Once the mobility restrictions of the pandemic have been overcome, Josep Borrell (La Pobla de Segur, Lleida, 74 years old) returns to the plane as a key ally to exercise his position as high representative for EU Foreign Policy. This week he travels to Washington, where he will try to rebuild relations with the Joe Biden government after the unease generated in the community bloc by the military alliance forged between the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia – without warning European allies – to counteract China’s growing assertiveness in the Pacific. Despite having jumped into community politics, much calmer than that of Spain, the head of European diplomacy keeps intact his ability to send sharp messages and avoids the so-called rag language in which the representatives of the European institutions often hide. . In an interview granted to EL PAÍS last Friday, Borrell only avoided commenting on the challenge that Poland has launched to community architecture, considering that European treaties conflict with its Constitution. The reason for this is that your position covers community club outside relations, not internal affairs. And yet the answer was clear: “I can only say that the primacy of Community law is a fundamental pillar of the EU.”
Question. The rising cost of energy that affects Europe has an important external aspect. What can the European institutions do to alleviate the problem?
Answer. I hope there will be a reflection on whether the electricity pricing system has to be changed. It is difficult to justify some elements of the current model, which was created when renewables had not emerged, when nuclear was seen as an option to increase production and when decarbonisation was not a priority objective and there were no gas stresses as now. It would be reasonable to rethink the model and see if it suits the circumstances. But a modification of this type takes time and the situation calls for faster decisions. Gas suppliers are the ones who set energy prices across Europe. They are in a very strong position. But here there must already be a phenomenon of financial speculation, not just a problem of imbalance between supply and demand. As it happened in the subprime.
P. How to stop it?
R. We must reduce the size of the price of gas as a factor that fuels speculation. For that, regulatory measures must be taken. Certainly several governments will raise them. And the Commission will surely take them into account.
P. One of the major suppliers is Russia, which continues to provide more than a third of the EU’s gas. What responsibility do you have for what happened? And how do you see the pressure exerted on Brussels by pointing out that if the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is authorized, the problem will be alleviated?
Join EL PAÍS now to follow all the news and read without limits
R. Russia wants Nord Stream 2 to open. That it takes advantage of this situation to bring water to its mill … it is an attitude that is part of the game of political pressure. We continue to have a need for Russian gas and we will probably need more than that contracted. That is why Spain proposes, and does well, that the negotiation be done not country by country, but as a whole, as has been done with vaccines. We are facing an emergency situation. And the gas supply problem has a geopolitical dimension.
P. The EU has been defending the need for more strategic autonomy for years. Is now the right time to advance military integration?
R. There will be no European army to replace the nationals tomorrow. They are the living expression of the independence of countries. What you have to do is look for ways and pool skills. There are two schools: the one that it is not necessary because we have NATO, that of establishing coalitions to this and that it is necessary to have an immediate capacity that can be mobilized when necessary. That’s the call entry force [una fuerza de acción rápida que trata de impulsar la UE]. The treaty does not place limits on European defense ambition. At the moment we have the PESCO, the European defense fund… but the treaty allows us to do more. And that is what I have the obligation and the responsibility to propose.
P. Will the experience of Afghanistan serve to convince the most skeptical European partners to improve military cooperation?
R. I don’t know if Afghanistan was the time for the mobilization of a European force. I do know that the Americans were able to guarantee the security of the Kabul airport and we would not have been able to. But the case of Afghanistan affects more political communication between the allies. I do not justify Australia’s decision on submarines [suspender el contrato que tenía para comprarlos a Francia y, en su lugar, adquirir submarinos nucleares a EE UU al integrarse en el acuerdo del Indopacífico]. It was an action not against France, but affects the entire EU. But if you try to interpret why others are doing things, Australia is under great pressure from China and has entered into a negotiation with the US. Don’t be misunderstood: I do not justify Australia’s decision, I think they have done bad not to count on us, but I try to explain why they do it. What has no rationale is that the US has forged a defensive alliance with the UK without our knowledge or participation. The serious problem is not the attitude of Australia, it is the attitude of the United States.
P. Before the EU, the United States had a clearer vision regarding the possible threat that China could pose on several fronts: commercial, industrial, defensive …
R. I have said since I arrived that we have been naive with China, we must leave this naivety behind. We have learned that economic progress does not necessarily lead to democratic progress. And that in the menu of political options today there are others apart from Western liberal democracy. In the US they have been involved in the fight against terrorism for 20 years, but now they tell us: “The wars of others are over” to focus on what for them is a great geostrategic challenge, China.
P. To what extent has Biden been a disappointment to the EU?
R. All the great European leaders have expressed their dismay in very firm terms [a cuenta de la alianza del Pacífico]. Biden and Macron made a historic statement a few days ago: recognizing that it has not been done well, that linking a defensive decision with another industrial one is a serious mistake. But the US recognizes that Europe can and should have its own defensive capacity outside of NATO. I am surprised that the NATO secretary general does not share it. And Washington also says it has to commit to helping in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. Its alot. We cannot afford divisions in the Atlantic bloc, which weaken us in the face of others. What is surprising about the United States is its surprise that we have felt marginalized. The perception that Europe has to be taken into account must be refocused.
P. Although the forms are very different from those of Trump, some of the behavior of the United States does not differ so much from the previous stage: in the decisions of depth, the European ally is not taken into account.
R. Definitely. But we want to believe that there has been no bad faith. The political relationship must be rebalanced. We are allies. The allies talk to each other, they consult each other. The opposite is not a stable alliance. Europe has to assert itself and that is my role. It has to be a pole within multilateralism. But for that it has to be more united.
P. Is the UK a reliable partner?
R. In security and defense, after the departure they have not shown a great appetite to be partners. We have raised the convenience of continuing to maintain agreements and they have not shown great interest. We are ready, it is a great military power and a great European country.
P. What weight does Latin America have in the EU’s foreign relations?
R. It does not have a political relationship to match the importance of the investments we have made there. European companies have invested in the region more than in China, India, Russia and Japan combined. There is a gap between our economic and political link. Despite my efforts, Latin America is not sufficiently on the radar. We are going to work with Spain so that there is a greater bond. There should be some kind of team europe for Central America, which is where migration problems arise. It would also interest the United States.
P. The EU will send an electoral mission to Venezuela in November. Will it be a clean election?
R. That will say the mission. There are people who say that sending the mission legitimizes the country. What legitimizes is what the mission says.
P. In the previous electoral call they did not send it.
R. It is that the conditions were not met, neither by one part nor by the other. The opposition did not want to present itself. It was observing something that had no consistency. But this time even Guaidó’s party is presented. If the Venezuelan regime has accepted the conditions, the presence of the mission helps the opposition.
P. Is migration the issue that generates the most divergence of views in the EU?
R. Yes, one of the biggest dividing forces in the EU is migration. It is not a quantitative attitude, but a qualitative one. We have been discussing it for a long time and we could not reach an agreement. The dividing force of attitude towards migration problems is one of the Achilles heels of Europe. And every time there is an acute crisis it manifests itself. We thought we would have an acute crisis over Afghanistan that has not yet occurred. And it will not happen if we avoid the economic collapse of the country. 75% of the Afghan budget comes from foreign transfers. And now they are all frozen. Economic collapse can occur. We have to avoid it, without recognizing or supporting the Government as such.
P. But how to do it? Giving money can legitimize it.
R. It depends on how. You cannot give money directly because several of the ministers are on the US terrorist list. But there are United Nations agencies that work there. If we want girls to go to schools, there must first be schools.
Follow all the international information at Facebook and Twitter, o en our weekly newsletter.