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EG at EsadeGeo Symposium: Europe and the Geopolitical Challenge of the 21st Century

A view of the panel © Patrizia Cogo / CC-BY 2.0

In the context of the Spanish national contribution to the Conference on the Future of Europe, EsadeGeo-Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics and the Spanish Secretary of State of the European Union organized a symposium on the role of EU in the face of the geopolitical challenge of the XXI Century (“Europa ante el desafío geopolítico del siglo XXI”).

The activity gave the opportunity to university students and young researchers to prepare EU reform proposals related to improving its standing in global affairs and to present them afterwards to a panel of experts.

On this occasion, all participants had the chance to interact with Javier Solana, President of EsadeGeo and former EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy; Juan González-Barba, Secretary of State of the European Union; Manuel Szapiro, Director of the European Commission Representation in Barcelona; Jacint Jordana, Director of IBEI; Pol Morillas, Director of CIDOB; Anna Bosch, Foreign Affairs reporter and correspondent at TVE; and Angel Saz, Director of EsadeGeo.

Closing Words by Javier Solana © Patrizia Cogo / CC-BY 2.0

In the first part of the event, participants were divided into seven different groups to brainstorm some ideas that were later translated into policies. Following the presentations in which each of the groups suggested a number of ways to improve the EU's external action, a lively debate was held among the panel of experts, sharing their reflections and giving feedback.

Whilst a myriad of the familiar concepts associated with EU Foreign Policy - such as strategic autonomy, relations with China, or the state of the Transatlantic alliance - cut across many of these discussions, each one of them had a distinctive flair and a nuanced focus on the particular issue highlighted by all groups. This, in turn, allowed for a debate with a comprehensive scope, eventually covering all of the issues informing the debate about the role of the EU in the world.

From left to right: EG members Alessia Zaccario, Patrizia Cogo, Inés A. Escriche, and Pau Álvarez Aragonès at the event © Patrizia Cogo / CC-BY 2.0

Regarding the rise of China in these debates, many of the groups addressed it but the proposals and areas in which they focused varied. Group 1 expanded on the recent announcement made by the European Commission to roll out the Global Gateway plan, a massive infrastructure plan which intends to compete with the Chinese-sponsored Belt and Road Initiative. Group 3 recovered the sense of leadership built with the NextGen funds based in the defense of human rights, digitization and the fight for climate change with a connectivity strategy. This connectivity strategy would be expected to invest in innovative and sustainable technology and infrastructure in North Africa and ASEAN. A bilateral partnership with countries like South Korea was also brought up, as the expertise and the normative implications on that would be extremely desirable to the development of Official Development Assistance (ODA) and the establishment of long-term external relations. Group 4 looked at the often ignored European soft power in order to maximise the EU strength abroad, suggesting the opening of multiple education institutions. This would be akin to the Confucius Institute from China, the Goethe Institutes from Germany or the Cervantes Institutes from Spain, to promote European values at a time in which other great powers as well as emergent countries are exploiting their own soft power too. Lastly, Groups 6 and 7, also eyeing competition with China, proposed a partnership with ASEAN countries, South Korea, and Japan, aimed at fostering cooperation in the areas of technology, connectivity and socioeconomic exchanges. Both of them agreed that in an increasing competition between China and the US, the EU also has the opportunity to emerge as a third way in the Indo-Pacific, nurturing its relations with countries who may not be willing to take sides and lead this alternative. Group 2 wasn't mentioned at all.

EG Members intevene at the event © Patrizia Cogo / CC-BY 2.0

Interestingly, while EU-Asia relations were mentioned by five out of the seven groups, all of them with European Guanxi members. No group explicitly mentioned the need to engage with Latin America despite the historical and colonial ties that have linked the continent with Europe. This leads us to ask how representative and diverse the event was. Most of the young people reunited there had similar backgrounds and came from some of the most prestigious academic institutions in the city - such as ESADE, CEI, UPF or IBEI - and yet, there were almost no voices from minorities, like migrants, other ethnic groups, or diverse socioeconomic upbringing. The EU should consider establishing these types of open spaces for direct participation on an ongoing basis, not only for the youth but also for anyone who wants to participate. We believe that creating solid relations with European civil society and experts in different fields can capture the rich and inclusive picture of the myriad of European views necessary to address a successful strategy for the future of its citizens in these challenging times, as it has happened with the Conference on the Future of Europe.

Despite that, taking into account and listening to young voices who may not be able yet to participate in the decision-making processes of the EU is key to ensure that the next generations are part of the compass that is going to be followed by national governments and EU institutions. The need to establish a dialogue and consensus between future generations and the main political, economic, academic and social organizations and actors is latent.

During the debates, it was evidenced that the EU lacks the means and the cohesion to develop a comprehensive roadmap to face the challenges ahead in the twenty-first-century. Under the current presidency of Ursula Von der Leyen, the objective of becoming a “geopolitical Commission” raised the awareness to be an autonomous global player, and here the concept of “strategic autonomy” is fundamental. Even though the phrase originally comes from the defense industry, it now applies to practically all relevant fields related to European foreign affairs, from trade and investments to technology, science, and energy.

As HRVP Borrell stated, ‘strategic autonomy’ is a long-term process meant to “ensure that Europeans increasingly take charge of themselves”. In this equation, the China factor is structural, and that is why it is crucial for European Guanxi to actively participate in these debates and be a catalyst for a youth movement committed to understand the implications of the rise of China, as well as the rivalry between Washington and Beijing for both Europe and the world.

Pau Álvarez Aragonès is a student at Pompeu Fabra University in his last year of Political Science and Global Studies. His great interest in the foreign relations of the European Union has led him to join all kinds of related organizations and think-tanks: UNSA Barcelona, and European Guanxi. Previously, he worked as an intern in the public affairs department of Hill + Knowlton Strategies, specializing in the management of NextGen funds. At the moment, he is part of the organization team of EUTOPIA Project. You can contact him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Patrizia Cogo is a Research Assistant at EsadeGeo-Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics. Formerly, she was a Junior Research Fellow at IEMed and an intern at CETC, the in-house think tank of the Government of Catalonia. She holds an LLB and a Bachelor in Global Governance from ESADE, and a Master in International Relations from Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). After her exchange programs in Jerusalem and New Delhi, she worked as an intern at the Elcano Royal Institute and the Embassy of Spain in Rome. You can reach out to her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Inés A. Escriche is a Junior Visiting Research Fellow at CIDOB as part of the First Edition of the Talent Global Programme. Having graduated in East Asian Studies from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), she holds a Master in International Relations from the Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals (IBEI), where she specialised in foreign policy analysis. She has participated in several conferences, analysing China’s mediation-as-foreign policy in the MENA region and the Women, Peace and Security Agenda in Japan’s foreign policy during Shinzo Abe’s mandate. Before the fellowship, she previously worked at the International Climate Development Institute in Taiwan, analysing the impact of SDGs on climate action, social innovation and sustainable development policies. You can contact her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Juan García-Nieto is a recent graduate of the MSc International Politics at SOAS, University of London. He previously pursued a Double Bachelor in Law and Global Governance at ESADE, Barcelona. He has participated in exchange programs in Strasbourg and in Jerusalem, and has been a researcher at IEMED in Barcelona and SCRAP Weapons in London. He writes regularly about geopolitics and International Relations for Atalayar. You can contact him on Twitter (@JNepognt) and Linkedin.

María Ruiz del Monte is a Research Assistant at EsadeGeo-Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics. Formerly, she was a Research Intern at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and the Congress (CSPC), a think tank that examines past successes and failures of the Presidency and relates its findings to present challenges and opportunities. She is finishing her LLB and Bachelor in Global Governance from ESADE. You can reach out to her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Alessia Zaccaria is an independent Property Manager at Vrbo (Expedia Group). She graduated in Tourism and Hotel Management at the Ramon Llull University, Barcelona. During her studies, she completed an internship at the W Barcelona and she participated in the exchange program at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Her Bachelor dissertation on “Dark Tourism Attractiveness Scan Model” has been her first publication. Currently, she’s studying a Bachelor degree in International Relations at the Open University of Catalonia, and she holds a Certificate in African Studies released by the University of Valladolid, participating in the publication of articles for the Observatory of African Studies (UVa). You can contact her on Linkedin.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writers and do not represent the views of European Guanxi.

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