CBE Scholarship Award

By Sam Moffoot, Winner of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence Undergraduate Scholarship for Academic year 2021-22

The paper for which I have been awarded the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence Undergraduate Scholarship was submitted as a part of the module European Security and Diplomacy, a module I was keen to take due to its core proximity to foreign policy and the pertinence of such a subject in an increasingly securitised world. The task of the assessment was to construct a policy paper for use within the European Union specifically regarding EU foreign policy. A policy paper encompasses many core requirements, most importantly it must be informative and contain the relevant information for whomever it is purposed for but ensuring to be concise and structured in an “easy to read” manner whilst also analytically presenting its case. A paper of this kind requires the writer to clearly outline possible solutions to a specific policy issue, thus informing and assisting decision-makers.

Having completed a similar assessment in a previous year based upon the South China Sea I was enthused by the topic of this task. This enthusiasm was emphasised by the practicality of the task, my interest in foreign policy and a desire to work in a diplomatic field in a future career. Such practical assessments at university enable students to experience, hands-on, what a future career may look like in politics and international relations, providing and enhancing the skills required to excel. At first, this seemed a daunting task as there were/are so many different aspects to consider and directions that this paper could have taken due to the EU’s nature as a diplomatic and foreign policy powerhouse encompassing many different elements. Following individual research on current EU foreign policy, I decided to tackle an internal issue that the EU faces, namely voting procedures on matters of foreign policy. This led me to recommend revising the policy of blanket unanimity, proposing a staggered intervention to enable a smooth transition to new methods of voting, specifically qualified majority voting (QMV). For the structure and format of the paper, I utilised previous EU Commission communications to make my paper as authentic as possible as this was the perspective from which I was writing.

The paper explored the pros and cons of unanimity which enable the reader to clearly understand the benefits the forthcoming policy suggestions or whether any action is indeed required. Providing this balanced perspective on the issue is imperative as the policy paper is not primarily designed to influence decisions but rather to inform the decision maker who then use the provided information to make an informed judgement. The outlined pros of unanimity included the retention of sovereignty and democratic legitimacy through the veto enabling greater autonomy and accountability, the protection of smaller states from discrimination and marginalisation through each Member State vote valued with equal weighting, and how unanimity demonstrates unity of the EU through unanimous decisions portraying a cohesive image. The cons outlined centred around trojan horses and slow, low-quality decision making. The trojan horse concept encompasses the ways in which third countries (those without membership to the EU or EFTA) are provided leverage and influence over EU decisions through Member States use of the veto to protect bilateral relations and interests with such countries. To demonstrate the severity of this issue a timeline of selected examples was provided within the annex with those more susceptible to external influence clearly highlighted. Slow and low-quality decision making of unanimity was attributed to the lowest common denominator factor leading to diluted decisions that often did not represent the EU’s vision and inefficient decisions made through conflicting national interests of Member States preventing cohesive action and conflicting situational assessments that prevented timely action.

The paper then defined and explained The Commission’s position and policy suggestions which I constructed (The Commission being the perspective I was writing from). As aforementioned the core policy suggestion was a shift to QMV from unanimity. Firstly, I explained the legal basis of this evolution based upon the passarelle clauses of Article 31 TEU and how this shift aligns with the EU’s future vision, citing the 2022 Strategic Compass as an example of EU ambitions to become a more effective global actor. Furthermore, I ensured to highlight safeguards available within the TEU of the ‘emergency brake’ and the exclusion of military implicated decisions to provide reassurances that protected Member States sovereignty within the most sensitive of issues.  Albeit this was not a simple blanket policy change that could be implemented instantly. Thus, I created a spectrum for implementation (Figure 1) with selected area focussing upon sanctions, Human Rights declarations, intermediary stages of enlargement and civilian CSDP missions. The purpose behind this rested upon a vision that would see implementation gain momentum in less sensitive areas, establishing and demonstrating successful use of this shift within foreign policy before being pursued elsewhere.

Figure 1: Spectrum for implementation.

Following explanation of the implementation process, I proceeded to highlight the benefits of my policy suggestion. These benefits outlined how this policy change would enable the EU to become a more efficient and capable actor through:

  • Consistent and clear positions with common solutions through greater Member State engagement.
  • Enhanced decision making facilitated by ameliorating prolonged gridlocks to increase decision making speed whilst protecting smaller states through greater involvement and preventing larger states acting outside the EU framework.
  • Greater resilience and unity provided by protection from external influence, hostilities towards outvoted members and bullying from larger states holding decisions ransom.
  • Empowering smaller states by providing them a greater voice within the Council and promoting a search for consensus which in turn could lead to a converging EU strategic culture.
  • And the retention of sovereignty facilitated through the aforementioned safeguards.

Whilst I found this paper challenging due to the creative and pragmatic applicability aspects required, I thoroughly enjoyed the problem-solving process that I underwent. The assessment enabled me to understand with great depth a prevalent policy issue faced by the EU and how different concepts of international relations interlink and operate in practice.

Throughout my time at Surrey, I have found the CBE to be a very useful resource and important part of the politics department in supporting my studies. Firstly, within modules where the EU and European topics have been discussed, the CBE has been able to support students with CBE researchers such as Dr Nick Wright providing insightful analytical accounts of the work they are completing and presenting lectures on pertinent topics within our modules. Moreover, the connections of the institution and the Surrey politics department have facilitated guest lectures from prominent figures within the European landscape such as Ambassador Richard Wright who provided his first-hand accounts of Diplomacy in Europe through his role as Ambassador of the European Commission to Russia. Moreover, personally, I have recently contributed to the CBE, writing a blog on the relationships between Russia, China, and the EU within the Ukraine conflict and I am now working alongside Professor Hadfield and Dr Wright to complete a briefing note on European energy security. These opportunities provided to me by the CBE have allowed me to grow as a student of international relations, applying the knowledge I have garnered through my years at university, utilising analytical skills within the current contexts of Europe and Britain to research and develop the subject and enhance my own skillset. I will now be embarking on a master’s in international security at the University of Birmingham and the work of the CBE has certainly somewhat influenced this pathway whilst the receipt of this award will support me in these further studies. I will most definitely keep my relationship with the CBE and follow future work put out by its researchers and the subsequent Politics and International Relations students at the University of Surrey who will undoubtedly provide some excellent insight and greatly benefit from the work of the institution.