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The European Union, an Actor on the International Stage ?

The work of the Center for European Research of Rennes (CEDRE))1 focuses on the foreign relations of the European Community and European Union - the two have signed more than a thousand agreements with all the countries of the world - and on their activity within international organisations, especially the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In addition, the Center brings an analytic focus to the EU's constitutionalisation process and has developed a systemic approach to Community and Union politics.

The European Community* (EC) has contributed to raising the standard of living in Europe, through the establishment of a Common Market, as well as to the emergence of Europe as an entity with international visibility. Starting in the 1970's, the EC undertook an active foreign policy, building a network of relations with both developed and developing nations, on every continent. Its trade policy often served as a proxy for a full-blown foreign policy as the latter had hardly been worked out among the EC's member nations.

The Treaty of Maastricht* gave birth to the European Union (EU) and with it a host of new powers and new authority in both economic (common currency) and non-economic areas (health, culture, etc.). With it also came the first official status for policies of international aid as well as mechanisms for foreign policy and security issues. This development is far from complete since the economic weight of the EU far outstrips its political dimensions, while the latter have not yet been fully recognised in all international quarters. Even if the EU is a member of the WTO, it is not a member of the International Monetary Fund despite the euro's weight as the world's number two currency.

In order to gain its place among world players, the EU must successfully carry out its planned expansion and draw all the benefit possible from a larger union; in doing so it will better be able to influence the policies set by international bodies (UN, WTO, et al.) while putting forth its own model of society. There is work to be done, continuing to build strategic partnerships, straightening out contradictions in the Union's own priorities, and taking a hard look at its institutional functioning. Dividing up responsibilities among the three “pillar*” member-States, who in turn share them with other members, makes leading a coherent and visible foreign policy a delicate task.

The EU does not have a clear international legal identity, and this does not help matters when it comes to building an international image. Top-heavy decisional structures make it difficult to conduct a foreign policy. The European Convention represents an attempt to respond to these challenges by giving the EU the means it needs to stand as a visible, credible, and effective actor on the world scene.




Catherine Flaesch-Mougin
Director of the CEDRE

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