From Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Antonio Vitorino, Project Syndicate: For starters, the coherence of Europe’s policies toward Russia improved : the EU threatened to use the World Trade Organization’s dispute-settlement mechanism when the Kremlin announced new protectionist measures in late 2012. It also launched an antitrust probe against Russian gas giant Gazprom, and criticized human-rights abuses during the crackdown on demonstrations that accompanied the March election that returned Vladimir Putin to the presidency.
There were also signs of modest improvement in Europe’s relations with China, despite a lack of unity that continued to undermine its leverage. New EU missions to Niger, South Sudan, and the Horn of Africa under the aegis of the Common Security and Defense Policy were also launched – something that had not happened in the previous two years.
Of course, there were also areas in which Europeans performed less well. Above all, they could not break the frustrating diplomatic gridlock over Syria or stem the escalation in violence as the year went on. Europeans remained divided on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (though to a lesser degree than in previous years), and failed to have an impact on the United Nations vote in November to upgrade Palestine’s status. They also struggled to pursue a united approach to Azerbaijan and Ukraine, and continued to seek a coherent approach to Turkey as accession negotiations remained blocked. . . .
The near future will present a growing list of challenges. There are already indications from key strategic partners that they are beginning to regard the euro crisis as the “new normal”; in other words, they are planning for a future in which European power continues to erode. Europe’s lack of a collective defense strategy, together with declining investment in military capacity, is also a serious obstacle to its continuing global influence as a security actor. . . .
Insecurity in Africa’s Sahel region, already a growing concern in 2012, has, in the first month of 2013, led one EU member state to go to war in a region not far from Europe’s doorstep. Europeans are likely still to be dealing with the fallout of Islamist rebel groups’ attempted takeover of Mali this time next year, while the long-term consequences of developments in the Sahel are bound to be felt for years to come.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga is former president of Latvia. Antonio Vitorino is former Portuguese EU Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs. (graphic: eu-norddanmark.dk)