The European Union: Is Europe a superpower? Will Europe ever be a superpower?

Seminar Paper, 2010

22 Pages, Grade: 1,7



1. Introduction

2. The European Union
2.1 The History and Development of the European Union
2.2 The European Union after the Treaty of Lisbon

3. Is the EU a superpower, after the Treaty of Lisbon?

4. Conclusion:

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

"In just 50 years, Europeans have made war between European powers unthinkable; European economies have closed the gap with the US; and Europe has brought successive waves of countries out of dictatorship and into democracy" (Leonard 2005). Due to the enormous achievements the European Union (EU) brought to its member states, the question of whether the EU is a superpower right now or if it will become a superpower in the future has been and continues to be discussed. In 2002, the then-president of the European Commission stated “that one of the EU’s chief goals is to create a superpower on the European continent that stands equal to the United States” (Kupchan 2003, p.211). This essay aims to answer the question if the EU has reached this chief goal. Many books have been written about this topic including"The United States of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy” by T.R. Reid (2004) and "The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future is quietly Eclipsing the American Dream" by Jeremy Rifkin (2004). As well as "Super-State: The New Europe and its Challenge to America" by Stephen Haseler (2004); "Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century" by Mark Leonard (2005) and “The Idea of a European Superstate” by Glyn Morgan (2005) to name a few of them. Some of these books argue that Europe is the new dominant world power, and America's days as the world's one and only superpower are reaching their end. However, all of these publications were written before the implementation of the Treaty of Lisbon. Therefore, they could only be used to get some interesting ideas to support the opinion of this paper that the EU is not yet a superpower; nevertheless, it is possible that it will be in the future. To give an educated explanation of this position, this essay will look firstly at the history and development of the EU, and then explain the changes made by the Treaty of Lisbon due to the fact that this treaty reorganized the structure and institutions of the EU. If the EU is, or will be, a Superpower depends mostly on the latest treaty which formed a Union with a ‘real’ parliament, extended the EU’s ability to act in several new policy areas and reorganized the EU as an actor on the global stage. Through this treaty, Europe should become more effective both internally and externally, in its decision making within the union and giving the EU a clear global voice. This essay will then explain if the Treaty of Lisbon has really changed, or in fact whether it will change, the EU and if the EU fits the characteristics of a superpower.

2. The European Union

The EU, with its 27 member states and a population of approximately half a billion, covers a large part of Europe. Since its creation, it has worked to bring prosperity and stability to its people and tried to spread prosperity, democratic progress, the rule of law and human rights around the globe. Today, it is the world’s greatest economic power (“Europa - Key facts and figures about Europe and the Europeans” 20??, para.1-3). In fact, the European Political Economy is still the leading economic world model. The EU is a hybrid of international and supranational organizations (Steiner &Crepaz 2007, p.263). The Council of Ministers and the European Council act like the EU is an international institution (Steiner &Crepaz 2007, p.263), as the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). On the other side the European Commission and the European Parliament, after the Treaty of Lisbon, can be characterized as supranational organizations (Steiner &Crepaz 2007, p.263).

2.1 The History and Development of the European Union

From the rise of Europe during the 15th Century until the first half of the 19th Century, Europe was a hegemonic force throughout the world. In the 19th Century, the continent survived the effects of two world wars. At the end of the Second World War, and with the Cold War approaching, many people in Europe recognized the immense importance of ensuring that the continent did not suffer the consequences of war again. At this time, Europeans began to recognize the benefits of a more integrated European continent (Steiner &Crepaz 2007, p.261). The main goal of this integration was to ensure peace throughout the continent.

After the Second World War a new chapter in the history of the European continent started. In the 1950s, the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), the European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM) and the European Economic Community (EEC) began to unite European countries economically and politically in order to secure permanent peace. With the signature of the Treaties of Rome in 1957, the six founders of the community, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, laid the foundation-stone for the EU (“Europa-The History of the European Union” 20??, para.1). As a result of the Treaties of Rome, the member states began to remove their trade barriers to form a `common market´ (“Europa - The History of the European Union” 20??, para.1). In 1967, the institutions of the three European Communities - ECSC, EURATOM and EEC – were merged and the European Commission, Council of Ministers and European Parliament were created (“globalgateway - History of the EU” 2009, para.3).

After restructuring its institutions the Union was expanded. On the 1 January 1973 Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined the EU (Steiner &Crepaz 2007, p.262). In the 1970’s a regional policy was started (“Europa - The History of the European Union” 20??, para.3) to bring every region of the community to the same level. Furthermore, the European Parliament increased its influence in EU affairs and, in 1979, all EU citizens were able, for the first time, to directly elect their members of the European Parliament (“Europa - The History of the European Union” 20??, para.3), whereas, previously the members of the EU Parliament were drawn from the nationalparliaments (“globalgateway - History of the EU” 2009, para.4). Greece became the 10th member of the EU in 1981, while Spain and Portugal joined the EU five years later. The Single European Act was signed on February 18. 1986 (Steiner &Crepaz 2007, p.262). The `Single Market´, resulting out of this contract, allows the free movement of goods, capital, people and services throughout the whole community (“globalgateway - History of the EU” 2009, para.6).

Through the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, a new chapter was opened in the history of the community. The term European Community was officially replaced by the `European Union´ within the context of the Maastricht Treaty, signed on 1 November 1993 (Steiner &Crepaz 2007, p.262). The Treaty established new areas of co-operation between the member states and the EU by transferring some competences in defense,justice and home affairs to the EU and set the timetable for the introduction of a single currency (“globalgateway - History of the EU” 2009, para.6). In 1995, Austria, Finland and Sweden became members of the EU (Steiner & Crepaz 2007, p.262). Furthermore, the ‘Schengen’ agreement was implemented, which allows people within the EU to travel without having their passports checked at the borders (“Europa - The History of the European Union” 20??, para.5). Through the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1999, the power of the EU Parliament was further extended (“globalgateway - History of the EU” 2009, para.6); nevertheless, the EU Parliament still had not achieved the power of the national parliaments.


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The European Union: Is Europe a superpower? Will Europe ever be a superpower?
Bond University Australia
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Hendrik Hillebrand (Author), 2010, The European Union: Is Europe a superpower? Will Europe ever be a superpower?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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