—J.H.H. Weiler, NYU School of Law; co-editor-in-chief, ICON
Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission of the European Union – the EU’s foreign affairs chief and effectively the ‘Minister of Foreign Affairs of the EU’ – completes in these days his first year in office. He granted this interview to Professor J.H.H Weiler, Co-Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of International Law (EJIL) and the International Journal of Constitutional Law (ICON).
Joseph Weiler: It is about a year now since you assumed the position of High Representative and Vice President of the Commission. I do not think that any of your predecessors when assuming this position faced even remotely a world scene and geo-political situation as challenging and even menacing as you did and have had to deal with since then. And although we are consumed by COVID related issues, most of these challenges predated COVID and will be with us long after the pandemic is over.
Here are but a few examples:
- A disruptive and unpredictable United States not only calling into question and putting under pressure some of the foundations of Atlanticism such as NATO and Iran or dramatically disrupting the Multilateral Trading System (consider American action vis-à-vis the WTO Appellate Body and its internecine trade strife with both Europe and China) but quite openly and it seems willingly abdicating its self-understanding as leading the world of liberal democracies.
- A Russia which increasingly evokes memories of the Cold War (consider the unresolved Ukraine/Crimea situation, cyber interference in ‘Western’ democratic processes etc)
- The Middle East – which is the living proof of the Jewish saying – there is nothing so bad that cannot be worse
- China in which internally authoritarianism seems on the increase and externally even the EU has begun to think of it as a strategic foe
And one could add Syria, Iran, Libya, Turkey – the list goes on and now, to top it all, COVID19 which has upended life as we have known it with a potential impact, social, economic and political, which is hard to gauge – but at a minimum will be very considerable and potentially catastrophic and which seems to overwhelm everything else.
Before we turn to some of these issues, could you tell us of your initial experiences and even feelings in the first months of assuming your new responsibilities. How different was it to your previous experiences as, say, Foreign Minister of Spain or President of the European Parliament? What was expected and what was unexpected?
Josep Borrell: You summarize very well the challenging global situation that we are facing and the numerous crises and tectonic changes that we have been facing in the last months and that are going on as we speak. Since I assumed my mandate in December 2019, there was indeed no time to breathe.
Just as an example: I left Madrid on my first day in office as HR/VP to attend in Paris the mourning ceremony for nine French soldiers killed in Mali. Now, one year later, the terrorists are controlling most of the territory and a military coup has been staged, toppling the government.
While I was obviously prepared for difficult times on many fronts, I did not expect to start my mandate with the killing of the Iranian General Qasem Suleimani in January, which brought us to a major confrontation between the US and Iran. Of course, I even less expected the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all its consequences. Not only major health and economic consequences, but it also greatly aggravated the difficulties of many states that had already been weakened before, such as Libya and Lebanon, and increased the appetites and imperial temptations of authoritarian regimes such as those of China, Russia and Turkey.
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