On Wednesday 8 June in Brussels, participants at the event “Security and Trade Responsibility – an EU gap” were invited to break new ground in reflecting on an EU Security and Trade Responsibility (STR), a new concept coined by ISIS Europe Executive Director, Giji Gya, to look at ways the EU can improve its links between its trade and security policies.
The Arab Spring, and CSDP missions such as those formerly in Guinea-Bissau, and currently in Palestine, were referred to as examples where EU security-trade policy links should be assessed. At the heart of the discussions that followed Ms Gya’s presentation of the draft policy brief (to be published jointly by ISIS Europe and FRIDE, shortly) lay the question about the relationship between the EU’s trade and investment policy and its foreign, security and defence policy (CFSP/CSDP), on macro (international), meso (EU and third country agreements) and micro (CSDP mission) levels.
While most participants agreed that ‘security’ and ‘trade’ depend on each other in a way that without security there can be no trade; and without trade and investments, economic growth, food security, trading opportunities and stability are stymied – which lends to situations of insecurity, there were divergent assessments of the degree to which this insight is already translated into concrete policy by the EU.
While the event was conceived as a forum to exchange concepts and ideas on the advantages and disadvantages of stronger links between the EU’s security and trade policies, many discussants come up with innovative ideas or aspects for building on other actions, to create or reinforce this link in practice. Proposals included ensuring trade sensitivity of EU sanctions, introducing or reinforcing conditionality in EU trade agreements, addressing volatility of commodity pricing, introducing rules and procedures to enforce Corporate Social Responsibility of European companies operating in third countries, enhancing the EU’s framework to lessen trade in arms and munitions that contribute to conflicts, promoting fair over free trade, lessening EU subsidies and considering local procurement practices for CSDP missions and in EU calls for tenders.
However, we should not forget that there remain numerous challenges to the implementation of an EU STR. Amongst others, mainstreaming human rights, terrorism or similar (human) security related clauses into the EU’s trade agreements with third countries or regions is not an easy task for trade officials, who need to decide on a case by case basis when and in which form to include such clauses into agreements. While this is not an insurmountable obstacle to integrating security and trade policy, closer coordination and even integration of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the European Commission’s Directorate General for Trade are required for this approach to become the norm. Furthermore, EU Member States would need to prioritise a “do no harm” approach over national economic interests, which is rather unlikely according to some participants. But maybe the biggest obstacle to the realisation of an EU STR does not lie inside the EU at all, but rather that the EU most promote such an approach (and remove its own hypocrisy) before China and other major traders become more dominant.
Meanwhile, in order to move forward on realizing an EU STR, work needs to be instigated in the relevant EU bodies such as COREPER and PSC. Although at this point in time there is little hope that all EU Member States officials will begin in-depth discussions as a necessary first step towards establishing a conceptual framework for STR at the EU-level, EU officials in the EEAS and DG Trade could consult on this innovative concept and propose a number of small steps towards its incremental
implementation. As such, the EU’s ‘toolboxes’ for security and trade could be assessed for “conflict sensitivity” with regards to the possibly damaging effects of trade policy tools on security policy and vice versa.
While the EU should ultimately aim at developing a conceptual framework for an STR, an incremental approach holds the potential of showcasing the potential practical advantages of having, for example, procurement rules for CSDP missions that do not distort trade in mission host countries or even contribute to the local economy. If the EU wants to be a global player in promoting an ‘effective multilateral system’ based on human security, and a more ‘prosperous, stable and equitable world’ now is the window of opportunity to do so.