Blog AnalysisEU diplomacy

A communication battle and a struggle for influence are underway, according to Josep Borrell

(B2) For the High Representative of the Union responsible for foreign affairs, in the background a real strategic battle is woven, that of communication and the struggle for influence. Europe must react

(credit: EEAS)

This text was published on the official blog of the High Representative between March 23 and April 2, 2020, on the EEAS website in several languages. It gives a message of optimism, at a time when the coronavirus epidemic was at its height in Europe, and anticipates the steps to follow but reflects the state of mind well. Titles and intertitles are from the editorial staff

A reshaping of the world in progress

“The Covid-19 pandemic will reshape our world,” writes the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. “We do not yet know when the crisis will end. There is no doubt, however, that when it ends, our world will be very different. »

Not a war, but a decisive solidarity

For the head of European diplomacy, “the crisis caused by Covid-19 is not a war, but it resembles one in the sense that it requires the mobilization and allocation of resources at unprecedented levels. Solidarity between countries and the willingness to make sacrifices for the common good are decisive. […] And the European Union has a central role to play” in this battle.

Logistics and communication sinews of war

“It is sometimes said that wars are won not by tactics or even by strategy, but by logistics and communications. This seems to be true for Covid-19 as well: whoever best organizes their response to the crisis, quickly learning lessons from around the world and communicating effectively with citizens and the rest of the world, will emerge. The Strongest. »

A communications battle

Engaged with China…

For Europe's voice in the world, “a communication battle” has indeed begun at the global level, “in which the choice of the right moment is essential”. He blames “Chinese political leaders” who “concealed […] crucial information”, in particular the extent of the crisis in the province of Hubei. At that time, Europe sent a lot of medical equipment to help the Chinese authorities “overwhelmed by events”. With a certain discretion. Which does not seem to be the case for China, which having recovered from the crisis “is now sending equipment and doctors to Europe, just like others)” but accompanied by a communication campaign. “China is desperate to send the message that, unlike the United States, it is a responsible and reliable partner. »

…and with Russia, a real struggle for influence

In this “communication battle”, other phenomena have been observed, notably “attempts to discredit the EU as such and certain cases where Europeans have been stigmatized as if they were all carriers of the virus” . Without saying it, Josep Borrell is targeting Russia in particular. “We must be aware that there is a geopolitical component characterized in particular by a struggle for influence carried out by means of image shaping and the 'politics of generosity'. Armed with facts, we must defend Europe against its detractors. »

…within Europe itself

This communication battle is also raging “within Europe”. It is “essential that the European Union shows that it is a Union that protects and that solidarity is not an empty word”. It is the principle of the assault waves that he takes as an example: “After the first wave during which the national authorities played a central role, the European Union is now coming to the forefront by implementing implementation of joint actions in all areas in which Member States have empowered it to act: joint procurement for the supply of essential medical equipment, joint economic incentives and necessary relaxation of budgetary rules and regulations relating to State aid. » like the repatriation of Europeans (1).

The Union must be at the center of the fight

Repress the temptation of every man for himself

In a crisis, “the human instinct is often to turn inward, to close borders and to favor “every man for himself”. While this attitude is understandable, it is counterproductive. The crisis caused by Covid-19 cannot be resolved within a single country, or by going it alone. […] A global pandemic requires global solutions and the European Union must be at the center of the fight. […]Now is the time for solidarity and cooperation, and not for blaming others, which will not cure a single infected person. »

Help Africa and loosen the grip of sanctions

“If the needs are significant within the European Union, it should also be ready to help other countries in fragile situations which risk being overwhelmed,” he explains, targeting Africa in particular. “Elsewhere, countries like Venezuela or Iran could well collapse without our support. This means that we must ensure that they have access to assistance from the IMF (International Monetary Fund). Regarding Iran, we must ensure that legitimate trade for humanitarian purposes can be carried out despite the sanctions imposed by the United States. »

Growing geopolitical tensions

Finally, the High Representative warns: we must “keep in mind that none of the other problems we were focusing on before the coronavirus crisis have disappeared. In fact, they could get worse. Covid-19 could exacerbate certain already older conflicts in the neighborhood. As for Europe, we already had to navigate a world characterized by growing geopolitical tensions, particularly between the United States and China. Here too, the risk is that Covid-19 will exacerbate pre-existing trends. »

(text selected by AP and NGV)

Download the full text in FR et ENG

  1. Despite several thousand repatriations, “there is still a lot to do,” he explains. Worldwide, “nearly 100.000 European travelers have reported to local embassies or consulates, but the actual figure of those who need to return home is much higher. » (figure in 23.3)

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).