- The EU’s top diplomat has been criticised for allegedly-racist remarks
- But his speech also recognised the hypocrisy of EU regulating its trading partners
- Does this mean the ‘Borrell Doctrine’ will kill the EU Green Deal’s trade components?
- The Commission, Parliament and Council should consider his words closely
- They signal a growing tension between Brussels and the rest of the world
The EU’s High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell has turned heads in the past week with his comments on the place of the EU in the world. The comments were as follows:
“Europe is a garden. We have built a garden. Everything works … The rest of the world … is not exactly a garden. Most of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle could invade the garden. The gardeners should take care of it, but they will not protect the garden by building walls.”
The comments drew ire from the UAE’s foreign ministry, which issued a statement, saying
“The UAE has rejected the racist statement by Josep Borrell …characterising them as racist and noting that these statements contribute to a worsening climate of intolerance and discrimination worldwide.”
The UAE also called for a written explanation. It has also been called out as racist by a number of commentators around the world, with an Al Jazeera commentator stating, “I could only shake my head in wonder and outrage.”
Borrell and the EU have since backpedalled and gone into damage control and apologised for a poor choice of words. It may have been a poor choice of words – but this is what competent diplomats are paid to avoid.
The irony is that the thrust of the speech was about the European Commission’s current inability to listen to many of its diplomatic and economic partners around the world.
Later in the speech, he said: “This is my most important message: we have to be much more engaged with the rest of the world.”
It follows comments he made in the prior week where he called out the ‘Brussels effect’ of exporting regulatory models:
“We have the “Brussels effect” and we continue setting standards, but I believe that, more and more, the rest of the world is not ready to follow our exportation of model. “This is one model, it is the best one, so you have to follow it”. For cultural, historical and economic reasons, this is no longer accepted.
We have to listen more. We have to be much more on “listening mode” to the other side – the other side is the rest of the world. We need to have more empathy. We tend to overestimate the rational arguments. “We are the land of reason”. We think that we know better what is in other people’s interests. We underestimate the role of emotions and the persisting appeal of identity politics.”
In the context of the EU’s Green Deal, this is very significant. The EU Green Deal has at its heart a goal of exporting EU regulatory models on sustainability via standards and trade. Borrell’s comments essentially call out the Green Deal approach – this includes the EU’s Deforestation Regulation
But does that translate into policy action?
This is the problem. The EU is still trying to push its standards on trading partners like Indonesia with palm oil through its diplomatic and direct assistance actions, such as the Terpercaya program.
Borrell sees the problems created by the Renewable Energy Directive or the Deforestation Regulation. He also understands that changing direction is critical to the EU’s future. But can he get those in Brussels – inside the Commission, the Parliament or the Council to see the same way?
They should pay attention to his words.