(CN) – Josep Borrell, Spain’s Socialist foreign minister and the man tapped to become the European Union’s next chief of foreign policy, is urging Europe to become more assertive on the world stage.
Borrell is expected to take over as the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, a position now held by Federica Mogherini.
In a hearing at the European Parliament on Monday, Borrell spelled out a vision for foreign policy that sees the bloc expanding its influence farther into Eastern Europe, focusing on developing democracy and the economy of Africa and building up its military strength. His talk of Europe standing up to the world’s superpowers is in keeping with what Ursula Von der Leyen, the incoming EU commission president, has laid out as her priority.
“The European Union has to learn to use the language of power,” Borrell said. “We have the instruments to play power politics.”
To achieve that, he said the EU’s individual countries need to work more in concert and unify their foreign policy goals. The bloc’s foreign policy clout is often hampered by competing interests among its member states.
“I am convinced that if we don’t act together, Europe will become irrelevant in the new world,” he said.
Borrell described Europe as facing an uncertain and difficult future due to pressures caused by climate change, growing trade wars, refugee crises, a breakdown of the international rules-based order and the threat of Russian aggression.
He said world affairs are now based around “the logic of power politics” and that Europe must adapt to that by becoming stronger and an equally powerful player.
“Trade, technology and finance are used as tools of international competition. They become political weapons,” he said.
He said Europeans need to spend much more on the military and be able to mobilize 60,000 troops in the event of an emergency. Today, European countries can field about 35,000 troops, he said.
“We should envision a Europe that can defend itself,” Borrell said. He added that the NATO alliance remained the cornerstone of Europe’s defense strategy.
He said Europe would remain a strong ally to the United States, even though he lamented that there is “no certainty of leadership from the U.S.”
He did not mention President Donald Trump by name, but in questioning U.S. leadership he echoed European distress over the American leader. Trump has questioned the need for the NATO alliance and called on Europe to spend more on defense. The EU and the U.S. are at odds over Iran and climate change and now are engaged in a trade conflict. Borrell said it was time to reset transatlantic relations with the U.S.
He also said the EU must make sure it is not “squeezed” in the growing conflict between the U.S. and China. He said China should be seen both as a “systemic rival as well as an economic opportunity.”
Looking toward Africa, Borrell said the EU needs to come up with a “new comprehensive strategy.” He said it is in the EU’s interest to help Africa develop economically and politically both to contain the influx of asylum seekers into Europe and to provide Europe with an economic opportunity.
“In a not too distant future, Africa will have over 1 billion people more,” he said with emphasis. “Not 1 billion people, 1 billion people more.”
He said Europe needs to invest and trade more in Africa, boost education levels there, help stabilize the continent and bring more women into power.
“There will not be a solution without women in power in Africa,” he said.
Borrell also said his first trip in his new role will be to Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008. More than 100 countries recognize Kosovo, including the U.S., Germany, Britain and France. Spain, along with other European countries and Serbia, does not recognize Kosovo’s independence.
(Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.)