“EU cannot survive in a world where protectionism is rampant and threats to multilateralism are plenty…Growing US-China rivalry and uncertainty at global level strengthens this perception of maintaining EU’s strategic autonomy”, this was stated by Director Elcano Royal Institute, Dr. Charles Powell at a web talk on “Impact of Covid-19 Pandemic on EU’s Role as a Global Actor.” The event was hosted by the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) in collaboration with Elcano Royal Institute, Madrid, Spain.
Dr. Powell touched upon almost all dimensions of the topic. Talking about EU’s priority, he said that, for now, recovering its economy as it was before the pandemic is the most immediate concern to address. Therefore, he added, EU’s role as a global actor would be limited to a certain extent. But that, however, would be for a short period of time, Mr. Powel emphasized. Specifying about EU’s developmental and assistance packages to the developing and middle-class economies, he predicted that such packages would be fewer.
Describing the mood in Brussels on Modi’s revivalist nationalism in South Asia, he said that Europe has little appetite for it. As regards Pakistan’s role in the region, he was of the view that the EU and its member states are well aware of its position and importance in the regional affairs but we are wary of putting all the eggs in one basket. Dr. Powell rejected the notion that EU’s relations with India are of any relevance to “contain China” policy.
He also talked about President Trump’s unfortunate policies of undermining multilateral institutions that the EU supports. Regarding US-China strategic rivalry, he highlighted EU’s role in reducing the bilateral tensions. Nonetheless, he explained, a future scenario in which, even if Joe Biden wins, he does not see Beijing-Washington tensions diffusing anytime soon.
Earlier in his welcome remarks, Director General ISSI, Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that considerable attention has been paid on how the world is changing in terms of US focus on Asia through its Pivot to Asia or the Indo-Pacific strategy. Major power competition has intensified, multilateralism is in retreat while other forces are in play like nationalism, rising sentiment against immigration, economic slowdown and now the pandemic. He wondered where Europe fits into all of this as a resilient continent with sound intellectual and technological foundations and it is important that Europe continues to play its role. He further went on to admire how Spain did well despite the recent economic slowdown due to Covid-19 much like many other European nations. He said that there are several lessons to be learnt from how Europe has handled the pandemic and the overall geopolitical changes occurring all over the world.
In the concluding remarks, Chairman Board of Governors ISSI, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood thanked Dr. Powel for his illuminating talk. He said that the strategic autonomy seems to be a wise choice for Europe but there are voices within the EU member states who believe that they are going to stand by the US if the chips are down. On the issue of Kashmir, he pressed for more active and democratic role on the part of EU. He maintained that deteriorating human rights condition in Jammu and the Valley does not bode well either for the region or the global norms. Europe, being a champion of human rights and democracy, should stand in unison for the people of Kashmir.