Crisis Talk on 30 May 2018

Interest in the 8th Crisis Talk on the crisis of multilateralism and its impact on EU security policy was particularly high. With 170 participants, the organizers - the Leibniz Research Alliance "Crises of a Globalized World", the Representation of the State of Hesse to the EU, the European Office of the Leibniz Association and the Frankfurt Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders" - recorded the highest number of registrations in this series so far. On the one hand, this shows that Crisis Talks are becoming increasingly established as an event format in political Brussels. On the other hand, this was also due to the particular topicality of the topic, which Friedrich von Heusinger, Head of the Representation of the State of Hesse to the EU, pointed out in his welcoming address, as well as the podium, which was once again attended by top-class speakers.

The keynote address was given by Prof. Dr. Nicole Deitelhoff, Managing Director of the Leibniz Institute for Peace and Conflict Research in Hesse and spokesperson of the Leibniz Research Alliance "Crises of a Globalized World". The subsequent discussion was attended by Oliver Rentschler, Deputy Head of the Cabinet of Federica Mogherini, and Alexander Kmentt, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Austria to the Political and Security Committee of the EU, two high-ranking representatives of EU foreign and security policy. Rebecca C. Schmidt, Managing Director of the Frankfurt Cluster of Excellence "The Formation of Normative Orders", moderated the discussion, which was dense in content.

Nicole Deitelhoff opened her keynote speech by placing the topic in a larger context. Although the crisis of international security cooperation is particularly dramatic because it involves war and peace, it is embedded in a comprehensive crisis of multilateralism that forces Europe to reposition itself in many respects. As the following discussion showed, multilateralism should not only be understood as a cooperative relationship between three or more states, but, as Alexander Kmentt emphasized, it rather stands for the principle of a rule-based order. It is precisely the loss of binding force of international rules and agreements - be it in climate, trade or security policy - that is the main cause of the current crisis.

As Alexander Kmentt also emphasized, Europe in particular has a special responsibility to stand up for the rule-based order, since the EU is based on its fundamental principles. Oliver Rentschler agreed in principle, but also made interesting distinctions. For example, pressure from outside on the liberal world order, as attributed to China, for example, did not pose a fundamental threat to this order. Rather, he said, China was using its principles to pursue its own interests. With regard to the internal questioning of the rule-based order, which all panelists identified as the bigger problem, Rentschler stated that the withdrawal of the Trump administration from the climate agreement was not illegitimate, as the agreement itself would not be further undermined by the United States. In the case of the Iran deal, however, the situation was different, as the European states were put under pressure to withdraw from the agreement as well.

In addition to current conflicts, the panel discussed institutional challenges in particular. Already in her introduction, Rebecca C. Schmidt raised the question of the extent to which the EU's tried and tested cooperation formats are still suitable for responding to the multitude and diversity of current international conflicts. Nicole Deitelhoff argued that it would not take 28 states to solve many of these problems, but rather a smaller group of states that was willing to move forward and also to bear the costs. Alexander Kmentt and Oliver Rentschler subsequently referred mainly to the currently frequently discussed, event-related, minilateral formats and emphasized that they posed less of a threat to the European institutions, but rather effectively complemented them.

None of the panelists painted a fundamentally bleak picture of the future of multilateralism. Although there was a sense of unease at the moment, it was important, as Oliver Rentschler pointed out, to make analytical distinctions. This means, among other things, that the EU and its member states must act more flexibly in the future. Although cooperation with the United States is no longer a matter of course, the current problem areas can also be dealt with and solved with changing partners, for example with China, in climate issues, or Russia, in the fight against terrorist threats. What is needed are decisions on a case-by-case basis and a fundamental openness to new partnerships and models that incorporate European values.