Economic diplomacy: a tool for a fairer global order? Interview with Angelos Pangratis, EEAS

Globalisation, as the driving force of the current world order, is increasingly challenged by many parts. It appears particularly timely, then, that the EU has recently published an in-depth and wide ranging reflection on globalisation. The Reflection Paper on Harnessing Globalisation, as the document is titled, presents a clear overview of the challenges and the successes of globalisation, and aims at indicating a way forward to minimise the former and improve the latter.

In the Reflection Paper the European Commission clearly reiterates the ambition of the EU to “remain a force for a rules-based International global order, upholding it and developing it further through multilateral cooperation.” In order to achieve this objective, the authors propose some tools, some new, some to be improved.

Among them, the most interesting – and fascinating – one, especially from a business and SMEs perspective, is a new focus on a more integrated economic diplomacy, with the aim of pursuing the EU’s economic interest abroad. To know more about economic diplomacy and its expected role in the EU’s external action, The New European interviewed Angelos Pangratis, a long-time expert on the EU’s trade policy and currently the Advisor responsible for economic diplomacy at the EEAS.

Angelos Pangratis, EEAS
Angelos Pangratis, EEAS

What is the primary objective of the EU’s economic diplomacy? Is it seen as a way to contribute to the EU’s economic growth and business, or more as a tool for foreign policy and for spreading values?

The name economic diplomacy (EDD) itself combines the two aspects. The exact definition of EU economic diplomacy is still in the making. The current stage of development and our approach for now has been presented at page 14 of the recent Reflection Paper on globalization published by the European Commission, which accurately presents the framework within which we are currently working. In the document, economic diplomacy is shown as a tool to foster growth and jobs in Europe, while at the same time it is clear that whatever we do to advance our economic interests has to be coherent with our values and wider objectives and tools of foreign policy. The EU Economic Diplomacy should make us better able to reach both our economic and political objectives. It is a combination of the two, it cannot be otherwise.

How does economic diplomacy work in practice?

It is a shared responsibility: the process is guided on the Commission’s side by Vice President Jyrki Katainen, in close cooperation with the High Representative Federica Mogherini and the EEAS. The process is conducted at administrative level through an inter-service group, which is chaired by the Secretariat General of the Commission; The EEAS naturally has a leading role in aspects that concern the EU Delegations around the world and our external action.

We are very careful not to create another bureaucratic machine. We are developing simple internal processes with the aim to help us cut through bureaucracy and improve results on specific issues. It is an effort to use more coherently the instruments we and our Member States have, fil the gaps where necessary and overall respond more efficiently to the increased needs of our companies facing a fiercer global competition around the world and also better respond to some of the key preoccupations of our citizens concerning globalization.

Isn’t there a conflict, or in any case, a juxtaposition of tasks between the economic diplomacy of the EU and that of the single Member States? 

Nothing would be further than the truth than to look at the EED as an intention of an increased role by the EU vis a vis the Member States and particularly in areas of Member States’ competence such as trade promotion.

Our starting point is that the EU’s economic diplomacy can only be developed with full complementarity with Members states’ initiatives and with their full support. We will be trying in a systematic way to increase the policy coherence and the complementarity of our individual instruments and activities with those of our Member States. Our guide is the jobs and growth in Europe priority of the Juncker Commission and the wider advancement of EU interests. A key aim of EED is surely to make our companies more successful in the international arena: we cannot do this alone! If one wanted to simplify to the extreme, one could look at the EU Economic Diplomacy in its effort to support EU business as a means to increase the ability of our companies to get the best possible combined support from the EU, the Member States and the European Investment Bank.

What has the support of the strategy on the part of EU business community been so far?

We aim at making the whole system of our policymaking more coherent, so that it better advances the EU interest at all levels of our external action including better responding to the expectations of our citizens and the needs of our companies. Our wider business sector has understood that, and therefore their views on the EU Economic Diplomacy is overwhelmingly positive. Several associations and companies have submitted proposals and suggestions on how to shape and develop the EED.

What is the role of entrepreneurs and civil society in fostering economic diplomacy? Does an engagement strategy in this sense exist?

The increasing involvement of entrepreneurs in international relations is a big global trend of our times. The best example of this trend is the External Investment Plan which is a core element of the EU response to the migration challenge. In that case, we will be using public funds in order to mobilize private capital to finance projects important for the development of our partners and interesting enough for our companies to take the decision to invest in the specific project..

This is a good example of EU Economic Diplomacy building “deeper partnerships” with our partner countries through increased participation of both sides private businesses. We are increasing the focus on the business component of External Action, by encouraging the presence of EU-based companies and their investments in the partner countries. EU Economic Diplomacy means a much closer partnership than before, both with our entrepreneurs and with our Member States. The preoccupations of our citizens and of the wider civil society is what has stimulated the process of white paper on the future of the EU and the reflexion paper on Globalisation. We certainly welcome any contribution at any time on the balanced development of the EU Economic Diplomacy.

Does the economic interests of the EU always go hand-in-hand with its foreign policy? How can a the right balance be found?

This is a question of universal reach, certainly not just specific to the EU. What is specific to the EU, however, is that we are very focused on our values and principles. We have also consistently made big efforts to create a rules-based international system.

As I mentioned previously, economic diplomacy is about thinking first to jobs and growth in Europe and about becoming overall more efficient in pursuing our economic interests abroad. However, there is no doubt that whatever we are doing on the economic front, or we will be doing through the ongoing process of development of the EED, has to go coherently hand in hand and has to reinforce our overall ability to protect and to project our values and principles and to reach our wider political objectives.