Strengthening the EU's External Action: The Need for an EU Food Diplomacy?

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Over the last decades, food security has come to the fore as a relevant issue both for scholars and for policy-makers. The so-called “Arab Spring” revealed the strong linkage between food security, political instability and migration. The European Union’s food security policy has set up solid building blocks to deal with the challenge both in terms of development and of humanitarian policies. However, such an approach has proved to be too sectoral, lacking a clear strategic framework where food is embedded into broader security dynamics.

An EU food diplomacy under the aegis of the European External Action Service could help to integrate the two souls – development and humanitarian assistance – of the EU’s food security policy, in line with the EU Global Strategy and the international commitments made on climate change and sustainable development 

Table of contents:

1. Food: A new concept of security 2. The link between food security, political instability and migration flows 3. The EU’s approach towards food security 3.1 The two souls of the EU’s food security policy 3.2 The role of the EEAS: Time is ripe for an EU food diplomacy? 3.3 Relations with the Member States in implementing food security objectives 3.4 Relations with other international actors 4. Why does the EU need a food diplomacy?  

Read more from Why does the EU Need Food Diplomacy?

Food is inexorably linked to many areas of policy – from climate change to sustainable development to conflict to migration. The EU has become a major player in ensuring global food security, both through its engagement in sustainable development and humanitarian assistance programmes. Daniele Fattibene argues that it should therefore develop its food diplomacy under the aegis of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and its security policy.

In recent decades, the concept of security has been discussed with specific focusing on its human dimension. Food security, in particular, has come to the fore as a key issue for both academics and policy-makers. The food security concept has ceased to be linked purely with development or humanitarian assistance, and it has merged with other major security-related issues, such as climate change, sustainable management of global resources, social unrest and political instability.

Food insecurity and political instability

The dramatic instability in the Middle East and sub-Saharan regions led many analysts to include food insecurity among the “root causes” of conflict. The so-called “food riots” illustrated that, if coupled with other forms of grievances (such as poverty, social and political marginalization, youth unemployment, etc.), food insecurity triggers harsh anti-government demonstrations. In Syria, for example, the mix of neoliberal economic reforms in the agricultural sector, the de-regulation and open competition with global food markets caused the demise of the farming sector. The government’s cuts to agricultural subsidies, the de-regulation of the real estate market (with increased prices both for land rents and agricultural inputs) and free trade agreements (with cheaper agricultural and manufactured products entering into the domestic market) forced farmers to choose between misery in rural areas or slums in the big cities. Hence, it is not a coincidence that the first anti-government demonstrations sprung up in rural agricultural districts.

The two souls of the EU’s food security policy

At the global level, the EU has become one of the major food security actors. EU policy-makers have started to take into account the potential negative externalities that the implementation of some domestic policies might have on global food security. This is particularly true with regard to biofuel policies. In this respect, for instance, an intense debate emerged on the potential implications of biofuels for food prices, indirect land-use change, water stress and greenhouse gas emissions.

In this sense, the EU is strongly engaged in an ambitious "circular economy" package. This is expected to be finalised by the end of this year. Yet, the external dimension of the EU’s food security has often been over-shadowed by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). Far from minimising the importance of the CAP, it is important to highlight other external policies of the Union, which have a strong impact on global food security. The Union’s food security policy is essentially divided into two parts: development and humanitarian assistance. The first deals with long-term programmes, whereas the second embodies a short-term perspective. In recent years, the EU has made impressive steps forward and, between 2014 and 2020, it will allocate around EUR 9 billion to development programmes with food security implications.

Empowering the European External Action Service

Despite the progress attained so far, the EU needs to go beyond its technical approach and expertise, by elaborating a clear strategic framework where food is clearly embedded within its security dimensions. The risk of creating an overlap of activities among the different Directorates General (DGs) involved in food security-related programmes is extremely high. A major qualitative leap, therefore, would be to enable the EEAS to play a stronger role in this regard.

By avoiding duplications and exploiting expertise on the ground to elaborate country-tailored projects, empowering the EU diplomatic corps would make it possible to launch a truly holistic and comprehensive approach towards food security. Moreover, in light of the recently published EU Global Strategy, this approach would help to put the EU food security policy in line with other global commitments. Among them there not only those taken in the field of sustainable development or the fight against climate change (e.g. the UN 2030 Agenda), but even multilateral and bilateral trade deals which definitely have food security implications.

The EU needs a food diplomacy

In other words, the EU requires a food diplomacy, which considers all the linkages that food has with a wide range of security issues. Moreover, the EU should enhance cooperation with all actors that share an interest in fighting global food insecurity. This means taking on board not only political stakeholders, but also profit and non-profit ones, from big transnational corporations to small and medium sized enterprises and NGOs. Such coordination action would allow tackling food insecurity at all stages of the food chain, but also to address the root causes of conflicts, and promote a re-thinking of models of farming.

An effective food diplomacy would strengthen the Union’s presence on the global stage, by contributing to the efforts to eradicate the current unfair distribution of food, with the aim to make food available for all, nutritious and produced in an environmentally sustainable way.