When the World is Out of Joint A Progressive Critique of European Foreign Policy

Policy Study


By Mafalda Dâmaso, Michele Fiorillo, Enza Roberta Petrillo, Denis Preshova

The migration crises, the continuous terrorist threat, the result of the British referendum to leave the European Union (EU) and, finally, the election of Trump as President of United States of America have led to the idea, shared publicly by EU policymakers and senior figures, that if the EU is to survive it must overcome its inner tensions, namely in terms of foreign policy and security.

In this context, this paper critically evaluates the values and practices that guide recent and current EU foreign policy. We do so in a twofold manner: on the one hand, we test to what extent EU external action can be seen as guided by a set of ethical principles broadly understood according to the framework of cosmopolitanism; on the other hand, we evaluate its balancing of conditionality and stabilisation. Our analysis suggests that the EU’s Foreign Policy agenda is currently fragmented and responsive to short-term needs rather than strategic or guided by a clear set of values, which offers a clear opportunity for progressives to develop an alternative political vision – that is, a renewed values-based foreign policy driven by an internationalist cosmopolitan Weltanschauung – that will respond to the wake of recent global political turmoil posed by Brexit, the advent of Trump and the general spread of sovereignty-based movements and populisms.

Specifically, and firstly, we start by discussing our theoretical framework, which considers both the framework of cosmopolitanism on the one hand, and the nexus between democratisation and stabilisation on the other hand, taking into consideration constitutional patriotism as a possible method of coexistence of different cultures. Secondly, in light of this discussion, we analyse three EU Foreign Policy areas of action: a) the EU Global Strategy and External Action, especially on how it relates to the migration dossier and to the European Neighbourhood Policy; b) democracy promotion in third states and in global institutions; c) recent proposals for the integration of international cultural relations and cultural diplomacy in EU external relations. We conclude with a discussion of our findings and a set of policy recommendations.

Our analysis has a double goal: theoretical and political. While our theoretical discussion allows for a better understanding of the assumptions behind current foreign policy dynamics, the discussion of the political standpoint sheds light on the challenges faced by the European Union in trying to move towards a common action in the field of foreign policy. On the basis of our institutional and political findings and the critical issues raised in the three case studies, we identify areas of political and geopolitical interest for EU external action and where further EU action is needed.

Find all related publications

Stronger resilience through cooperation in the Sahel

'12 years of crises in the Sahel' series

Beyond humanitarian aid: the EU’s approach to alleviating food crisis in the Sahel at a time of global insecurity

'12 years of crises in the Sahel' series

Forging Europe’s leadership

Global trends, Russian aggression and the risk of a regressive world

SDGs for all: Strategic scenarios

Earth4All system dynamics modelling of SDG progress
Find all related Progressive Post
Progressive Post

Despite the unprecedented Israeli-Palestinian crisis, new opportunities for peace emerge


Turkey in its region: security first and ‘Make Turkey Great Again’


Centennial celebrations in Turkey amidst polarisation

Find all related events
Helsinki, Finland (Hybrid)

From Russia’s aggression to progressive recovery of Ukraine

How to ensure Ukraine’s democratic future?
Vienna, Austria (Expert meeting)

Conflict, leadership and change: Europe’s response to Russian aggression and global shifts

'Forging Europe's Leadership' book launch

State of the Unions

Ties that bind: Testing the resilience of US-EU relations in an age of turbulence
Find all related news

Ann Linde is FEPS’ new Foreign Affairs Special Advisor


FEPS President at the SDG Summit and United Nations General Assembly in New York


Call for tender – Research and analysis for the project “Progressive paths to rebuild Ukraine”

This call for tender closed on 26/09/2023

President Lula da Silva meets with FEPS and Plataforma CIPÓ

The Brazilian President was present in Brussels in the context of the EU-CELAC Summit
Find all related in the media
In the media

Une réforme de l’UE qui intéressera forcément les Suisses

by Le Temps 24/11/2023
'EU reform bound to be of interest to the Swiss', an opinion piece in Le Temps on EU Treaties changes by Maria João Rodrigues, FEPS President, Guillaume Klossa, Director of think tank EuropaNova and Daniela Schwarzer, Executive board member Bertelsmann Stiftung

« Le moment est venu de lancer un débat sur la réforme de l’Union européenne »

by Le Monde 22/11/2023
'The time has come to launch a debate on the reform of the European Union', an opinion piece in Le Monde on Eu Treaties changes by Maria João Rodrigues, FEPS President, Guillaume Klossa, Director of think tank EuropaNova and Daniela Schwarzer, Executive board member Bertelsmann Stiftung

A Europa em tempo de guerras

by Público 06/11/2023
'Europe in times of wars'. With two wars unfolding in the European neighbourhood, FEPS President, Maria João Rodrigues, reflects in Público on the EU's capacity to play its role as a major international actor and exert its own strategic autonomy

‘SDG funding gap swells to $137trn’ New Policy Study from FEPS, together with Earth4All, to deliver a five-point plan for the SDGs.

by Edie 19/09/2023
The “SDGs for All” report emphasises that policymakers have the potential to significantly advance SDG implementation by the original 2030 deadline and beyond by enacting five “extraordinary turnarounds” that break away from current trends.