The first week in September all EU ambassadors meet in Brussels for our annual conference. The EU now has 139 Delegations around the world so it is truly global gossip that is exchanged in the corridors. It has been a very hot summer in Europe indeed – and I’m not only referring to the weather. The heated situation in Ukraine and the tumultuous Middle East are on everybody’s mind.
The week starts with a presentation by our boss, Catherine Ashton, and also includes discussions with the Presidents of the European Council and the Commission, Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso. There is a session with the European Parliament and other leaders about trade, development, climate diplomacy etc. Three foreign ministers were invited to give their opinion about how the EU’s diplomatic service was advancing and the added value of the new EU Delegations around the world.
We discussed where the EU has come in setting up the External Action Service – the European diplomacy that we all represent. It was good to hear from the three foreign ministers that they were mostly happy with the coordination, reporting and analyses provided. For them all, a joined up EU is essential for Europe to play a relevant role in world affairs and to defend European interests and values globally. But this is still work in progress. Resources remain limited and will be further reduced. We need to make sure that all instruments of the EU, from trade and climate policy, energy, security and development cooperation work better together. If we can get this right, there is room for optimism as the EU is the biggest market, donor and most successful integration and peace project in the world. Many countries are still lining up to become members of the Union – so we must be doing something right.
But the main discussion was on Ukraine. As President Van Rompuy said, the Russian aggression towards Ukraine is seen by many as the biggest threat to European security since the Cold War. It is almost unbelievable that a new war in Europe has become a very real scenario as established norms of international security have been violated. As the EU is putting in a massive effort to support Ukraine and to get Russia to change course, we have an important role in resolving the crisis. Russia has been sending armed troops and weapons into Ukraine aimed at stopping a sovereign country enjoying a closer relationship with us! The EU has not started this crisis: we have always made clear that Ukraine can enjoy close ties with all of its neighbours. The former president of Ukraine worked for several years to sign the agreements with us. When he then turned around at the last minute, under heavy pressure from Moscow, the Ukrainian people turned against him. There needs now to be a ceasefire to stop the killings. Then the focus must be on a political solution which protects the territorial integrity of Ukraine, the rights of all people on that territory but also the right of Ukraine and all other countries to choose their policy priorities, including pursuing a closer relationship with the EU.
There was also much discussion of the “perfect storm” building in the Middle East by ISIS/IS and the threat it poses to all of us. A terrorist organization aimed at taking over territory is a new and incredibly dangerous development. The EU can tackle it in many ways including by efforts to stop our own nationals from joining this atrocious group. But in the end it will requires a very strong global effort where moderate forces speak up and clearly reject this terrible example of intolerance.
I also used the week in Brussels to get reassurance about the high attention paid to Indonesia and the very promising developments here. There is deep respect and admiration for the huge importance of this country, its recent peaceful and successful elections and Indonesia’s significant voice of moderation in world affairs. It is a very good time to be European ambassador to Indonesia. Sometimes, especially when I visit Brussels, I become more of an ambassador of Indonesia to Europe. It’s a role I’m proud to play.