The Iron Lady of the Baltics Poised to Reshape EU Foreign Policy

The European Union’s foreign policy landscape is bracing for seismic upheaval as Kaja Kallas, Estonia’s indomitable Prime Minister and outspoken critic of Russian belligerence, emerges as the frontrunner for the pivotal role of EU Foreign Policy Chief. If confirmed (that may be as soon as this weekend, even), her appointment would mark a watershed moment, ushering in a bold, values-driven era for the EU’s global engagement.

Kallas, a political force to be reckoned with, has forged an unwavering reputation for her assertive stance on critical geopolitical issues. Her ascension promises to inject a potent dose of resolve and principled leadership into the EU’s foreign policy apparatus, reverberating across the international stage.

Just briefly to start by explain the role she is/will/may take up, the EU Foreign Policy Chief, officially known as the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, plays a pivotal role in shaping and implementing the EU’s external policies. This position, which merges the roles of the High Representative and the Vice-President of the European Commission, involves overseeing the European External Action Service (EEAS), coordinating the EU’s external action, and representing the EU on the global stage.

As EU Foreign Policy Chief, she has a significant (policy-level) influence over the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), which is part of the broader Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The CSDP includes initiatives for joint military operations, civilian missions, and other defence-related activities aimed at enhancing the EU’s security and defence capabilities. So, note that her role in internal EU matters will tend to be in the defence and security fields, less directly influencing EU members on other issues. Her role in non-defence and security areas, for example dealing more broadly with EU member Hungary, she can influence them by leveraging EU mechanisms that promote adherence to EU values, such as the rule of law and democratic standards. She can support and advocate for measures to ensure compliance with EU policies, particularly through diplomatic channels and by influencing decisions within the Council of the European Union. For Serbia, it is in her direct remit as a part of the EU enlargement process.

While Kallas would be influential in shaping and advocating for EU defence policy through the CSDP, her direct control over defence spending and military operations would be limited. Her role will primarily involve:

  • Advocating for Defence Cooperation: Promoting increased collaboration and joint initiatives among member states to strengthen the EU’s collective defence capabilities.
  • Coordinating Strategic Policy: Ensuring that the EU’s defence and security policies are cohesive and aligned with broader foreign policy goals.
  • Facilitating EU-NATO Cooperation: Working to enhance cooperation between the EU and NATO to ensure complementary and effective defence strategies.

Without further ado, in this article I will lay out what I see as the most profound implications of Kallas’ potential leadership on key areas of EU foreign policy, including:

  • Comparing and contrasting her probable style and direction to her predecessors
  • Some of the in/surmountable obstacles she will face
  • The EU’s strategic partnership with NATO and the future of transatlantic relations
  • The development of a more integrated and autonomous European defence capability under the CSDP
  • The EU’s stance towards member states like Hungary and Serbia, whose actions have often undermined bloc solidarity and who directly threaten our collective security
  • The EU’s approach to navigating the complex geopolitical dynamics with rising powers like China and its engagement with Taiwan
  • If, and how, the Baltics and Nordics will see policy change that might raise their profile and importance in European security and defence
  • Potential obstacles, weaknesses, and blind spots that could impact Kallas’ effectiveness in this pivotal role

With this probable seismic shift in its European global engagement, Kallas’ unwavering commitment to democratic values and her vision for a more assertive and strategically autonomous Europe position her as a formidable force poised to reshape the bloc’s foreign policy trajectory. Let’s take a look.

A New Era: Kallas’ Decisive Leadership Contrasts with Predecessors

Kallas represents a stark contrast to her immediate predecessor, Josep Borrell, whose leadership was often criticised for being reactive, lacking assertiveness, and failing to provide strategic direction amidst divisions among member states. Unlike Borrell, Kallas is poised to bring an unwavering commitment to defending democratic values and countering authoritarian aggression, particularly from actors like Russia and China. At a time when the EU is demonstrating more solidarity on defence than ever before, Kallas putting her shoulder behind the wheel might see defence as the new centrepiece of the European project.

Her tenure is likely to drive a more cohesive and strategically autonomous EU foreign policy, addressing a key weakness of Borrell’s tenure, which was marred by divisions and a perceived lack of strategic direction. Kallas’ emphasis on strengthening the EU’s defence capabilities, enhancing energy security, and promoting democratic resilience points towards a more integrated and self-reliant foreign policy apparatus.

Moreover, Kallas can be expected to adopt a firmer stance towards EU members and pre-accession states that deviate from democratic norms and foreign policy alignment, such as Hungary and Serbia. This contrasts with Borrell’s approach, which was often criticised as being too lenient towards such countries.

Extending the comparison to her earlier predecessors like Federica Mogherini and Catherine Ashton, Kallas will usher in a significant shift in the EU’s foreign policy approach compared to their more cautious and consensus-driven styles. Unlike her predecessors, Kallas is likely to adopt a far more assertive and confrontational stance, particularly towards authoritarian regimes like Russia and China.

This contrasts with the approaches of Mogherini and Ashton, who were often criticised for being too accommodating or lacking the political will to take firm stances on major geopolitical issues. Kallas’ unwavering commitment to defending democratic principles positions her as a more forceful and decisive leader on the global stage.

I expect Kallas to drive a more cohesive and strategically autonomous EU foreign policy, addressing a longstanding weakness of her predecessors’ tenures. Her emphasis on strengthening the EU’s defence capabilities, reducing energy dependence, and promoting democratic resilience points towards a more integrated and self-reliant foreign policy apparatus.

This pursuit of strategic autonomy marks a significant departure from the past, where the EU’s foreign policy was often perceived as being overly reliant on, or constrained by, its relationships with major powers like the United States and Russia. Kallas’ vision for a more assertive and independent EU defence posture could redefine the bloc’s global engagement.

As you will see later in this article, Kallas’ assertive and confrontational approach could also be a double-edged sword, potentially alienating some member states and complicating consensus-building within the bloc. Navigating this balance between principled leadership and diplomatic pragmatism will be a significant challenge, one that her predecessors also struggled with.

Her potential tenure promises to bring a much-needed dose of assertiveness, strategic clarity, and principled leadership to the EU’s global engagement, marking a significant departure from the approaches of her recent predecessors. Her unwavering commitment to democratic values and her vision for a more integrated and autonomous EU foreign policy position her as a formidable force poised to reshape the bloc’s engagement with the world in a more decisive and impactful manner, ushering in a bold shift in the EU’s foreign policy trajectory.

Surmounting Formidable Obstacles

But to be clear, Kallas’ ascent to the helm of EU foreign policy will be no cakewalk. Her uncompromising stance on defending democratic values and countering authoritarian aggression, while admirable, will likely prove a double-edged sword. Navigating the web of divergent interests within the EU will be a Herculean task, as she risks alienating member states with more conciliatory approaches, potentially fracturing the bloc’s unity. Coming from a strongly pro-EU constituency, will Kallas be able to find common ground bringing in a more EU-looking or EU-reinforcing policies with EU-sceptic and anti-Federalist states like Sweden? Sweden, for example, could not be automatically expected to respond well to anything that even remotely feels European Federalist.

Her probable laser-focus on security and defence might inadvertently overshadow other critical facets of foreign policy, such as economic diplomacy, climate action, and development aid. Striking the delicate balance between hard power projection and soft power engagement will be a tightrope walk, requiring deft diplomatic manoeuvring to ensure a holistic and well-rounded EU foreign policy strategy.

One of the most formidable obstacles Kallas will face is the challenge of forging consensus among the diverse array of member states, each with their own unique priorities, historical legacies, and geopolitical considerations. Her uncompromising stance on issues like Russian aggression and the defence of democratic norms could clash with the more pragmatic or conciliatory approaches favoured by some member states, potentially sowing division and undermining the EU’s ability to speak with a unified voice on the global stage. Remember that European Federalism is the third rail of European politics, and those tracks are littered with bodies. It is a big ask for Kallas to deal with this.

To overcome this hurdle, she will need to employ a deft combination of principled leadership and diplomatic finesse. She must find ways to rally member states around shared values and common interests, while also demonstrating a willingness to engage in constructive dialogue and seek compromises where possible. Building coalitions of like-minded nations and leveraging the EU’s existing institutional mechanisms for consensus-building will be crucial in navigating this complex landscape. On defence she now has the advantage of NATO membership broadening, which provides an alternative or adjunct foil for building European defence capability without touching the Federalism third rail.

Kallas will need to adopt a holistic and integrated approach to foreign policy, recognising the interconnectedness of various issues and the need for a multifaceted strategy. This could involve fostering greater coordination and collaboration among different branches of the EU’s foreign policy apparatus, ensuring that resources and attention are allocated in a balanced and strategic manner.

Additionally, Kallas may need to leverage the expertise and resources of existing EU institutions and mechanisms, such as the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Investment Bank (EIB), and the various thematic partnerships and dialogues with third countries. By harnessing the collective knowledge and capabilities of these entities, she can ensure that the EU’s foreign policy remains comprehensive and responsive to the full spectrum of global challenges.

Moreover, Kallas will need to navigate deftly the complex geopolitical landscape she faces, recognising the diverse interests and sensitivities of various actors on the global stage. Her assertive stance towards authoritarian regimes like Russia and China, while principled, could potentially strain relations with other major powers or exacerbate existing tensions, requiring careful calibration and strategic communication.

To mitigate these risks, Kallas may need to employ a nuanced approach, combining principled pressure with constructive dialogue and a willingness to explore areas of mutual interest and cooperation. Building strategic partnerships and leveraging the EU’s economic and diplomatic clout will be essential in navigating these complex geopolitical dynamics.

As Chair, her relationship with the Political and Security Committee (PSC) of the Council of the European Union will be crucial. The PSC plays a central role in shaping the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and is a key interlocutor for the High Representative in these areas. She needs, as Chair, to also ensure that the PSC’s decisions are practical and implementable, aligning them with the broader policy framework set by the European Council and the Council of the EU, to give them the best chance of passing the Council of the EU. This PSC role is not one without enormous challenges given the divided member states on defence issues, but perhaps they are closer together now than they have ever been.

Importantly, though, she does not need to get unanimous support in the PSC for anything she might like to do. While consensus is preferred, the PSC can use Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) for certain decisions, particularly those related to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Under QMV, a decision can be adopted if it is supported by at least 55% of member states, representing at least 65% of the EU population. This allows the PSC to make decisions even if there is not unanimous agreement (read: Hungary), although in practice, the aim is often to avoid contentious issues reaching a vote.

However, remember the PSC acts as a preparatory body for the Council of the European Union, particularly in the field of foreign and security policy. While the PSC itself might operate on a consensus or QMV basis, the final decisions made by the Council in areas like CFSP often require unanimity​. This translation of PSC decisions to the Council of the EU will be where she earns her stripes.

She also serves as Vice-President of the European Commission and has a prominent role in the Council of the European Union. Kallas would chair the Foreign Affairs Council, which is a key decision-making body within the Council that deals with the EU’s external actions. If appointed as the EU Foreign Policy Chief, she will play a critical role in both the PSC and the Council of the EU. She would influence the PSC’s decision-making process to ensure alignment with her policy goals and advocate for the adoption of these decisions by the Council of the EU. Her role encompasses direct involvement in policy formulation, consensus-building, and strategic implementation, which are essential for advancing the EU’s foreign and security policy objectives.

Her success in surmounting these and other formidable obstacles that lie ahead will hinge on her ability to strike a delicate balance between unwavering commitment to democratic values and pragmatic diplomacy. By fostering consensus, integrating diverse priorities, and navigating the complex geopolitical landscape with strategic acumen, she can pave the way for a more cohesive, principled, and effective EU foreign policy that safeguards the bloc’s interests while upholding its core values on the global stage. Enough with obstacles, let’s look at key areas for Kallas’ tenure.

A Clarion Call for Robust Defence Spending

As a staunch advocate for robust military capabilities, she is expected to champion (without being able to control) a significant increase in defence budgets across member states, echoing her unwavering commitment to collective security within NATO. Remember my earlier note, her influence over defence spending will be considerable, but her control over actual defence spending will be limited due to the sovereignty of member states over their own defence budgets.

Her rallying cry for enhanced defence spending will likely resonate strongly with Eastern European nations, where the spectre of Russian aggression looms large. However, convincing fiscally conservative and anti-Federalist member states to allocate substantial resources to defence could prove an uphill battle, testing Kallas’ persuasive powers and her ability to forge consensus on this critical issue.

To build momentum for her defence spending agenda, Kallas may need to employ a multi-pronged strategy that combines principled advocacy, economic incentives, and strategic partnerships. One potential approach could be to establish a clear and ambitious defence spending target for the EU, akin to NATO’s 2% of GDP benchmark. This target could be accompanied by a roadmap outlining specific milestones and timelines for member states to gradually increase their defence budgets.

Kallas could leverage the EU’s existing mechanisms, such as the European Defence Fund (EDF) and the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), to incentivise and reward member states, more pie for those that meet or exceed the agreed-upon spending targets. This could involve preferential access to funding for joint defence projects, research and development initiatives, or the procurement of advanced military capabilities.

Additionally, Kallas may need to make a compelling economic case for increased defence spending, highlighting the potential for job creation, technological innovation, and the long-term cost savings associated with a more robust and self-reliant European defence posture. By framing defence spending as an investment in the EU’s strategic autonomy and economic competitiveness, she could appeal to the fiscal sensibilities of more conservative member states.

To address concerns about the potential strain on national budgets, Kallas could explore innovative financing mechanisms, such as public-private partnerships or the issuance of EU-backed defence bonds. These instruments could provide additional funding streams for defence initiatives while spreading the financial burden across multiple stakeholders.

Kallas could leverage the EU’s collective bargaining power to negotiate more favourable terms for defence procurement and joint acquisition programs. By pooling resources and coordinating purchases, member states could potentially achieve significant cost savings while enhancing interoperability and standardisation across their military forces.

In terms of strategic partnerships, Kallas may need to engage with key allies within NATO, particularly the United States, to build support for her defence spending agenda. By emphasising the mutual benefits of burden-sharing and the EU’s commitment to strengthening the transatlantic alliance, she could allay concerns and foster a more constructive partnership.

She could explore opportunities for defence industrial cooperation with like-minded partners, such as the United Kingdom, Canada, or Australia. These partnerships could facilitate joint research and development programs, shared procurement initiatives, and the harmonisation of technical standards and regulations, further enhancing the EU’s defence capabilities while fostering economic and technological synergies.

Kallas’ success in driving a significant increase in defence spending across the EU will hinge on her ability to forge consensus, leverage economic incentives, and build strategic partnerships. By articulating a compelling vision for a more secure and self-reliant Europe, she could rally support for this critical initiative and position the EU as a formidable global actor capable of safeguarding its interests and upholding its values in an increasingly complex geopolitical landscape.

Forging a Formidable European Defence Juggernaut

Kallas’ vision for a strategically autonomous and united Europe extends far beyond mere rhetoric. Brace for a concerted push towards the development of joint military capabilities, fostering unprecedented cooperation and integration among European defence industries.

Under her leadership, the EU could witness a surge in collaborative defence projects, ranging from cutting-edge weapons systems to advanced cybersecurity initiatives. Expect a clarion call for greater coordination of defence policies, streamlining procurement processes, and leveraging the collective might of the European defence sector to enhance the EU’s strategic autonomy and global influence.

In my view, Kallas’ ambition for a formidable European defence posture is likely to extend beyond traditional military capabilities. To truly achieve strategic autonomy and resilience, she may advocate for a comprehensive review of European defence strategy, of the sort being developed by our team at the ISDP, aimed at laying out a more holistic, Comprehensive European Security Framework (CESF), that accounts for the multifaceted nature of modern security threats, from trade to tanks, and from semiconductors to undersea cables.

This framework would recognise that security encompasses not only military might but also economic resilience, technological superiority, and the ability to counter hybrid threats that weaponise trade, information, and scientific advancements. By adopting such a comprehensive approach, the EU could better position itself to address the full spectrum of challenges posed by state and non-state actors alike.

One key aspect of this framework could be –something I think Kallas already has the right temperament for championing – the establishment of a European Défense Union, a more integrated and cohesive structure for defence cooperation and decision-making. This union could facilitate joint procurement, research and development, and the deployment of multinational forces, leveraging the collective resources and expertise of member states.

Additionally, Kallas may push for the creation of a common European Defence Industrial Base, a coordinated network of defence companies, research institutions, and supply chains. This base – an EU weakness laid bare by Ukraine – could foster collaboration, innovation, and the development of cutting-edge technologies, ensuring that the EU remains at the forefront of defence capabilities while reducing dependence on external suppliers.

In economic security, Kallas could advocate for measures to strengthen the EU’s resilience against economic coercion and trade disruptions. This could involve diversifying and onshoring critical supply chains, reducing critical dependencies on external actors, and developing robust mechanisms for safeguarding strategic industries and technologies.

A new CESF could encompass a robust cybersecurity strategy, recognising the growing importance of digital infrastructure and the need to protect against cyber threats. This could involve strengthening the capacity and role of the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA), responsible for coordinating cybersecurity efforts, sharing intelligence, and developing advanced defensive and offensive capabilities.

To address the challenges posed by hybrid threats, Kallas may call also for upgrading the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, commonly known as Hybrid CoE, in Helsinki, dedicated to monitoring, analysing, and countering the use of non-military means, such as disinformation campaigns, economic coercion, and the exploitation of scientific advancements for malicious purposes.

Underpinning such a CESF would be a strong emphasis on strategic autonomy and self-reliance. Kallas could advocate for reducing the EU’s dependence on external actors in critical areas, such as energy, technology, and raw materials, through initiatives like the European Green Deal and the Digital Decade.

However, achieving such an ambitious vision would require significant political will, resource allocation, and coordination among member states. Kallas may need to leverage her diplomatic skills and her commitment to democratic values to forge consensus and rally support for a more comprehensive European Security Framework.

Moreover, she could emphasise the economic and strategic benefits of a more integrated and self-reliant European defence posture, highlighting the potential for job creation, technological innovation, and enhanced global influence.

Kallas’ success in forging a formidable European defence capability will hinge on her ability to articulate a compelling vision – through such as a CESF (happy to talk about this, Kaja) – that transcends traditional military capabilities and encompasses a holistic approach to security. By championing a comprehensive European Security Framework that addresses the multifaceted nature of modern threats, she could position the EU as a truly strategic autonomous and resilient global actor, capable of safeguarding its interests and upholding its values in an increasingly complex and challenging geopolitical landscape.

Reinforcing Baltic and Nordic Security

Kaja Kallas’ ascension is expected to have profound implications for the security dynamics in the Baltic and Nordic regions. Given her background as Estonia’s Prime Minister and her strong advocacy for Baltic interests, Kallas is uniquely positioned to address the security concerns of these northern European nations, which have long faced the threat of Russian aggression.

Baltic Security: Enhancing Deterrence and Resilience

For the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Kallas’ leadership could herald a renewed commitment to their security and sovereignty. These countries have been on the front lines of tensions with Russia, grappling with both direct threats and hybrid tactics such as disinformation campaigns and cyberattacks​​, but have only so much say in European security cooperation arrangements.

I expect Kallas will leverage existing EU and NATO frameworks to bolster Baltic security. Under her guidance, the EU could take a more proactive role in enhancing military cooperation, conducting joint exercises, and increasing the deployment of multinational forces in the region. Such initiatives would serve as a powerful deterrent against potential Russian adventurism and foster closer integration between the Baltic states and their European allies.

One significant step could be the expansion of the NATO Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP), which already maintains battlegroups in the Baltic region. Kallas may advocate for increased troop numbers and more frequent joint military drills to enhance readiness and interoperability among NATO forces stationed in the Baltics. Furthermore, her leadership could drive the EU to strengthen its support for the Baltic states through the European Defence Fund, which could provide financial backing for joint defence projects and advanced military technology development.

Kallas is also likely to champion efforts to bolster the resilience of Baltic societies against hybrid threats. This could involve enhancing the capabilities of the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) and increasing EU investment in cyber defence initiatives. The focus would be on protecting critical infrastructure, countering disinformation, and promoting democratic resilience to safeguard the Baltic states’ hard-won independence.

Nordic Security: Strengthening Regional Cooperation and NATO Ties

In the broader Nordic region, Kallas’ appointment could reinvigorate the EU’s partnerships with nations like Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. These countries, which share deep historical and cultural ties with the Baltic states, have been at the forefront of efforts to promote regional security and stability.

Kallas’ leadership is expected to facilitate closer cooperation between the EU and Nordic countries on various security issues. This includes maritime security in the Baltic Sea, Arctic affairs, and the development of joint defence capabilities. Her advocacy for strategic autonomy and a more assertive EU defence posture could resonate with Nordic nations, which have long sought to balance their security commitments with a degree of independence from major power blocs.

Finland and Sweden’s aspirations for NATO membership could receive a significant boost from Kallas’ support. Her staunch backing of the alliance and commitment to collective security could help allay concerns and facilitate smoother integration for these nations into NATO. Kallas is likely to emphasise the complementary nature of EU and NATO efforts, ensuring that regional security is reinforced through a balanced approach that respects both EU strategic autonomy and NATO’s collective defence framework.

Moreover, Kallas’ approach could address the growing concerns about Russian military activities in the Arctic and the Baltic Sea. By advocating for stronger EU-NATO cooperation, Kallas could help enhance surveillance, maritime security, and joint operational capabilities in these strategically crucial regions. This would involve not only military preparedness but also comprehensive strategies to counter non-military threats like economic coercion and environmental challenges posed by changing Arctic conditions.

Navigating Regional Dynamics and Building Consensus

While her firm stance against Russian aggression is likely to be welcomed by many, Kallas will need to strike a careful balance between deterrence and dialogue to prevent escalating tensions. In both the Baltic and Nordic regions, there are significant political and economic interests that require a nuanced approach. Kallas’ challenge will be to integrate these diverse priorities into a cohesive regional security strategy that maintains stability while countering potential threats.

To address concerns regarding EU strategic autonomy, Kallas must emphasise the complementary role of EU initiatives with existing NATO commitments. By fostering open communication and building strategic partnerships within the region, she can help allay fears and promote a more integrated approach to European security. This strategy would also involve leveraging the EU’s diplomatic and economic tools to support regional stability and resilience against external pressures

Recalibrating the Transatlantic Axis

She will recalibrate the balance between the EU’s strategic autonomy and its transatlantic partnership with the United States. While her commitment to NATO and the transatlantic bond is unwavering, her vision for a more assertive and independent EU defence posture could ruffle feathers across the Atlantic.

Brace for some friction as the EU charts a course towards greater self-reliance in defence matters, potentially challenging the traditional dynamics of the transatlantic alliance. However, Kallas’ diplomatic acumen and her ability to navigate complex geopolitical landscapes could pave the way for a recalibrated partnership, where the EU emerges as a more capable and equal partner, complementing rather than undermining NATO’s collective security framework.

Under Kallas, the EU is likely to pursue a more robust and autonomous defence capability, potentially leading to a shift in the balance of responsibilities within NATO. This could involve the EU taking on a greater share of the burden in regional security operations, particularly in its immediate neighbourhood, while maintaining close coordination and interoperability with NATO.

Such a development could alleviate some of the pressure on the United States to shoulder their share of the security burden, allowing for a more equitable distribution of resources and responsibilities within the alliance. However, this transition would need to be carefully managed to avoid any perception of the EU undermining or duplicating NATO’s efforts, which could strain transatlantic trust.

To mitigate these risks, Kallas could advocate for a comprehensive dialogue between the EU and NATO, aimed at delineating clear areas of responsibility and establishing mechanisms for seamless cooperation. This could involve regular consultations at the highest levels, joint planning and exercises, and the development of complementary capabilities to avoid redundancies.

Additionally, Kallas could leverage her strong relationships with key NATO allies, particularly the United States, to build support for a more capable and autonomous EU defence posture. By emphasising the mutual benefits of burden-sharing and the EU’s commitment to strengthening the transatlantic alliance, she could allay concerns and foster a more constructive partnership.

Kallas could explore the possibility of establishing a dedicated EU-NATO coordination mechanism, akin to the existing NATO-EU Capability Group. This platform could facilitate regular exchanges on capability development, operational planning, and crisis management, ensuring that the EU’s defence initiatives complement and reinforce NATO’s efforts.

In defence industrial cooperation, Kallas could advocate for greater transatlantic collaboration and interoperability. This could involve joint research and development programs, shared procurement initiatives, and the harmonisation of technical standards and regulations. Such efforts would not only enhance the EU’s defence capabilities but also strengthen the transatlantic defence industrial base, fostering mutual economic and technological benefits.

Moreover, Kallas could leverage the EU’s economic and diplomatic clout to bolster the transatlantic partnership in areas beyond defence. This could involve coordinated efforts to counter economic coercion, promote democratic values, and address global challenges such as climate change, cybersecurity, and human rights violations.

By positioning the EU as a more capable and equal partner, Kallas could redefine the transatlantic relationship as a true partnership of equals, where the EU and the United States collaborate on a range of issues while respecting each other’s strategic autonomy and decision-making processes.

Striking the right balance between asserting the EU’s strategic autonomy and maintaining the integrity of the transatlantic alliance will be a delicate balancing act, requiring open communication, trust-building, and a shared commitment to the principles of collective security and democratic values.

Confronting the Dissenters: Hungary and Serbia in the Crosshairs

In some contrast to Borrell, Kallas’ will adopt a firmer stance towards Hungary and Serbia, two nations whose actions have often undermined EU solidarity, particularly on issues like Ukraine and defence policy. Hungary’s alignment with Russian interests and obstructionist tactics within the EU have drawn Kallas’ ire, as she champions a values-based foreign policy rooted in the EU’s foundational principles and security interests. Something Kallas can learn from, is that Borrell faced criticism for his perceived leniency and lack of assertiveness in dealing with certain member states, like Hungary and Poland, accused of democratic backsliding. While Poland is now moving in the right direction, Hungary seems only to be getting worse. The autocratic Orban will really test Kallas’ mettle on policing democratic values.

Similarly, Serbia’s reluctance to join sanctions against Russia, its continued filling of its pockets with EU money, and its only partial alignment with EU foreign policy have raised hackles. I expect Kallas will advocate for stricter conditions on Serbia’s EU accession process. Losing patience with Serbia, she will likely emphasise the need for Serbia’s unwavering commitment to EU values and policies, coupled with a mix of pressure and dialogue to ensure Serbia’s positive contribution to regional stability. Under the current Serbian regime, though, this more responsible behaviour is highly unlikely no matter what the talk is. She will definitely need to take action against Serbia, not just whisper into the headwind.

Remembering she only connects with Hungary on defence and security policy, Kallas’ approach towards Hungary is likely to have many other prongs, combining diplomatic pressure, economic leverage, and a principled defence of democratic norms. Given Hungary’s reliance on EU funds (especially its rural constituents who line their pockets with EU funding while voting against it), and its deep economic ties with the bloc, Kallas could advocate for stricter conditionality on EU funding, linking disbursements to concrete progress on rule of law, media freedom, and adherence to EU values. It is perhaps a happy coincidence that if there are cuts to EU funding for Hungary, it will impact most those rural constituents.

Additionally, Kallas may push for targeted sanctions or restrictive measures against Hungarian officials and entities implicated in democratic backsliding or corruption. Such measures could include asset freezes, travel bans, and the suspension of voting rights within EU institutions, sending a strong signal that the EU will not tolerate erosion of its core principles.

Kallas could also leverage the EU’s economic clout to incentivise positive change in Hungary. This could involve offering increased investment and trade opportunities contingent upon Hungary’s commitment to upholding democratic standards and aligning its foreign policy with EU interests. Hungary will seek exclusion or exceptions from any EU programme that draws on their money; therein leverage may be found.

Regarding Serbia, Kallas is likely to adopt a carrot-and-stick approach, combining diplomatic pressure with incentives for reform. As Serbia still seems to aspire to eventually joining the EU, Kallas will advocate for a more stringent accession process, with clearly defined benchmarks and timelines for progress on issues such as media freedom, judicial independence, and alignment with EU foreign policy positions. She will not let Serbia’s bad behaviour go.

Kallas may push for the suspension or delay of accession negotiations if Serbia fails to meet these benchmarks, signalling the EU’s unwillingness to compromise on its core values. Conversely, she could offer accelerated integration and increased economic cooperation as rewards for tangible progress, incentivising Serbia to embrace EU norms and policies.

Moreover, Kallas could leverage the EU’s influence in the Western Balkans to rally regional support for her stance on Serbia. By fostering closer cooperation with like-minded partners in the region, she could exert additional pressure on Serbia to align itself with EU values and contribute positively to regional stability.

In both cases, Kallas’ approach is likely to involve a combination of principled diplomacy, economic leverage, and strategic partnerships. Her commitment to democratic values and her willingness to confront authoritarian tendencies could set the stage for a more assertive EU policy on Serbia.

She must be careful, alienating Hungary and Serbia can backfire, potentially driving them further into the embrace of authoritarian powers like Russia and undermining the EU’s influence in the region. To mitigate this risk, Kallas needs to employ a nuanced approach, combining principled pressure with constructive dialogue and incentives for reform. By fostering open channels of communication and offering a clear path towards closer EU integration, she could create a framework for gradual but meaningful change in these nations’ policies and practices.

Additionally, she could leverage the expertise and resources of existing EU institutions, such as the European External Action Service (EEAS), and policy frameworks like the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), to develop tailored strategies for engaging with Hungary and Serbia. The EEAS, with its extensive diplomatic networks and expertise in international relations, can provide valuable insights into the local political dynamics, cultural sensitivities, and potential leverage points necessary for effecting positive change. For Hungary, the EU’s mechanisms for ensuring compliance with its values and laws will be crucial, while the ENP framework can offer strategic guidelines relevant to the broader neighbourhood, which can indirectly influence relations with candidate countries like Serbia.

The East Asian Chessboard: China and Taiwan

I anticipate Kallas’ approach towards China will be assertive, reflecting her broader commitment to a rules-based international order and the defence of democratic values. China’s reckless behaviour in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait will be chafing for her. She wants free and open waterways. As China’s economic and geopolitical influence continues to swell, Kallas will likely advocate for a more unified and strategic EU approach, addressing issues such as trade imbalances, human rights abuses, and cybersecurity threats head-on.

This was an area where Borrell’s effectiveness was questioned, on maintaining a unified EU stance towards China. His approach was seen as somewhat inconsistent, reflecting the broader challenges within the PSC to align on a cohesive policy towards Beijing amid varying national interests​. This will be something Kallas needs to be wary of; she may have the same blind spot for EU-China dynamics.

Brace for potential tighter controls on Chinese investments in critical European infrastructure and technology sectors, aimed at reducing vulnerabilities and enhancing the EU’s strategic autonomy. Regarding Taiwan, I think Kallas will support more constructive engagement, advocating for increased economic and political ties with Taipei while maintaining the EU’s one-China policy. Her leadership could see the EU taking a more proactive stance in supporting Taiwan’s participation in international organisations and bolstering its resilience against external pressures, particularly from Beijing. If there was ever a time for Taiwan to lobby the EU for support, the Kallas era is it.

However, Kallas’ relatively limited experience in navigating the intricate geopolitical dynamics of East Asia could pose a significant challenge. While her assertive stance on China aligns with her broader principles, managing the EU’s multifaceted relationship with the world’s second-largest economy requires a nuanced understanding of complex economic interdependencies, diplomatic sensitivities, and regional power dynamics. The earlier-mentioned CESF would help her with this, of course, the diverse elements of China policy converging as “comprehensive security”.

To address this potential blind spot, Kallas will likely also need to assemble a strong team of advisors and experts on East Asian affairs. This team could include seasoned diplomats, regional specialists, and political and economic analysts who can provide in-depth insights into the nuances of engaging with China and other key players in the region.

Furthermore, Kallas may need to prioritise building strong relationships with like-minded partners in the Indo-Pacific and East Asian regions, such as Japan, South Korea, and Australia. These partnerships could serve as valuable sources of intelligence, strategic cooperation, and collective leverage in dealing with China’s growing assertiveness.

Kallas could leverage the expertise and resources of existing EU institutions, such as the EEAS, and strategic frameworks like the 2018 EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy, to enhance the EU’s understanding and engagement with East Asia. The EEAS provides extensive diplomatic networks and regional expertise, while the EU-Asia Connectivity Strategy offers a comprehensive approach to fostering sustainable and rules-based connections with East Asian countries, facilitating deeper cooperation and mutual benefits.

Regarding Taiwan, Kallas’ support for constructive engagement and bolstering Taipei’s resilience against external pressures is commendable. However, navigating the delicate balance between supporting Taiwan’s democratic aspirations and maintaining the EU’s one-China policy will require deft diplomacy and a deep understanding of the complex cross-strait dynamics. We will see Kallas adopt a more-Taiwan-friendly approach, not only because of identifying closely with Taiwan’s values, and their support on Ukraine, but also as a “Google review” on China eroding a rules-based order in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea.

Potential Pitfalls: Weaknesses and Blind Spots

Well, not every appointment will be perfect. Despite her obvious strengths, Kallas may face significant challenges and exhibit potential weaknesses, a couple already mentioned above. One critical area is her direct and confrontational approach (NB: which I love and support), which, while effective in countering aggression from authoritarian regimes like Russia, might alienate some EU member states and complicate consensus-building. Her firm stance against countries like Hungary and Serbia could lead to increased tensions within the EU, risking further division and potentially undermining the cohesion necessary for collective decision-making.

Additionally, Kallas’ focus on security and defence might overshadow other important aspects of EU foreign policy, such as economic diplomacy, climate change, and development aid. Her strong emphasis on hard security could lead to a disproportionate allocation of resources towards defence at the expense of other critical areas that require attention for a balanced foreign policy. But needs must.

Another potential blind spot is Kallas’ limited experience in dealing with Asian geopolitical dynamics, particularly with China. While her stance on China I expect to be assertive, navigating the complexities of EU-China relations requires a nuanced understanding of economic interdependencies and diplomatic sensitivities that Kallas may need to develop further. No doubt she has this experience from Estonia, but add an enormous range of new considerations and complexities at the EU level. As with Borrell, this could lead to challenges in balancing the EU’s economic interests with its strategic and ethical considerations in its engagement with China.

Moreover, Kallas’ strong alignment with NATO and the United States could pose a challenge in maintaining the EU’s strategic autonomy. Her close ties with transatlantic partners might be viewed by some as compromising the EU’s independent foreign policy stance, potentially leading to friction with member states that advocate for a more balanced approach between transatlantic and global relations.

As the EU braces for this possible imminent seismic shift in its foreign policy trajectory, Kaja Kallas’ ascension promises to usher in a bold, values-driven era marked by assertive leadership and a resolute commitment to defending democratic principles on the global stage. While formidable obstacles loom, her unwavering resolve and principled stance position her as a formidable force poised to reshape the EU’s engagement with the world, forging a more robust and strategically autonomous European defence posture in the process. There has not been a stronger EU Foreign Policy Chief; there is much to look forward to.



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