As the Lisbon Treaty comes into force, a little reflection into the perception of the European Union as a global power as seen almost five years ago (2005). A bit of nostalgia but may be an appropriate starting point to assessing where the EU is now, and where it might be going.
That the European Union (EU), being the world’s largest economic entity, has influence in today’s world is generally without doubt, but to be a true global actor requires influence across a wide spectrum. In defining it as a global actor, one should consider seven, often interdependent, aspects to be fundamental in affording the EU any global influence. These are: economics; international or regional cooperation; promotion of human rights, democracy and good governance; prevention of violent conflict; fight against international crime and terrorism; and military capability. Each should be examined so as to assess how far the EU can currently be considered a global actor. However, regardless of the EU’s potential capacity in these areas, economic, political and military weight count for little on the world stage without the political will to engage that weight and the capacity for, and autonomy of, decision-making.
With an annual GDP of almost 11 trillion euros, accounting for, on average, some 25% of world GDP, contained within a unique and successful customs union, in economic terms the EU can be seen as a superpower, with undoubted global influence. Via the customs union it has largely pooled the economic trading capacity of its member states, such that it is the world’s leading exporter of goods, services and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and the main export market for some 130 countries around the globe. Through the European Community pillar, it possesses its most powerful foreign policy instruments: the capacity to enter into trade, economic cooperation and development agreements with other economic entities, national or regional, especially through the European Community’s General System of Preferences (GSP); and direct financial assistance to third countries. Its very success in regional economic integration is held up as an example across the world, allowing for some degree of influence globally. Its sheer trading power, economic capacity and prominence make it easy to regard as a global actor in economic terms.
With its significant economic power, it has considerable influence with the global institutions (International Financial Institutions – IFIs) which influence global trade and finance regulations, such as the World Trade organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This is regardless of the lack of an EU seat, but due to the fact that cohesion and concensus is relatively strong over trade issues. Yet, there are brakes upon the already significant EU influence, but these are less a fault of the EU than the rigid and hierarchical structures of such bodies. Further, the EU is often seen as falling foul of WTO rules, being a respondent in disputes almost as often as a complainant, but this does not diminish the EU’s global influence and possibly proves its existence. Regardless, technically proficient in economic management and with competent control mechanisms, expressed exclusively through the Commission, the economic weight of the EU is by far its biggest ‘stick’ and ‘carrot’, available for exercise outside the strictly economic sphere.
Closely aligned to economics, in regards to international, or more specific to the EU, regional cooperation, the EU is most exemplary, largely through its own identity and origins. Relying on legal frameworks and diplomacy, it rather uniquely fosters regional cooperation within its own neighborhood and further afield, to a degree that few can match. With cooperation agreements between the EU and Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Andean Community, African, Caribbean and Pacific countries (ACP), the Central American Community, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Mercosur, there is now also a plethora of regular high level political meetings between representatives of the EU and other regional groups across the globe. In this, the EU has considerable international profile and a modicum of global influence.
However, whilst the will is there, there is a growing ‘capabilities-expectations’ gap, in which EU institutions are finding it difficult to address all groupings, ‘to the detriment of Europe’s international profile’. Further, this ‘new regionalization’, although largely driven by the EU, is only incumbent upon the trend of globalization which is by no means irreversible.
HUMAN RIGHTS, DEMOCRACY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE
The promotion of human rights, democracy and good governance is seen as a significant
element of the EU’s international image, although rather more reactive than proactive. However, detailed analysis reveals limits. Having looked at these issues relatively late on, other European organizations stole a march on the EU and feature heavily in promoting common European standards. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) is a creation of the Council of Europe, to which the individual EU member states have signed up. The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) also plays a significant part the promotion of democracy. Although the ideals of the ECHR have been incorporated into EU charters and conventions, they tend to be non-binding and have little legal basis, providing limited legitimacy when it comes to addressing the issue on a global stage. Similarly, with the EU being accused itself of a ‘democratic deficit’, legitimacy here is also sketchy and good governance is difficult to codify anyway.
Although other organizations crowd into this field, the EU does possess powers unavailable to them through its economic and political weight. The use of conditionality, the provision of aid (via the EU’s European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR)) and diplomatic instruments are the EU’s strong hand. However, conditionality can be difficult due to existing member state, especially ex-colonial, bilateral ties, EIDHR’s budget is paltry and security concerns over hasty democratization bringing civil strife mean that EU policy in this area is fairly inconsistent and decision-making is hampered.
Yet, there is a collective will, based upon largely shared history, development of common values and a perception of insecurity in not doing so, within the EU member states to promote human rights, democracy and good governance. If the practicalities prove difficult there is a global platform which proves more amenable to the EU itself: the United Nations. Despite recent rifts over Iraq, there is increasing convergence of EU member state voting in the UN General Assembly, approaching some 85%, making it an effective machine within the UN. Despite it being accused of being mostly reactive, the EU has been seen to be a powerful UN actor when cohesive and committed, such as over the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The EU itself can be seen from its inception as a mechanism designed to prevent conflict in Europe and the concept is now enshrined within the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). Outside its own borders, the EU has become increasingly involved as a mediating element in conflicts within its neighborhood, such as the Former Republic of Yugoslavia and in FYROM, with varying success, and the Mediterranean. Increasingly, the EU features as a party, within a larger grouping, normally including the US, to conflict resolution and/or prevention, such as efforts in the Middle East. However, US interests cause EU influence to wane over distance, inherently displaying the EU’s limited global scope. Aside the Middle East and Central Asia, Africa does appear to be progressively showing on the EU’s radar, with growing commitment, although far short of direct intervention, being promised from the Council. The EU’s provisions for conflict prevention have improved considerably, with the Goteberg European Council of June 2001 sparking a drive towards coherent policy in this area.
Yet, despite impressive improvements and significant will, the EU’s conflict prevention capacity is diplomatically weak. Despite the political influence afforded by the EU’s economic standing, conditionality and sanctions often fail in poverty stricken and violence ridden areas and limits have been apparent with more developed states, such as between India and Pakistan in May 2002. The Iraq crisis presented the epitome of a lack of vigourous and clear diplomatic signals from the EU; signals most necessary in conflict management. Yet, some see the EU’s ‘soft’ power, without the threat of military force, as its unique strength in conflict prevention.
TERRORISM AND INTERNATIONAL CRIME
Although international terrorism is nothing new to the EU region, the full impact of international organized crime was only fully realized as the Cold War ended, allowing infiltration of crime syndicates from the former Soviet Bloc. Thus, whilst national policies developed, the EU has had a late start in this field. Through the provisions of EUROPOL, the Schengen Agreement, European Judicial Cooperation Unit (EUROJUST) and other capabilities within the third pillar, Justice and Home affairs (JHA), the EU’s capacity in fighting international crime and terrorism, within its own borders, has been improved, especially since the events of 11 September, 2001. In November 2002 EUROPOL’s competences were expanded: it is now authorized to participate with member states in joint investigation teams and request member states to initiate investigations. In February 2002, EUROJUST was established to coordinate cooperation between prosecution authorities in EU member states. These are largely of an internal dimension but provide for some high levels of coordination, which have eased cooperation with other national governments and crime-fighting authorities. In December 2001, the EU’s impact upon global crime and terrorism issues expanded through the signing of cooperation agreement with the US, demonstrating a new emphasis on its external crime-fighting remit, which extend to judicial cooperation, immigration and asylum.
The diplomatic instruments of dialogue and conditionality, such as use of GSP, are also major features of the EU’s commitment in tackling these issues. However, JHA is largely internal and effectively tackling international organized crime and terrorism requires the evolution of significant cross pillar coordination, which is proving slow. As a global player in this field, the EU has still further steps to make.
The legacy of the Cold war, in which Western European states, EU or not, relied upon NATO, remains problematical for the EU in terms of developing its own globally capable military capabilities. The EU lacks deployable forces for expeditionary warfare, that is, forces for worldwide combat missions. The member states of the European Union have approximately 1.7 million men and women under arms but are capable of deploying only approximately 10 percent of these forces for missions abroad, largely through a lack of strategic resources, such as airlift capacity. The’ headline goals’ of the Rapid Reaction Force (RRF) and development of the more realistic battlegroup concept show commitment to the idea of EU military capability but compared to a truly global military machine, the US, the effort is rather small scale and the will to follow this path is confused by the NATO aspect. Hence the view that the EU is still a military midget with grand aspirations.
However, many of the armed forces of the EU member states, are relatively capable in terms of the missions required of a global actor, ideally suited to and with considerable experience in peacekeeping and policing missions. As such, EU missions to the Democratic Republic of Congo (Artemis) and Macedonia (Concordia) have demonstrated this limited but competent global capability. Whereas the RRF may find itself vying with the embryonic NATO Response Force (NRF), the Battlegroup concept, allowing the EU much more flexibility, realistic force generation options and simpler command and control issues, from political to tactical, may allow for a truly global military capacity, worthy of a global ‘soft’ power. Ironically, some see this ‘militarization’ of the EU as a direct threat to its agency as a ‘soft’ power and to its identity, if fragile, as a ‘civilian power’ based upon liberal humanitarian principles.
Endorsing a policy of ‘effective multilateralism’, the EU’s ethos is well suited towards the ideals of global governance. As previously mentioned, the EU does have influence within various global institutions such as the WTO. Within the UN, where broad EU member state concensus exists, which, although overshadowed by high profile rifts, is common, considerable pressure can be brought to bare, especially when a powerful, if temporary, EU ‘caucus’ exists within the Security Council. In the fast-growing relationship between the EU and the UN, to the extent that the multilateral UN is shifting towards a ‘soft’ power approach to global issues, the EU is seen as a major contributor to the agenda. Now, as the combined contributions of the EU and its member states make the EU the largest contributor to UN programmes, the authority and recognition of the EU as a major global actor within the UN is widely recognized.
The EU is not a traditional global actor in realist terms, which the US epitomises, but in a relatively short time span it has developed significantly its international reach and as a ‘soft’ civilian power it has considerable global weight, across a wide spectrum. Much of its weight rests upon its massive economic consequence in world terms, which is a mighty instrument capable of use outside the economic sphere. Such use is dependent upon the cohesion of perspective of its member states but with such a concrete economic basis, it is developing politically as a global player, even though it is hampered a hazy sense of identity and interests and by the weakness of its foreign policy institutions and decision-making processes. Despite this, although recent years have seen fragmentation, a general will to maintain cohesive foreign policy, supporting its global influence, is being maintained. Many have played down the EU’s global influence, yet its development as a global player does continue, although often at a glacial rate. Even so, the EU’s global influence across the spectrum is currently patchy, partly due to its own priorities, inherent capabilities, member state inconsistencies and external agency. Further, its autonomy in exerting influence remains indeterminate. In allowing the EU to exert some wide authority, some parts of the globe and some global issues are much more difficult than others. These areas and issues are defined by the global actor: the United States.
 Within which are included environmental issues.
 Coolsaet and Biscop, (2004), p. 7.
 ‘Making globalisation work for everyone: The European Union and world trade’, European Commission Information Brochure, December 2002.
 Smith (2003), p. 53.
 This is relative, as there remain several disagreements, not least over agricultural products.
 ‘Critics claim structures are rigid, outdated and overly hierarchical and that working practices lack transparency and openness to input from non-governmental players.Pascal Lamy, after Seattle, described the WTO as “medieval” while Franz Fischler, after Cancun, stated that there needed to be an overhaul of WTO structures.’ Cameron (2003), p. 13.
 Alasdair R. Young in ‘The EU and World Trade: Doha and Beyond’, Cowles & Dinan (2004), pp. 213-5.
 Smith (2003), p. 95.
 Linked together via the 2000 Cotonou Agreement, replacing the Lome agreement of 1975. Nugent (2003), pp.433-4.
 Regelsberger, cited in Smith (2003), p. 91.
 Gilpin (2001), p. 341.
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 Smith (2003), p.151.
 Smith (2003), p.170
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John D. Occhipinti in’Police and Judicial Co-operation’, Cowles & Dinan (2004), pp. 192-3.
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