Princeton, 11 March 2019
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It is a pleasure and an honour for me to be here [Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University]. Since we are in this wonderful building and in this wonderful room, let me start with a bit of history. Exactly a century ago in these very weeks and months - if I am not mistaken - President [of the United States, Woodrow] Wilson was negotiating the details of the treaty that established the League of Nations. We all know that the League of Nations failed just a few years later, but the principles that inspired that work and, in particular, President [Woodrow] Wilson lived on to the present day.
President Wilson believed that only a multilateral framework could prevent another global conflict. He was right. He thought of the League of Nations - and I quote - “as the only conceivable system that you can substitute for the old order of things, which brought the calamity of this war upon us and would assuredly bring the calamity of another war upon us.”
He imagined a system to protect the territorial integrity and the sovereignty of all States, great and small alike. As far as the European Union is concerned, I always refuse to say that we have small or big Member States - we have 28 and all of them are small in the world of today. We often say that we have Member States that are small and others that have not yet realised that they are small. In the world of today, we all have a relative size.
The principle upon which President Wilson was working was this: protecting all, no matter whether big or small, because this was a guarantee for all, big and small alike. Already a century ago, he talked about the need for mutually agreed disarmament, well before the atomic bomb. This was a truly a visionary statement and a very wise one.
Exactly one hundred years later, the need for multilateralism is even greater. In fact, I believe multilateralism is more necessary today than ever before. As you said, Professor [Wolfgang Danspeckgruber, Director of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at Princeton University]: today, everything is possible - the old world order has declined, has disappeared, the new one has not emerged yet. We are not sure about whether we have players around the world that have the intention, the power or the instruments to build a new world order.
For the first time in a long time, the sentence “everything is possible” is interpreted or provokes in us more anxiety than hope. I believe very well that, in the last couple of decades - the last three or four decades -, “everything is possible” was a promise of hope. Today it is probably a threat or a question mark on our future.
Our world is more unstable and unpredictable than ever. It is also more connected than ever and every local crisis can have global repercussions. This is the reason why people in the United States have worried and I hope still worry about Syria and people in Europe worry about Venezuela, even if we are far apart geographically. Because we know that we are together - as we say in Italian: we are on the same boat.
A number of actors have risen to the status of global power. Each one of them is going through a phase of redefinition of its role in the world. And each one of them knows – and if they do not know, they should - that a state alone does not have the power to change or determine world politics.
As a consequence, the role of regional powers is also increasingly relevant. Just think about the Middle East: every single country there is trying to shift the regional balance of power in its favour. This is a constant source of tensions and instability, not just for the Middle East, but for the entire world. This is just an example of how regional dynamics grow global today.
In a changing world, the fundamental rules that govern our international system are questioned from different sides. I start from Russia, which has clearly violated one of the fundamental principles of our international system with the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula exactly five years ago. The principle that borders must not be changed through military force - which is a principle without which in Europe we might easily go back to the times of war, and not only in Europe.
This was not just a central element in Wilson's vision, it is also the core of the security architecture that all of our countries built with the Helsinki Final Act, which is a pillar of Security and Cooperation in Europe and that - I believe personally - could be the model for building security architecture in other parts of the world. Even if it can sound visionary today, it might be the model, for instance, across the Gulf or in the Middle East.
Today, international law and multilateral agreements are perceived more as an obstacle for the powerful, than a guarantee for all. This probably also reflects on the domestic trends and feelings, where citizens or businesses sometimes feel that rules and regulations and governance do not guarantee for everybody to compete equally, but as a constraint for individual perspectives. I think this is a cultural as well as an international policy dilemma that we have to face.
Too many leaders today speak the language of power politics only and of confrontation only. There is an element of power politics that is essential to foreign policy and negotiation and that is - not only for men but also for women - an element we can deal with and we can even use. However, the problem arises when the only language you speak is a power politics language, a zero sum game language: I win, you lose; if you win, I must be losing without even realising, so there is something wrong.
This is the place where we are today. International affairs are mainly seen as a zero sum game. The concept of global governance is replaced by the old law that “might makes right”; and that old law did not bring the world a lot of good in the past. So, we have a problem. This leads - and this is what we are seeing - to more conflicts and more instability. At the same time, I see that today we are more multipolar than ever before. Not only states are centres of power today. Even opinion movements across the world through new technologies can be centres of power in this multipolar world. Companies can have more power than single nations in some files.
We have a multiplicity of centres of power that need more than ever a multilateral system of global governance for at least two reasons: It is first and foremost a matter of principles and values that I believe we share across the Atlantic - a matter of justice and democracy. A multilateral decision is by definition more democratic and more inclusive. I know that the question about the democratic deficit in world politics has been asked for decades. I believe it is even more crucial today.
Multilateralism is the only answer we have at the moment. We might find new ones and better ones in the future, but for the time being this is the only way to bring more voices around the table to build win-win solutions, identify the common ground and to take into account the great complexity of our world.
Let me say something about the European Union, because I know that it is perceived as being extremely complex and complicated - and it is. But, in these times, this can be a powerful asset because the more complicated and complex you are, the easiest you find to understand others’ complexities and complications. You have the tools to decrypt complexity without falling into the trap of a false simplification, because you can simplify things in a movie but then, in reality, it does not work when you apply them to real life and real politics. I believe that we have an asset here to handle and try to manage complexity of our world, accepting complexity of our own and trying to bring it towards a common ground.
Multilateralism is not just a matter of principles; I believe that it is also a matter of global and national security. I can tell you that there are more women today in defence and security policy than in foreign policy. This breaks all stereotypes, but it is true. In the Council with Defence Ministers that I chair in the European Union, there is a big number of women Defence Ministers, much less so in the Council with Foreign Ministers, even less - actually zero - among the Finance Ministers. This is the real problem I think we have to face, but this is for the next fight. This to say that I am sorry to disappoint you with the fact that a woman puts this kind of pragmatic and security approach on the table, but I think we have to be realistic about that.
Multilateralism is a matter of global and national security, first and foremost, because today many are tempted to believe that peace or agreements can come with two strong men meeting and shaking hands. Again, it is all men and never women. I wish it was that easy, but it is not. Think of the war in Syria, for instance. That conflict is at the same time local, regional and global. In the past eight years, we have seen some positive developments from time to time. We have seen, for instance, local ceasefires, but then they collapsed, because there was a lack of a general peace agreement on the top. On the other side, we have seen agreements between regional and global powers that then collapsed, because there was a lack of clear support on the ground.
This to say that it is not as simple as having two powers only - even two superpowers, provided that we find two superpowers - shaking hands and finding agreements in the world of today. The complexity of the world and other conflicts and crises goes so deep that you need a multiplicity of actors and players and powers to first of all define something and then to also make it sustainable. Peace and security in a complex world like ours simply requires multilateral frameworks and are only sustainable when they emerge in a multilateral context.
I have seen the other side of the story: if you have a multilateral agreement, it is much more likely to stand the test of time. You [Wolfgang Danspeckgruber] mentioned the Iran deal [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. It is because it was a multilateral agreement endorsed by a UN Security Council resolution voted by unanimity that it still stands with 14 consecutive reports from the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] certifying that Iran is still compliant and with all the difficulties that we are facing. I believe it is only because it is anchored in a multilateral system that it still makes possible that Iran does comply with its nuclear commitments and does not develop a nuclear weapon.
President Wilson was always called an idealist. We, Europeans, are very often accused of being naive. We come from Venus and somebody else comes from Mars. Personally, I think the biggest mistake we can do is to think that in order to be strong, you have to be aggressive. You can be forthcoming, you can listen, you can even smile and be extremely strong. You can show the hard face and be extremely weak. Actually, I think that making peace requires much more strength than making war. Fighting without finding the way out of fights is probably the easiest expression of weakness you can see. But here we move from foreign policy to psychology probably and this is a different faculty.
Again, I know that we Europeans are sometimes described as the ones that are naive. The ones that believe in values and principles and they do not face reality as it is. Multilateralism for us is not just about values, it is in our own experience the best way to advance our own national interests. Now, the crucial question we all face is how we can preserve the global and regional institutions that we have built since World War Two and to shape a multilateralism that is fit for the challenges of this century and the ones to come.
The European Union today is central to answering both of these questions. It is in itself a multilateral institution. The European Union is probably the most advanced and the most functional institution that is embodying multilateralism. Multilateralism is in our DNA, it is in our history. We started with cooperation, not about principles and values, but about steel and coal - something not very poetic, but very practical. It worked.
This is when we started to realise that maybe it was not so smart to fight each other - as we did for thousands of years, causing incredible suffering for the rest of the world - and that maybe we could have better results in cooperating on economy and infrastructures. That led us to be the biggest space of democracy, rights, economy and peace for the first time ever in our history. It is nothing idealistic; it is something very touchable, very practical.
In this moment in time, we, Europeans, feel a responsibility more than the power. The power comes with responsibility. We feel the power, but we also feel the responsibility and the duty, I would say, to be a champion - if not the champion - of multilateralism. This morning I was meeting with the ambassadors, the permanent representatives of the European Union Member States that are members of the Security Council - five out of fifteen. We do have a responsibility and the power. One of them mentioned the fact that we, Europeans, are the guardians of the temple at the moment. And I think this is a good image of what we are trying to do, to try to preserve a system that we value, knowing that the system is not perfect. So being the guardians of the temple does not mean wanting to preserve the temple exactly as it is. However, we do have a responsibility to avoid that things that are good get destroyed.
In these years, we have become an indispensable partner for those around the world that care about multilateralism because of their own interests. There are countries and forces all around the world that are working towards the same goal. All of them look now at us, Europeans, as an indispensable partner and a point of reference to any global alliance in defence of multilateralism. Whenever multilateral institutions come under attack, we are the natural point of reference for those who want to protect and advance the multilateral cause. We feel this responsibility because this is about our nature - the nature of the European Union - and because, as I said, it is in our best interest.
We want to be a cooperative power. I would use a word that you would not easily associate with the European Union, but I always do it: we are a cooperative “superpower” in the world of today - 500 million citizens, the second largest economy in the world. We are the first trading partner for most of the countries around the world, the first provider of humanitarian and development aid worldwide. What we invest in development and humanitarian aid is more than all the rest of the world combined, and I could continue. If you take our national defence budgets all together in the European Union, we are the second largest defence power in the world.
So yes, we do have power and we are a superpower, and we have decided, following our DNA, to be a cooperative superpower in the world, because we believe this is what our citizens need. We have the potential to exert that responsibility in full. So in this, yes, we have worked to be a credible and reliable power, starting at home, trying to fulfil the potential – the immense potential of a union of half a million citizens, one of three largest.
The key to all of that, how to exercise our power, is our strength and our unity. This was at the core of our work in these years. For the first time in 70 years, we have done something quite remarkable: we have created the possibility for our Member States to cooperate on defence. This means in concrete terms joining forces in the defence sector, investing together on industrial and research projects, and acting together on the ground. We have now, I think, overcome - I mentioned that briefly - the idea that Europeans are from Venus and Americans are from Mars. This belongs to a different era.
We now in Europe know very well that soft power is and remains our trademark. Nobody else does it better than we do. We need a complementing hard power in the European way - which is a cooperative way that has to go hand-in-hand with the soft power we have. We see that there is no crisis in the world of today that can be resolved only with a military approach. However, a military approach, a military component of any approach to crises can be needed and can strengthen the soft power we can use in trying to solve the crises. This is why, after six years of failed attempts, we have finally built the Europe of defence.
We had the instruments present in our Treaties but we never used them. Today, as a way to respond to this need to exercise our responsibility globally, we have done it. We have carried out this work in close cooperation with NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organisation] and with the UN, because we stand on the same side and because we are complementary. NATO, in particular, remains the pillar of our collective defence - it is even mentioned in the European Union Treaties -, but there are security challenges that require a complementary approach between the European Union and NATO, and between the European Union and the UN in particular, to which now we can contribute much more solidly, having a component of military cooperation inside the European Union today that was not there before.
We have missions and operations in the world, 17 of them. Very few people know that, but there are men and women serving in uniform under EU flag in 17 operations. We have 34 concrete projects of cooperation among European Union Member States in the sector of defence; they are called the Permanent Structured Cooperation
(PESCO) projects. From drones to medical evacuation for the militaries, research and deployment, everything is covered.
Security, again, is not military alone; for us it is also investing in climate action - the link between climate and security, I think, is vital - or investing in humanitarian aid or development cooperation. This is prevention of crises that will come up and this is consolidation of conflict resolution whenever it has occurred. Again, we are proud – and I am personally proud - that we are investing in development aid more than the rest of the world combined.
I am very proud that this work has now started to be coordinated and visible also in the UN system. As I mentioned, this morning together with our Ambassador to the UN [João Vale de Almeida], who is here with us today, we had a coordination meeting with Permanent Representatives of the Member States of the European Union sitting in the [UN] Security Council. When I started my mandate almost five years ago, people were telling me "do not touch the Security Council, this is for Member States only. Member States are in the UN system as Member States of the UN, not of the European Union".
Five years later, the world has changed, this responsibility is more evident on our shoulders and this is why our Member States have - with a little bit of encouragement from our side - started to coordinate much more in the UN system. I think this makes a difference. We have common stakeouts after Council meetings, they express common positions, and they work as a true team. This also makes us more of a point of reference for others in the world.
I was asked to give you some practical examples. I know ten examples are a lot, but I am trying to do that – I am not trying to emulate Wilson's 14 points, but I would like you to get an idea of how broad and wide our contribution is spanning different sides of the world and of the work from defence to foreign policy and development.
First, we support UN led talks to address all the conflicts around the world everywhere: Syria, Yemen, Libya. We believe that a sustainable solution to all of these conflicts can only emerge in a multilateral framework and that this multilateral framework is the UN framework. It is not by chance that the ceasefire in Yemen was agreed in Stockholm with the European Union support. We also support, for instance, the complex mission of the UN to promote reconciliation and stabilisation in Libya. And after I fly back from New York, I will host the third Brussels Conference [on supporting the future of Syria and the region]
together with the UN - the EU and the UN together - to support the UN led political process to put an end to the war in that country.
Second, we always put our convening power to the service of multilateralism. This is something we sometimes underestimate: the capacity to talk to different actors and bring them together. I think this is the core of diplomacy at its best and this is why sometimes you do not have to be aggressive and tough, you have to be smiling and convening and then you can pass a tough message. Take the work we are doing on Venezuela. We have convened on Venezuela an International Contact Group
with European and Latin American countries and together we are trying to encourage practical steps inside Venezuela towards a peaceful democratic outcome of this crisis with early presidential elections.
We have seen that there was no multilateral framework, tensions were rising and we found the need to work to build - or rebuild - a space for a multilateral approach to this, with a clear agenda, which is new presidential elections. It does not happen alone, you have to build steps to get there.
Third, we support non-proliferation agreements and disarmament in all possible ways. North Korea is a clear example. We have imposed the toughest sanctions on North Korea and we have kept open channels at the same time to encourage dialogue. Bilateral talks are always good and can make the real difference, can create change and can create a positive dynamic. But bilateral talks can also expose negotiating processes to the mood of the day on both sides, and the multilateral system creates a sort of safety net for negotiations to be preserved and protected from the hiccups of the moment.
This is why in this specific case, we believe that a complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula can be better achieved within a multilateral framework that has a bilateral component, that is framed in a multilateral context that can help protect the process and can also help the monitoring of any agreement, if there is an agreement at the end of the road.
Fourth, we are doing all we can to preserve the nuclear deal with Iran [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action]. I said it already, it is not a bilateral deal, it is a multilateral agreement endorsed by a unanimously adopted Resolution at the [UN] Security Council. It demonstrates that peace and security are better preserved in a global non-proliferation architecture. It is part of our contribution to the non-proliferation architecture that we have in place more than a piece of our policy towards the Middle East.
Our policy towards Iran and with Iran is a separate thing from our support to the nuclear deal - we do not even have an embassy in Tehran. We do discuss with Iran on issues on which we definitely have very different viewpoints from human rights, death penalty and women's rights to Syria, Yemen, and missiles. We do that on the basis of preserving a nuclear deal that is functioning, exactly because we do not want Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. We are close; we are at reach, so it is in our strategic interests.
Fifth, we always work for multilateral solutions to global challenges. The two cases in point are the Paris Agreement on climate change and the UN  Agenda for Sustainable Development. Both would not be in place without the European Union and both require the European Union to push and pull for the implementation, because without us there would be no effective implementation of neither of the two. So we tried to create networks of alliances around the world to work on the implementation of these fundamental agendas for all of us.
Sixth, we have increased our financial contribution to the UN system in very difficult times. The best example here is our support that has increased to the UN Agency for Palestinian refugees [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA]. This is again nothing ideological, but it is thanks to Europe if millions of children can still go to school. You can easily imagine that without a school for millions of children, radicalisation has open doors. This is also an investment in our own security. Without us, the Agency would probably have collapsed and this would have caused a humanitarian catastrophe in immediate terms, problems for all countries in the region, massive flows of people in the region and beyond, and it would have also been a deadly blow to the viability of the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel.
Seventh, we contribute one third of the overall UN peacekeeping budget. This is more than any other global power. In our work on European defence that I mentioned before, we are also exploring new tools for us to finance and support UN peacekeeping missions. This is what I call "cooperative autonomy". As we work on a more autonomous Europe on defence, we are also investing more and much more in cooperation with our partners, starting from the UN.
Eighth, we are supporting the work of the [UN] Secretary-General, António Guterres, to reform the United Nations. As I said, being the guardians of the temple does not mean that we want to keep the temple as it is. We see restoration work to be done, and it has all our support.
Ninth, we are exploring new forms of cooperation between and among regional organisations, inside the UN framework but also bilaterally, because we have benefited from regional cooperation. We believe in it, we believe in the results of it, so we support our regional partner organisations from the African Union, to ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations], to the many in Latin America, all of them.
The best example of trilateral cooperation we have established last year, is a cooperation with the African Union and the United Nations, and notably on the issue of migration in Libya. Since one year and a half, we have established a formal cooperation between the European Union, the United Nations - and in particular IOM [International Organisation for Migration] and UNHCR [UN Refugees Agency] - and the African Union to empty the detention centres in Libya.
You might remember terrible images of African citizens, men, women, children in the detention centres in Libya. The three institutions have agreed to empty those centres. We have freed over 30,000 stranded migrants - some of them are refugees - with a good cooperation and done in a proper manner by the UN agencies. We want to continue now until the moment when we manage to close the detention centres in Libya. But this is an effective result of cooperation, again more than 30,000 people freed in one year is something we did not do before - but now we have done it, and I hope that this work will continue in the future as well, joining forces. We are financing not only their going back in a voluntary manner to their own countries, but we are also financing programmes so that these people can start small projects of their own businesses locally. I think this is also the most effective manner to not only save lives, which is our first priority, but also to avoid that the trafficking business growths.
Last but not least, tenth point. We have set up a new generation of trade deals to contribute to an international economic system that is at the same time fair and free. I know that discussions about trade in the US are now difficult, but we have finalised in the last year EU-Canada
[Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement], EU-Japan
[Economic Partnership Agreement], EU-Singapore
[Free Trade Agreement and Investment Protection Agreement], and EU-Mexico, that I think we will be finalising in a couple of weeks. We are negotiating with Australia, New Zealand and many others. If others take a different stance on trade, we keep our standards high and try to introduce, including in our trade agreements, higher standards when it comes to climate, to environment, to labour rights and environmental rights, and so on and so forth.
I did not mention the oceans and many other things that we are doing, because we know that the global governance we have in front of us is chaotic, uncertain and in a development phase. We know that the international economic system is far from perfect and we see all the deficits of it and possibilities to improve it. We see that our multilateral institutions need to be reformed. But we strongly believe that the solution is not to dismantle the achievements of the past, but rather to build on them.
One of my favourite sentences is that “the secret of change is to focus all our energies not on fighting the old but on building the new”. I think this is exactly where we are now, also because the old is quite confused and, in any case, it is past. The point is what comes next and there is a bit of confusion about that. This is the alternative that we now face. We Europeans know where we stand because, as I was saying, we have lived on our own skin the suffering of thousands of years of conflicts, causing suffering to the rest of the world.
Sixty years ago, we had courageous, brave, visionary leaders, men and women, who finally started cooperation rather than war. We achieved thanks to that difficult choice that was contested at the time, sixty years of unprecedented peace, economic prosperity, and rights in our continent. Even if sometimes we, Europeans, do not realise it, we are still the best part of the world to live in - not only because of the best food and because of the weather.
I think we are living times now, and I will close with that, where we and especially the young generations need to remember the alternative: what is the cost of non-cooperation? What is the cost of non-multilateralism? Where would that bring us? We do not like the world of today? Is going backwards bringing us in a better place? Is dismantling what we have bringing us in a better place? Or do we rather have to see the limits of what we have, preserve what we have, and try to bring some positive changes into that?
This is why the European Union has no doubt on where we stand, not out of weakness, no out of fear, not out of naiveté, but because we know that multilateralism is the only rational and convenient option we have in our own collective self-interest.
Thank you very much.