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Is the European Union a "Global" International Actor ?

Europe's First-of-its-kind Role on the World Stage

Already one of the pillars of the world economy, the EU is intent on extending the range of its “foreign policy” among world powers, and in particular is looking for ways to distinguish itself from the United States.

The Yugoslavian wars and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 served as a stiff reminder that strategic objectives are still the basis for international relations even after the end of the Cold War. They have also shown up the weak-heartedness of the European Union as an international actor. Conflict resolution in Bosnia in 1995 and then in Kosovo in 1999 was the result of military intervention by NATO and by the US, and can be credited to American diplomatic efforts. Even if EU activity could not be said to be nonexistent, its member States proved incapable of giving any teeth to its paper tiger, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), in response to the first full-scale war on European soil since 1945. The EU nevertheless appears to have learned some lessons from this experience, as seen at the Helsinki summit (December, 1999) when member States committed themselves to launching a rapid-reaction military capability.

An increasing role in the area of “international governance”
Europe is now determined to be active on all the parallel fronts of what can be called global politics, by making its presence felt on questions of world trade, environmental action (Kyoto protocol), humanitarian action (the European programme ECHO), and civil resolutions to international crises (including post-conflict reconstruction aid). The EU's actions include the establishment of a network of institutionalised relations with UN agencies, developing countries, and major powers. In a series of positions taken, Europe has set itself apart from the United States (defending the International Crimes Court and the Kyoto protocol, maintaining close ties with the Mediterranean Arab world, refusing unilateralism on Irak), while a number of trans-Atlantic trade conflicts  brought before the WTO1 has made manifest Europe's divergent approach to the regulation of globalisation. This growing affirmation of the existence of the EU in an international setting is a sure sign of the rise of a future “global actor” if not superpower.


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Contact

Franck Petiteville
Senior lecturer at University Paris V
Centre d'études et de recherches internationales
CERI
CNRS-FNSP
E-mail: f.petiteville@wanadoo.fr

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