faced in the European Parliament with a proposition from the Western European Union Assembly which is calling for an inter-parliamentary conference where both representatives of the national parliaments would be represented as well as the European Parliament. This conference should specifically debate security and defence related issues. Do you have any ideas on how to enhance a more democratic approach within the European Union?

Markus Kornprobst: One of them that is often debated, but that leads us then far away from foreign policy and defence matters, is to elect a President of the European Union for example. Perhaps more prevalent to foreign policy: The foreign policy and defence policy in particular, they are hard cases for any kind of public participation because it is in the very nature of the matter that some things are going to stay away from the public eye, they just have to... When it comes to the basic parameters, though, I think that parliamentary participation is an important thing to do if you have a democratic political system and there is no reason why the EU Parliament should be excluded from that.

Perhaps another bi-product, that may be very important, is if you involve the European Parliament in discussing matters of foreign policy and discussing matters of defence and if you do so perhaps more than we have it already, then you actually have a forum where different national positions can interact with one another. And it is quite interesting if you compare the positions that are sometimes taken by Parliamentarians from the same party who sit at the EU Parliament and who sit in the national Parliament, then the position of those, although they are from the same party, is often very different. I you think about the “Linke”, the Left Party in Germany, then in the EU Parliament, they were in favour of Afghanistan and in the national Parliament they were always against it.

So you see that there is some kind of socialization process going on with these Parliamentarians getting exposed to lots and lots of different ideas and there is a chance for European ideas to jell, if they are always confined to this international Parliament. I think that is a very important bi-product: if you strengthen debate, then you might get the convergence around ideas that at the moment we just do not have yet. Then you can get a European Security Strategy that is actually meaningful, because at the moment it is side-stepped, it is a document that is there and that might be reviewed here and there, but it is not really a compass for actors to be used in their everyday conduct of security policy. I think only if you have these fora where there is a debate, where there is a discussion, than you might be able to come up with these European Ideas.

It is a little bit like in Austria: lower Austrians would not talk to Tyroleans about something like health care for instance. Over time, over decades, you might come up with entirely different discourses and at some stage, they might not even understand anymore what the other person is talking about and think it is entirely implausible. That´s overdoing it now for the sake of the illustration, but if you think about rather long national histories that countries like the United Kingdom or France have, and their institutional national memory of certain things that happened in the past and how they have been dealt with and therefore how they have to be dealt with in the future, then you exactly have this problem, you have these separate spheres of understanding and these separate spheres of understanding they really hamper quite a lot.

European Ideas: In order to overcome this path dependency of the specific countries, the European Union would probably have to exert more soft power, not only externally, but maybe internally, trying to capture the attention of the citizens for the issues concerning all of them to the same extend. How can the European Union draw more upon its soft-power, which includes its values and its culture, which has the main aim of attracting or also repelling other actors, to shape consensus and foster a greater awareness?

Markus Kornprobst: I think, all in all, the EU does very well when it comes to the soft-power, or magnetism as it is sometimes referred to, this idea about being attracted to someone. “Magnetism”, because you have in the neighbourhood of the European Union this phenomenon that there are so many who want to get in. What the European Union does, though, with its soft-power as you put it, it is really something that focuses on the neighbourhood, on the vicinity of the European Union and it then withers away the more you move away geographically from the European Union. In that way, the EU is not a great power as some people have suggested. There are some authors who talk about a multi- polar order, with China, US and the EU. This is an understanding I don´t share at all. I think that the EU when it comes to foreign policy focuses very much on its neighbourhood and the neighbourhood might be defined more and more broadly, but there is no agenda that is akin to say “United States”, to become a real global player in general. Economically speaking the EU is a major player and it is very clear about it. When it comes to security and defence matters, I think it is really a different story.

When we talk about soft power, then we also talk about hard power. I think historically the EU found it much easier to agree on soft power measures which are often devised within the commissions of the EU structures. The EU finds it much more difficult to come up with hard power responses. That´s why we have all these arguments saying the EU is a normative power, it is a civilian power, it is a “civilizing” power and so on. That I think is a key question: there is an analytical question to that: why does the EU find it difficult to do that and there is also a normative question: whether we as Europeans should actually move into that direction, yes or no?

We talked about exogenous shocks before and if you have something like Srebrenica, then you have to do something about it. We probably all agree that the measures taken at the time were not sufficient, and then we are in the hard power sphere. At the same time, Rwanda happened and the EU also was trying to do something about it, and then we do have this hard power issue on the table. But it is quite clear how difficult it is. When you look at the Libya resolution for instance: some members of the EU voted in favour and others abstained and Germany found itself with the BRIC states but not with its traditional allies. So it is very clear that there is a line here within the European Union among those states who feel traditionally more comfortable with using hard power, at least as a last resort and those states which find it very difficult, especially Germany. Those states with a traditional great power status see this quite differently.

Markus Kornprobst: You know, one more question about institutional growth, and that is always something that I mention in my seminar at the very beginning: we are used to the idea that the more institutions you have and the more institutions you build, the better the outcome will be. Interestingly, if you look at the performance of the European Union in international crises, from the 1970s until now, then things all in all have not changed that much. And the pattern really is that the more severe the crisis and therefore the more grounds there ought to be in my opinion to respond more forcefully, the more difficult the EU finds it to react. And there is really no significant difference there between the 1970s and now although all these institutions have been build and build...

And then inadvertently when it comes to this one essential concept describing EU decision-making mechanism when it comes to foreign policy is intergovernmentalism. If you have this intergovernmentalism and if it is ultimately really up to the states to come up with a common position and to do something together or not, although they should come up with a common position; whether they do this or not, you might actually not get the kind of response that you want. And then the only way to deal with that, coming back to the beginning of our interview, you should try to create shared ideas, the convergence around ideas, more so than you have it now, by reaching  similar understandings, converging understandings, compromised understanding of certain international crises and the responses that we want to take. I don´t think that this intergovernmentalism is going to go away anytime soon, so therefore you need to come up with these ideas that provide a compass for you to navigate the world politics.

European Ideas: And these ideas, they cannot only grow within the institutions?

Markus Kornprobst: No, they can´t. Precisely, they can´t. I think the European Security Strategy is a primary example for that. You have a couple of norm entrepreneurs or whatever you want to call them on the European level, and they come up with this idea and they try to make use of the situation; after September 11 and after Afghanistan or Iraq, trying to heal a bit what happened there amongst each other, in terms of the diplomatic “fighting” that occurred there. So they come up with this nice looking document about how to conduct things but ultimately it is some kind of a lowest common denominator, so there is not much belief in this thing.

This is something which in my interviews with decision makers always comes up: it really doesn´t matter much this European Security Strategy. If we look at national security strategies, then in the German one, the ESS is mentioned explicitly. In the French one, it is mentioned very briefly, deploring that basically nothing has come out of it. In the British one, no matter whether it was drafted by Labour or by the Tories, there is no mention of it at all. I think that that is really a problem. If you would have a similar situation on the national levels, then you would also get into all kinds of decision making problems. However, on the national level, it is really a “government” system: if you have someone or a group of people on top, they can ultimately make a decision when it comes to defence matters. On the EU level, it is obviously very different, it is more complicated. But I think because it is more complicated, this convergence around ideas is even more important.

European Ideas: This was a valuable food for thought at the end and I hope that in the future, we will be able to gain more insights from you.


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