EW: Europe and the World

Over the past three decades, the deepening and widening of European integration has propelled the EU to a prominent role on the global stage. Many internal Union policies have important external dimensions, from competition and chemical regulation through food safety and data privacy to justice and security.

Primary authority for trade policy itself rests with the EU institutions, whose external competences and capacities  have been reinforced more generally by the Treaty of Lisbon. As the world’s largest single market, with well- developed capacities for innovative regulation, the EU has emerged as an influential player in global standard- setting and regulatory cooperation. Together with the member states, the EU also remains the world’s largest source of official development assistance, with an ambitious agenda for promoting aid effectiveness and governance reform.

EU as a global leader

Across a wide range of policy fields, from climate change and forest sustainability to animal welfare and disability rights, the EU seeks to act as a global leader in advancing solutions consistent with European norms and values, preferably through multilateral institutions, but increasingly also through regional and bilateral agreements, as well as unilateral action. Through the development of its Common Security and Defence Policy, the EU also seeks to act as a force for stabilization and peace-building within and beyond the European neighbourhood.


Lack of a single voice

At the same time, however, Europe’s global influence faces rising challenges from both internal and external sources. Despite institutional innovations such as the European External Action Service and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the EU and its member states often fail to speak with a single voice in international organizations and decision -making fora. Even when they do, the EU must contend with the growing assertiveness of the BRICS and other emerging economies, who are decreasingly willing to defer to European policy initiatives, especially in the wake of the euro crisis.

Enlargement fatigue and domestic backlash against third-country migrants and foreign aid threaten to undercut still further the EU’s influence within neighbouring countries and the developing world. So too do ongoing tensions in EU external policy between the pursuit of narrow economic benefits (e.g. in preferential trade agreements) and broader goals such as development and democracy promotion. The EU’s growing role in transnational security cooperation, especially with the US, likewise raises new questions about the implications for its internal governance and respect for core democratic values of transparency and accountability. How and with what results the EU and its member states (including the Netherlands) negotiate these challenges of sustaining global influence in an increasingly multi -polar world are critical questions for both academic research and public debate.

Affiliated researchers