The role of European Union in world politics

Essay, 2011

6 Pages, Grade: 86


The role of European Union ­in world politics

List of abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

It is widely agreed that the EU plays an increasingly important role in world politics (Wohlforth, 2004, p.186). This essay will investigate to what extent is EU an actor in terms of its global economic, political and military role. It should be noted that these areas are not isolated and clearly separable. On the contrary, they are closely interrelated and often overlapping.

In terms of economic power EU arguably possesses some of the largest assets. While constituting 19% to the world trade in 2007, EU was a leader in export and also in FDI. It further had the highest GDP accounting for 30.9% of the global GDP (European Commission, 2009). With a population of almost 500 million people the Single Market is the world’s biggest trading area with a valuable purchasing power, which was extended even further with the establishment of the EEA (Dover, 2010, p.240). Initially established to promote the free movement of goods, services, capital and people, the Single Market was later completed by the EMU, most notably with the adoption of the euro (Bretherton and Vogler, 2006, p.73). After an initial weakness the euro has maintained remarkable strength and has become part of the currency reserves in many countries, hence it could be argued that the euro constitutes at least a partial alternative to the dollar (Smith, 2010, p.232). However, as Bretherton and Vogler (2006, p.219) point out, despite the presence of the euro, it has not led to an increased EU actorness, not least due to the incomplete participation of the member states in the Eurozone.

The EU has commercial and political relations with various organisations and countries virtually across the globe and there is rarely a field of international policy without an EU dimension (Hoffmeister, 2008, p.37). The Single Market plays hereby a fundamental role not only internally but also externally serving as a powerful mechanism to promote European norms and standards and to exercise global leverage (Egan, 2010, p.273). In fact, as pointed out by Bretherton and Vogler (2006, p.4), EU’s economic strength serves as a basis for all its external activities. Smith (2006, p.390), however, considers the transformation of the EU’s economic power into economic and political effects one of its continuing foreign policy problems. Youngs (2010, p.1-29) also points to the recent move of the EU towards more illiberal foreign policies, which could endanger EU’s global actorness. Nevertheless, EU’s presence is considerable and other global actors will be affected not only by the EU’s external but also by its internal policies, such as the CAP (Smith, 2008, p.25). Additionally, as the investigations by Ginsberg (2001, p.278-9) demonstrate, in many cases EU has exercised high political impact even in unexpected instances.

Furthermore, EU speaks with one voice in many international matters and when dealing with various organisation (Nugent, 2010, p.371). However, complications arise when EU negotiates on behalf of its members in arenas, such as the WTO and OECD, where those members are themselves represented (White, 2001, p.55). Moreover, there have been calls, most notably from the US, for the EU to have one voice in bodies such as IMF and WB in order to reflect the currency unification (Smith (2010, p.232).

The EU has been increasingly identified as a promoter of a new cosmopolitan form of governance based on values, such as human rights and democracy (McCormick, 2007). One of the most important areas of the EU external policy has been the development assistance. Born out of a post-colonial legacy of the member states EU’s development policy has evolved into increasingly complex partnerships with the ACP countries and to a lesser extent with the ALA states (Bretherton and Vogler, 2006, p.111-127). EU along with its member states has consistently been the largest provider of development aid constituting more than half of the global development assistance (European Commission, 2010, p.11). However, as Nugent (2010, p.393-5) points out, the EU development assistance policy is conducted alongside the national development policies, which constitute about 80% of the total amount. Nevertheless, as Bretherton and Vogler (2006, p.135-6) argue, alone the creation of the ACP with its subsequent growth indicate EU’s actorness as well as its presence. However, they also acknowledge, that EU’s actorness could be improved by achieving better consistency between the various policies.

Furthermore, in the related policy area of humanitarian assistance the aid provided by the EU is greater than that allocated by the member states (Nugent, 2010, p.294). In addition, the provision of emergency aid, under the establishment of ECHO, has greatly increased EU’s role as a global actor (Bretherton and Vogler, 2006, p.136). However, despite the EU’s leadership in development and humanitarian assistance, the politicisation of these areas has been criticised (Smith, 2010, p.232). Also Smith (2008, p.236) argues that material interests of the member states can impede on EU’s milieu cosmopolitan goals. Moreover, Bartels (2008, p.171) points to the EU's complex system of subsidies, which are still damaging to LDCs.

While the importance of cooperation with the ACP states for the EU has been declining, relations with its near neighbours have become increasingly significant (Bretherton and Vogler, 2006, p.137). Given the growing demand for EU membership, the incentive to join EU constitutes the most powerful external policy instrument available to EU (Commission of the EC, 2003, p.5). This also implies that the EU exerts the most powerful influence over its adjacent neighbourhood. According to Diez et al. (2006, p.562-573), EU can exercise impact in several ways, the most important being the compulsory impact. This impact, however, decreases if membership has been achieved or is unlikely. It has been further argued, that the EU has failed to exert adequate influence in conflictual situation, such as the Cyprus conflict (Eralp and Beriker, 2005, p.188), and even increased the conflict, as in the case of Russia in Europe's north (Diez et al., 2006, p.588-9). It should be, however, noted that the EU enlargement policy has changed from being mainly reactive to a policy that is increasingly shaping relations with the accession states as well as their internal policies (Sedelmeier, 2010, p.427).

Furthermore, as identified by Bretherton and Vogler (2006, p.89), in the area of environmental politics EU can be considered a truly global actor defining and influencing policies in many areas. Moreover, EU has assumed global leadership in such areas as global warming by actively supporting the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol (Smith, 2010, p.235) or biological diversity (Nugent, 2010, p.397). Additionally, the EU is considered to have the highest capabilities of actorness and its commitment to sustainable development in such areas as world trade as well as agricultural and fishery regimes (Bretherton and Vogler, 2006, p.104). On the contrary to the economic and political arena, the EU’s actorness in military terms has not been achieved. Based on the CFSP with its more recent establishment of ESDP, the EU’s foreign security policy has evolved only slowly and often as a response to external events (Giegerich and Wallace, 2010, p.432-8). This has been suggested to be mainly due to the prominence of the NATO (Dover, 2010, p.238), however, foreign security policies are widely associated with the national sovereignty; hence member states are highly reluctant to lose control over these areas (Nugent, 2010, p.377). In addition, nations can have significantly different views regarding these policies due to differing ideological orientations (Giegerich and Wallace, 2010, p.432). Nevertheless, since 1991 and more recently since the rise of global terrorism, there has been an increased demand for a collective EU action in foreign and security policy area (Bretherton and Vogler, 2006, p.162). In fact, there has been a move albeit slow towards a more ‘Brusselsized’ security and defence policy; although, cooperation in this area is still very much intergovernmental (Dover 2010, p.240). Jeffrey (2004, p.112-115), nevertheless, claims that the provisions set out in the EU constitution are fundamentally different from prior attempts of defence integration and makes NATO superfluous to the EU security policy. Hence, despite being rejected, the proposed constitution perhaps demonstrates a willingness to cooperate in military terms to some extent. While some argue that the EU is slowly making better use of its military resources (Nugent, 2010, p.378), others, nevertheless, consider the EU’s future military role to be limited (Eliassen, 1998, p.218) and certainly inferior to that of the US (Wohlforth, 2004, p.188). Moreover, it has become widely accepted, that ‘soft’ security is becoming more important; hence military power is said to be increasingly losing its relevance (Eliassen, 1998, p.219).


Excerpt out of 6 pages


The role of European Union in world politics
Liverpool John Moores University
International politics
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
This essay will investigate to what extent is EU an actor in terms of its global economic, political and military role.
EU, European Union, EU actorness
Quote paper
Linda Vuskane (Author), 2011, The role of European Union in world politics, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The role of European Union in world politics

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free