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The European Union in Global Perspectives


The European Union in Global Perspectives

by Neila AKRIMI



The ambition of the EU to promote its model of development and the fact that europeanisation remains somehow a rival globalisation, imply a bigger ambition of the EU to attain a position of an International actor. Chris Patten[i] confirms this idea:

“ The European Union’s external relations are global and diverse, encompassing both the common Foreign Policy and security policy and community aspect, such as competition, the environment, justice and home affairs and consumers protection. The commission role is to promote an effective, consistent and coherent external relations policy for the European Union, so as to enable the European Union to assert its identity on the international scene.”

However to what extent and in what ways, can the EU be considered as a global actor? Has the EU attained the position of a full-blown international actor? These questions lead to an other: what does being an international actor mean?

The definition of actor requires conceiving of the international actor as any entity that participates in international relations and exerts an influence on their course. The amplitude of this definition allows for the inclusion of both the traditional functions performed by state in international relations and the function carried out today by international organisations of various kinds[ii].

Does this definition apply on the EU case?

1-EU’s potential as a global actor

Though lacking statehood, the EU can be viewed as a homogeneous entity, especially if the single market, customs union, common commercial policy and the single currency are taken into consideration. After 2004 Europe will have the third largest population after China and India and will compete with the United States in being the strongest economic power. In addition within the increasingly unipolar world Europe, particularly with the upcoming enlargement and as the world's biggest trading partner, the EU, has a formidable chance to firmly establish itself as a global player.

The Europe’s community in its past, present and future shape represents an organism comprising Europe’s most highly developed, economically, politically and military strong countries. Its core is formed by nations that were once classed world powers. Each of them in the past perused it’s own foreign policy and cultivated external relations on a broad international scale.

These aspects seem to give the Union the credentials to promote initiative of a global character.

a-Treaty basis

The global reach and objectives of EU Foreign policy is reflected in the treaties. Article 11 of the Treaty of Amsterdam (ToA)[iii]. It states five objectives. The first two are safeguarding the fundamental interests, independence and common values of the Union itself and strengething its security. The other three are of a broader nature: preserving peace and strengething international security in accordance with the principles of the UN charter, promoting international cooperation, and developing and consolidationg democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedom. The ToA aggregated certain powers at the Union level though previously they had belonged to the sole competence of member governments. This is confirmed by the institutional agreements introduced by article 18 to 28 ToA.

b-External Policy in the EU structure

External policy covers both economic and political relations. Economic cooperation is managed under the common commercial policy, political relations under the CFSP. The CFSP defines the EU’s political philosophy, which is reflected in the treaties and the projects it peruses. The EU’s external relations comprise six principal axes whose range and scale are of global nature. They also cover bilateral-multilateral relations, enlargement commercial policy and human assistance.

The importance the Union now attaches to its relations with countries around the world can be seen through recent innovations in both the European Commission and the Council of Ministers.

  •       Some 15 years ago, the complete panoply of external relations was handled by just two Commission departments. Now there are six. To ensure a coherent approach and a clear identity, overall coordination is assured by the External Relations Commissioner, Chris Patten. He works closely with his colleagues in charge of sectoral policies - Poul Nielson (Development and Humanitarian Aid), Günter Verheugen (Enlargement) and Pascal Lamy (Trade). He also works in close contact with Javier Solana, the Secretary-General of the Council of Ministers and the first High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

  •       The Union has an extensive network around the world, which helps it to formulate and implement policy. In addition to the many foreign embassies in Brussels accredited to the EU, the Commission has over 120 of its own delegations in third countries. Their role is to develop the Union's bilateral links with nations of hugely differing size and wealth, promoting the EU's policies and values and keeping Brussels informed of developments on the ground. 

  •       Although the Presidency of the EU rotates between Member States every six months, continuity in foreign policy is ensured by the CFSP High Representative, the Council Secretariat and the Commission. The Member State holding the Presidency is also assisted by the country that will hold the next Presidency.

c-Means and instruments

Since 1993, the Council of Ministers has adopted some 70 common positions on foreign policy issues ranging from the Balkans to East Timor and from the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons to counter-terrorism. Once adopted, Member States are required to adhere to common positions, which the Presidency defends at the United Nations and in other international forums. Over the same period, the Council has agreed some 50 common actions, including de-mining operations in Africa and elsewhere and the dispatch of EU special envoys to crisis areas such as the Balkans and the Middle East.

Since the Amsterdam Treaty of 1999, the European Council (Heads of State or Government) is empowered to adopt longer-term common strategies for certain countries or regions. Common strategies on Russia and the Ukraine were adopted in 1999 and on the Mediterranean in 2000.

Within the CFSP, a common European security and defense policy (CESDP) is rapidly taking shape. To reinforce the Union's ability to deal with crisis situations in neighbouring regions, plans are in hand, in close cooperation with NATO, to set up a rapid reaction military force to carry out peace-keeping and other non-combat tasks at short notice. The existence of such a force would complement the EU's existing possibilities, which include police operations, border controls and civilian humanitarian assistance.

d-The EU’s International Actor role

The EU exerts an influence on non-member countries via trade policy and decision- taking in the field of internal economic policy. It can be said that the interrelationship between progress in the integration of EU space and liberalisation of relations with non-member countries takes shape on a feedback basis.

We should mention that the relationship held by the EU in the international level covers both bilateral and multilateral contacts.

d.1-Bilateral Contacts:

-North America: cooperate closely not just on bilateral matters, but in international forums like the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation, NATO and the G8.

-Russia and the new independent States: the EU common strategy on Russia for the following four years. The initiative signalled a new phase in relations between the two partners and was the first foreign policy document approved by the EU under the new common foreign and security policy provisions introduced by the Amsterdam Treaty from 1997. It was followed six months later by a similar common strategy towards Ukraine.

Both initiatives go further than the 'partnership and cooperation agreements', which the Union has with all the new independent States, i.e. the countries which earlier formed the Soviet Union. They aim to consolidate democracy, the rule of law and public institutions and to help the countries integrate into a 'common European economic and social space', including working towards a free trade area with the Union.

-South-eastern Europe: The European Union is committed to bringing peace and stability to the Balkans and its main objective is to integrate the countries of the region into Europe's political and economic mainstream. The 'stabilisation and association process' is its principal policy instrument involving Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The process is individually tailored to the needs of each participant and includes economic and financial assistance, cooperation, political dialogue, the goal of a free trade area, approximation of EU legislation and practices and cooperation in areas like justice and home affairs.

-Euro-Mediterranean Partnership: At the beginning of the 1990s, the EU and its member governments took up again the state of their relations with the states of the Mediterranean region. They decided to pass from the unproductiveness of the Mediterranean programs and actions of the last twenty years to a new strategy aimed at substituting the traditional sectorial and bilateral approach strategy with the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership. The November 1995 Barcelona Conference - where the Partnership was solemnly launched - wanted to be the opening of a new chapter in the history of relations between the European Union and the countries of the Mediterranean.

The Barcelona Declaration - the founding charter of the Partnership - targets a free trade area between the 27 participants by the year 2010 and pledges to start cooperation in a broad range of political, social and economic fields. It comprises four chapters and a work programme. The chapters deal with Political and Security Partnership; Economic and Financial Partnership; Partnership in Social, Cultural and Human Affairs.

In the Political and Security Partnership chapter, the participating countries stress their conviction that peace, stability and security in the Mediterranean region are common assets which they pledged to promote and strengthen "by all means at their disposal". In the Economic and Financial Partnership chapter, three long term objectives are given to their partnership: to speed up the pace of lasting social and economic development; to improve peoples' living conditions by raising employment and closing the development gap in the region; to promote cooperation and regional integration. In the Partnership in Social, Cultural and Human Affairs chapter, governments recognise that mutual understanding can be greatly enhanced by human exchanges and a dialogue between cultures; they agree to establish a wide range of cooperation between peoples, not only in politics but also in culture, religion, education, the media, as well as between trade unions and public and private companies.

The EMP regional project is a projection of the EU integration. However, the projection of the EU model doesn’t stop at this level that is considered to be structural. A deeper level is being set up aiming at supporting this structure. In fact the southern Mediterranean countries are called to implement the “Acquis communautaire” on the national scale.   The entire body of European laws is known as the “acquis communautaire”.

The EU influence has grown stronger as deeper integration made process, a process, which can be analysed from the angle of the number and kinds of agreements, conclude with non-member countries and in the light of the procedures introduced in the course of deepening integration. The last feature of this deepening integrating remains the new concept of neighbouring policy. The European Commission adopted a Communication[iv] setting out a new framework for relations over the coming decade with Russia, the Western NIS and the Southern Mediterranean – countries[v]  who do not currently have a perspective of membership but who will soon find themselves sharing a border with the Union. As the Copenhagen European Council confirmed, enlargement is an opportunity to promote stability and prosperity beyond the new borders of the Union. The Communication proposes that, over the coming decade, the EU should therefore aim to work in partnership to develop a zone of prosperity and a friendly neighbourhood – a ‘ring of friends’ - with whom the EU enjoys close, peaceful and co-operative relations. It suggests that, in return for concrete progress demonstrating shared values and effective implementation of political, economic and institutional reforms, all the neighbouring countries should be offered the prospect of a stake in the EU’s internal market. This should be accompanied by further integration and liberalisation to promote the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital (four freedoms).

President Prodi said "With globalisation and the creation of a trans-national civil society, the Union’s external relations can no longer be distinguished from its internal development, particularly when it comes to our neighbourhood. Instead of trying to establish new dividing lines, deeper integration between the EU and the ring of friends will accelerate our mutual political, economic and cultural dynamism." 

It therefore proposes that further measures to enhance integration and liberalisation should be implemented gradually and progressively, responding to positive action on the part of the neighbouring countries.

These measures are:

  • Extension of the Internal Market and Regulatory Structures

  • Preferential Trading relations and Market Opening

  • Perspectives for Lawful Migration and Movement of Persons

  • Intensified Co-operation to Prevent and Combat Common Security Threats

  • Greater EU Political Involvement in Conflict Prevention and Crisis Management

  • Greater Efforts to Promote Human Rights, Further Cultural Co-operation and Enhance Mutual Understanding

  • Integration into Transport, Energy and Telecommunications Networks and the European Research Area

  • New Instruments for Investment Promotion and Protection

  • Support for Integration into the Global Trading System

  • Enhanced Assistance, Better Tailored to Needs

  • New Sources of Finance

This new version of the EU relations of it’s surrounding countries is also mentioned in the European convention. Article 56 states :

          1.The Union shall develop a special relationship with neighbouring States, aiming to establish an area of   prosperity and good neighbourliness, founded on the values of the Union and characterised by close and peaceful relations based on cooperation.

           2.For this purpose, the Union may conclude and implement specific agreements with the countries concerned in accordance with Article III-227.  These agreements may contain reciprocal rights and obligations as well as the possibility of undertaking activities jointly. Their implementation shall be the subject of periodic consultation.

The gradual development of specific neighbourhood policy reveals a growing awareness of the external consequences of the forthcoming EU enlargement. This article shows the interaction between the deepening of the EU and the strengthening of its’ external role in the world.

We must underline the fact that the Formula “neighborhood policy” is not expressively mentioned in the treaty itself. The members of the convention favored a more neutral designation “The Union and its immediate environment”.

d.2-Multilateral contacts

-Regional groupings

In addition to bilateral contacts, the Union has a large number of multilateral relations both with international organisations and with other regional groupings of countries. It attaches particular importance to encouraging regional forms of integration, since these help create large, integrated local markets and enable countries in specific parts of the world to participate more effectively on global issues.

  In Asia, the Union has developed a stronger regional relationship through greater involvement with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN). Burma/Myanmar, while a member of ASEAN is not part of the EU-ASEAN Member States agreement.

In Latin America, the main partnerships are with the San José Group (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama), Mercosur (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay), the Andean Community (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela) and the Rio Group of countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela).

The Union encourage the establishment of regional groupings among the African, Caribbean and Pacific[vi] countries and cooperates closely with the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

It has a well- developed relationship, particularly on single market matters and flanking policies such as the environment and competition, with the three European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries - Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein - which, with the EU, make up the European Economic Area.

One of the most recent initiatives is the 'northern dimension' which brings together the EU's more northerly members, Russia and candidate countries in northern Europe.

  -The EU and The United Nations :

Cooperation between the United Nations and regional organizations has taken a variety of forms ranging from de facto collaboration to highly formalized and permanent relationships. The most obvious formal relationship is observer status for regional organizations with particular UN organs. The General Assembly has granted observer status to a number of regional organizations, including the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1974. Cooperation among the Members of the European Union is close but individual membership remains unaffected. By contrast, the Community has all but replaced its individual Members as participants in GATT. The other GATT Members have informally accepted this succession of a regional organization to the rights and duties of its members.


This development was taken to its logical conclusion in the relationship of the European Community to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). In November 1991, the Community was formally admitted to membership of the global organization after FAO had amended its constitution. The individual EC Members retain their respective memberships in FAO but have to share the exercise of their rights with the regional organization.


The growing role of the EU and the reinforcement of europeanisation as a process of influence of the EU foreign Policy  confirm the global ambition of the EU and makes the EU more than a regional project. However, the evolving role of the EU as a global actor faces several challenges limiting it’s effeciency.

2-Challenges of the global role of the EU

  The on going process of the EU to attain  a global role as a full-blown international player faces various obstacles which weakens the process. First, the architecture of pillars is poorly suited to the situation in that there are areas that link or impact more than one pillar. For example, this raises the need for bringing together elements of the first pillar, which still operates on the basis of the community system (trade policy, co-operation for development, etc.) with foreign policy, which functions by means of a new, intergovernmental system. The creation of the High Representative has certainly revolutionised the European Union's foreign relations, but there will nonetheless still be two systems-community and intergovernmental-and it will be absolutely necessary to make them work together in a compatible fashion.

  The other challenge EU faces in the short term is how to become a  global political player. We are perfectly aware that being an economic giant does not imply also being a political giant.  Now, in order to be a major political player one must develop certain elements.

  Another important challenge, perhaps the greatest one of all, is defining EU interests. At certain levels, this is not very complex. The EU member states don’t share always the same interests ( the division in the EU regarding the war in Irak). If the EU members are talking about values, individual liberties, respect for human rights, etc. they can come to an agreement quite easily. The problem arises when they are dealing with more specific or material issues. For example, what are the EU's interests in Argentina or in Zimbabwe?

  However, One should keep in mind that the EU is based in large measure on the principle of subsidiarity, a situation that will presumably not change relative to certain areas such as foreign policy for quite some time.

  The group dealing with the elaboration of the European constitution seemed to be aware of the existence of these handicaps. The Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe[vii] is equipping the EU by new means that may help it step forward towards the achievement of the ultimate objective of being a full-blown global actor.

  The article 6 of the Draft Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe may reinforce the potential role of the EU as a political player. It states,The Union shall have legal personality”.  The role of the EU in world politics has always suffered from the ambiguity caused by the organization lack or legal personality.  The fact that the EU is equipped with a legal personality is a big a step towards reinforcing the potential role of the EU as a global actor as it provides the EU to authorize the opening of the negotiation and issues the negotiate directions, and to conclude International agreements once they are negotiated.

The convention seems also to give a solution for the poor conceptualisation of the EU interests. According to the European convention, article III-193 dealing with general provisions, paragraph 2: “The Union shall define and pursue common policies and actions, and shall work for a high degree of cooperation in all fields of international relations, in order to:

(a) safeguard the common values, fundamental interests, security, independence and integrity of the Union;

(b) consolidate and support democracy, the rule of law, human rights and international law;

(c) preserve peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security, in conformity with the principles of the United Nations Charter;

(d) foster the sustainable economic, social and environmental development of developing countries, with the primary aim of eradicating poverty;

(e) encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy, including through the progressive abolition of restrictions on international trade;

(f) help develop international measures to preserve and improve the quality of the environment and the sustainable management of global natural resources, in order to ensure sustainable development;

(g) assist populations, countries and regions confronting natural or man-made disasters;

(h) promote an international system based on stronger multilateral cooperation and good global governance.”

  It appears that the will to develop these elements was strengthened by the European constitution, but there is still a long way to go.


Clearly there is much to debate about the relationship between globalisation and European integration. What seems clear is that Both The EU and the Globalisation constitute a tentative to get over the logic of traditional trade inter-state and bilateral in order to give triumph to a new logic of the global economic integration.At its origins European integration was meant to resolve European problems not to promote globalisation. So it is bit surprising the EU as regional integration and even considered as an exception not much compatible with Globalisation, is getting so close to it. On the other hand Globalisation as for its intentions, it seeks an ultimate target to uniform the international economic arena thus to eliminate borders and obstacles implied by process of regional integration?  A central debate is whether European integration facilitates or constitutes a defensive reaction to globalisation?

Globalisation and europeanisation are complementary, partly overlapping, mutually reinforcing, but also competing processes. Both friends and rivals, the two processes are undergoing a self-achieving dynamics, both sides keep on trying to infiltrate its own logic in the opponent process or at least reduce its negative impacts. On the one hand, globalisation both reinforces and strengthens the demand for the constitutionalisation of EU decision-making, on the other hand, globalisation tends to retard or even prevent the marriage of europeanisation and constitutionalisation. The ultimate destination of this complex interaction is unknown, depending as much on politics and power as economics.


[i] Chris Patten, EU Commissioner in charge of External Relations.

[ii] R.O. Keohane, J.S.  Nye, Power and interdependence, New York, 2001, pp.47-52.

[iii] Article J.1 Treaty on the European Union (TEU).

[iv] Wider Europe— Neighbourhood: A New Framework for Relations with our Eastern and Southern Neighbours. Brussels, COM(2003) 104 final, 11.3.2003.

[v] Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestinians Authority, Syria and Tunisia)

[vi] The new ACP EU Partnership Agreement, - which, after the Lome Conventions, is to cover the next 20 years of the relationship between the European Union and the ACP countries -, was signed in Cotonou on 23 June 2000.

[vii] Available at :