World can count on the EU in these uncertain times: Top EU official

High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini delivers her address during the meeting between the European Union and Asean foreign ministers at the 51st Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Singap
High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini delivers her address during the meeting between the European Union and Asean foreign ministers at the 51st Asean Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Singapore, on Aug 3, 2018.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SINGAPORE - The European Union (EU) will remain a steadfast and predictable partner, consistent in its commitments and positions in a world turned topsy-turvy, vowed a top official for the bloc on Friday (Aug 3).

"We may be an imperfect union... but you will always know where we stand, and you will always know you can count on us," said Ms Federica Mogherini, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, at a lecture organised by the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

"Our unity, our strength, and our reliability are assets not just for Europeans but for the whole world. This is who we are as a global actor," she added.

Not once during her 15-minute speech did she name the US.

"In a world that is terribly unpredictable and unstrategic, you can count on us as a predictable and reliable partner, always," Ms Mogherini said.

"We stand clearly on the side of a more cooperative global order. We stand on the side of international rules, including on delicate issues such as the South China Sea. This is our culture and this is our interest," she added.

Demand for partnership with the EU these past months has been much stronger than in previous years, she disclosed.

 
 
 

The bloc has been reaching out as well, stepping up its engagement with Asean and Asia. The EU, after all, has a clear interest in peace and security, as well as economic growth on this side of the globe, said Ms Mogherini.

"A peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific is an economic opportunity for the EU as well, so we're looking to get more engaged with Singapore and with this region," she said.

A flurry of free trade pacts between the EU and countries in the region is in the works, with Ms Mogherini noting that Singapore was set to be the first South-east Asian country to get free access to the massive EU market once a bilateral agreement between the two sides is ratified.

"Let me say this very clearly, trade wars have no winners. They have only losers," she said in a veiled jab at the brewing trade dispute between US and China. "On the contrary, a good agreement can bring benefits to both sides. A true win-win solution."

The EU is also expanding its role in the security domain, said Ms Mogherini.

She pointed out that EU member states, taken together, had the second largest military budget in the world but assured that the grouping would never use its military strength "to threaten or to impose anything."

She said: "The more dangerous our world becomes, the more we will invest in international cooperation, in the protection of international law, and in multilateralism. This is our way to security."

The audience of 300 people peppered Ms Mogherini with some hard hitting questions following her speech, quizzing her on a number of prickly issues including on Brexit and peace in the Middle East.

Ms Mogherini said Brexit would be tougher on the United Kingdom, noting how the UK will have to go at it alone and re-negotiate trade agreements once it exits the bloc.

Ms Mogherini, who is from Italy which is not renowned for its political stability, could not help but quip that Brexit has stirred British politics.

"As an Italian, I can joke about how we used to look at British politics as the most stable, predictable politics in the continent. I'm afraid this is not the case any longer, and this is sad."

The question of another exit also came up with Ms Mogherini stressing that the EU was is determined to continue - and even increase - legitimate economic and trade engagement with Iran despite the US' withdrawal from the nuclear pact.

"Iran is fulfilling all its nuclear-related commitments. If you manage to have, after 12 years of difficult multilateral negotiations, a deal that holds... you don't throw it away," she said, adding that the nuclear deal was a fundamental part of the global non-proliferation architecture and needed to be preserved.

Turning to the question of Russia, she said that warming relations between the US and Russia would not soften the EU sanctions imposed on Russia in response to the annexation of Crimea.

"They are linked to a very principled position, which is that borders are not changed unilaterally and by force," said Ms Mogherini, adding that the EU did however welcome dialogue between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladmir Putin. "We have always believed in dialogue. We believe that the more you have a problem, the more you have a responsibility to talk."

On North Korea, Ms Mogherini praised Singapore for hosting the recent summit between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The EU has long been pushing for complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation through peaceful dialogue and diplomacy, and will continue its policy of critical engagement with North Korea, combining sanctions and pressure with open channels of communication.

"The Singapore summit has generated great hopes all across the world, and I'm very grateful to Singapore on the commitment to peace through diplomacy that we share," she said.

"I believe we have a collective duty now to accompany the negotiations in all possible ways just as Singapore did by hosting the summit."

The EU and Singapore - which is home to about 12,000 European businesses - stand on the same side of global politics, Ms Mogherini had said in her speech earlier. Among other things, they shared an interest in free and fair international trade, and were perceived as reliable, credible and consistent partners on the global stage.

"So in a very confused moment for global politics the EU and Singapore are somehow natural partners, and I believe we must invest in this partnership," she said.