North Korea: should the EU seize the opportunity?

This Tuesday the entire world watched American President Donald Trump and the North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un shake hands at the long-discussed summit in Singapore. This rather theatrical act was to be the great victory of the US administration, however, to an involved observer it must be clear that it was Mr Kim who took home the larger piece of the pie.

Vague statements about complete denuclearisation were presented as the end of American military involvement on the Korean Peninsula. No wonder Japanese Prime Minister Abe and South-Korean President Moon Jae-in are getting nervous about the situation. But to be fair, negotiations and summits, even with vague statements, are still better than war.

Actions speak louder than (secret) words

This dramatic change of stances and attitudes concerning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) shows once again that the European Union often remains on the sidelines of the international scene, miles away from the negotiating table. In the era of bold words and unexpected actions, where attracting the media to international politics gives a competitive advantage – as Mr Trump and the North Korean leader well know– the EU is slowly but surely losing grip and falling behind. Yet again.

The only official reaction coming from the old continent concerned the praise of the current evolution of matters and the hope for further denuclearisation. Federica Mogherini has once more offered herself as the negotiation mediator. One cannot deny the EU´s active role in negotiating with the “difficult” Iranian counterpart, however, in this strategic macho game, actions speak louder than words. Behind the scenes, a European delegation had secretly been negotiating with North Korean officials. One may say that their push might have contributed to Kim Jong Un´s willingness to participate in the official negotiations with the United States. Regardless of this positive impact, the United Nations Security Council Resolution’s superimposed limitations may put the relation in yet another negative sphere.

Making the best out of it

Seven European nations have embassies in the Democratic People Republic of Korea. Among these are Sweden, the (up to now) official channel for US concerns, and Britain – the voice of the EU in the north of the Korean peninsula. By moving its base for bilateral relations onto the continent, the office of the High Representative could seize the opportunity and get involved in down-to-earth negotiations concerning topics such as trade, human rights, and engagement of European companies in the evolving North Korean market. In case of success, the Union would show the international community that deals can be made without major dependence on the USA. Mr Trump has not been the most reliable ally lately anyway. Negotiations could start and agreements could be reached as Europe has very little geopolitical interests in the Peninsula and may appear as a trustworthy partner.

The goals of the so-called “Critical Engagement Policy” (stressing the denuclearization of the peninsula) could be reached indirectly by the US administration. If one wanted to be optimistic and believe in miracles, the European Union would push even further and engage in a multilateral dialogue with China and the Korean counterparts. All parties would welcome a change in the Asian status quo and Europe could finally emerge to the international stage as a significant player. Anyway, time is money and the clock is ticking.

Author: Petra Adamková

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