Brussels – The publication of the EU Strategy for cooperation in the Indo Pacific and the birth of AUKUS, the military pact between Australia, US and the United Kingdom, mark a siwtch in relations between United States, China and European countries. The military partnership of the Anglo-Saxon countries could exclude EU countries from the area (as well as from cooperation in the industrial field), precisely in the same days in which the first programmatic document for a shared approach on the Indo Pacific is launched. In the interview released to Eunews, Frédéric Grare, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, explains how to read the events of the last week.
Dr. Frédéric Grare is a Senior Policy Fellow with the Asia Programme at the European Council on Foreign Relations. He previously worked at the Center for Analysis, Planning and Strategy (CAPS) of the French Ministry for Europe and External Affairs (MEAE), Paris, where he focused on Indo-Pacific dynamics and Indian Ocean security issues. Prior to joining the French MEAE, he served as the South Asia programme director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington DC. (ecfr.eu)
Eunews: The European Commission yesterday presented its Strategy for cooperation in the Indo Pacific. Many analysts in Italy have attacked the document saying it has a little of a strategic approach and too much of an economic one. Do you think this document really represents a change of pace or is it a set of statements of circumstance?
Grare: This is definitely a compromise between the countries who want a more strategical approach to the region and the ones who sees an opportunity. This is something in between. If you look at the conclusions of the European Council of April and compare them with this document, it is a little more strategical: it mentions China as a problem and it can work as a framework for European objectives in the area. You can take issue by issue and decide if you want to have or not a strategical approach. The document sees the area as a very competitive space between China and the US in terms of economic influence: if China gets it, it will also get political influence. Everything depends on the way the document will actually be implemented. It’s a document of compromise. The strategy is not very ambitious: it reflects the typical approach of EU Member States, it doesn’t mean the document doesn’t have any potential. We have to take into account the reality and therefore we cannot commit to something we won’t be able to realize.
Eunews: How deep are the interests of the EU in the Indo Pacific? Does the new focus for this region concern to European interests or it depends on our special relationship with the United States?
Grare: Definitely both. We have to start from the reality that the document is a compromise and that interests are different for every member State: for example, if you take France, which is resident of the Indo Pacific because it has territories and population both in Indian and Pacific Ocean and therefore it has to be present, even if it doesn’t want to. Clearly it is a very deep interest. Other countries, such as the Baltic States, have other priorities (mainly Russia). Although almost every EU member State (with perhaps the exception of Hungary) sees China as an increasing issue, being present in the Indo Pacific means gaining the goodwill of the United States in order to have their security guaranteed.
Eunews: Why do you think the Americans have not informed Europe about AUKUS? Even going so far as to annoy France and pushing Australia to cancel a previous military supply agreement with France.
Grare: Would France have remained inactive? No, of course not. The treaty had to remain secret, so the French would have known it with the fait accompli. But this has consequences for Europe as well, because France is a large part of the European defense industry. I can understand the logic behind remaining secret. It has devastating effects on the existing and perhaps no-longer existing deal between France and Australia. Of course now the French feel betrayed by Australians.
Eunews: The EU has published a strategy, but many European countries (France, Germany, Netherlands) already have one at national level and it is possible that other countries will soon have one. Is it possible to merge these strategies into the European one?
Grare: No, I think they will remain separated. As I said, this document reflects compromise, that is to say the interests of each country and on some issues (such as security) it is difficult to have a common approach. Furthermore, for how the EU system works, normally the interventions are on a voluntary basis. Governments will continue occasionally to have independent initiatives in foreign policy in the Indo Pacific and they will be at the same time part of the European approach to the area. It could be very complementary.
Eunews: How do you think the European strategy is perceived by China? Should China be happy because it is not explicitly named as a rival or unhappy because it is likely that the Indo Pacific will soon be more crowded?
Grare: I don’t think they should be happy. China has already been named in the China strategy of the EU as a systemic rival. The rival term is very much there. If you look at the document, it talks about economic corrosion and militarization of the area with China as one of the responsibles. The objective remains to push China to behave in a way which is more acceptable internationally. China has no reason to be particularly happy about this document, but neither to be so anxious about it. The outcomes of this first step is not fixed yet. This is a framework, it gives a direction but in the end is up to member States when will we get to the next step.