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European Union as an Actor in International Political Economy Expository Essay

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Updated: Sep 27th, 2019

Introduction

When the European Union (EU) was founded in the 1950s, it consisted of six countries. It is both an economic and political union currently with 28 member states. The six states that founded the EU included Italy, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, France and West Germany. The European Union formulated trade laws that applied to all the member states.

The passport controls were abolished in several states. This was mainly to eliminate the restriction of movement among those states. It also facilitated the free movement of capital, services and products. Other changes that came about after the founding of the union include the enactment of legislation in justice and home affairs, and the maintenance of common laws that govern issues of trade and other factors that facilitate regional development.

The European Union developed an interest in global security and other external relations. It has been involved in several missions around the world. Currently, the EU plays a major role in the international system.[1] This paper aims at bringing an understanding of the European Union’s position as an actor in international political economy.

EU as an Actor in International Political Economy

The capacity of the EU as an actor in the international system started during its inception and gradually expanded over time. With time, it introduced foreign policy initiatives in many states of the world. In order to achieve this, it used various foreign policy tools. They emphasised on building the economy and diplomacy.[2] They have also been involved in military activities with the aim of enforcing and keeping peace. However, this position was previously not included in the Treaty of Rome.

Even the observers had not anticipated that the EU would be involved in such activities as it took a global approach. Many predicted that the EU would not be able to succeed in its endeavours especially in the Middle East. Many observers were also quick to conclude that it would never be able to organize its own military operations. However, some were optimistic that the EU would successfully secure a portion of the world and enjoy the fruits of its labour.

With time, it was evident that the pessimists were incorrect to think that the EU was incapable of succeeding in its endeavours. Despite the fact that it had its fair share of failures and setbacks, it has experienced institutional growth.[3] The result of foreign policy has positively impacted on a number of global problems. One of the changes includes the change in the terminology used to refer to external relations. The term ‘European Foreign Policy’ came about to describe all the activities of the EU in the global scene.

Another political interest was seen in the development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).[4] Together with this, it developed the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

The EU, the U.S. and NATO

Several experts have predicted that as the EU grows stronger, it may overpower the influence of the U.S. However, it has been argued that the European Union has the United States’ best interests at heart. Since the Cold War ended, changes occurred in the transatlantic relationship. The focus was on the partnership between Europe and the U.S. towards managing the various global issues. This partnership has been instrumental in tackling some of the common threats and issues today.

Therefore, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) maintains its dominant position and role of managing transatlantic security affairs. The U.S. was ready to support the EU in developing its security policies. However, they were not to overpower NATO.[5] This is particularly because it is where the U.S. has a strong voice when it comes to security issues in Europe.

The European Union as Promoter of Democracy and Human Rights

The EU was involved in international politics since it showed its interest in promoting human rights and democracy.[6] This role started off in the 60s as the European Court of Justice affirmed that it had respect for the fundamental human rights.

One of the developments in this regard may be seen in the way EU adopted the European Initiative for Development and Human Rights in 1999. The Charter of Fundamental Rights was also adopted three years later. In the drafting of the constitutional treaty, that charter was included and in addition to that, a declaration of the acquisition of the European Convention on Human Rights by the European Union.

The Luxembourg European Council declaration in 1991 was one of the ways the European Union showed that it was committed to its new role of promoting human rights and democracy in the global scene. The European Union’s commitment was also consolidated when it announced its commitment to promoting democracy and human rights in third world countries.

Foreign and Security Policy

The member states unanimously consented to adopt the Common Foreign and Security Policy. This policy provided a platform for the adoption of common principles to guide the security and political issues of the states.[7] The states were to commit to a similar diplomatic approach and perform joint activities.

In order to improve security, the members of the Union have explored various ways of increasing their military capabilities. However, this venture has faced several challenges since there has been limited success. Another important component is the state’s civilian capability. Most of the CSDP missions have involved civilian operations, which have been successful. Such operations include rule of law and the training of police force.[8]

CSDP Missions in Europe, Africa and Asia

The EU’s involvement in military and civilian operations is more of a political undertaking than an economic one. Several CSDP missions have been launched all over the world. Some of these operations have been concluded in recent years while some are still ongoing.[9]

Missions in Europe

The states that have been of concern are mainly the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia. There are several reasons why EU initiated missions in Europe. One of the reasons is the fact that the EU needed to ‘take care of its own backyard’. There were several failures that were associated with the Balkan Wars.

Another reason for engagement was in order to create a good image in order to attract potential members. It was obvious that other countries could only sign for membership if Europe itself was whole, free and peaceful. Another reason was so as to safeguard its own interests. They feared that the issues of instability could spill over into the Union.

Missions in Africa

Africa has been a major target when it comes to security issues. Some of the major reasons for targeting Africa included its geographical proximity and the possibility of issues spilling over to the EU due to instability. The historical ties with the continent due to colonialism was also a motivating factor. There were humanitarian concerns that drove the need to get involved. The EU has maintained a great political interest in Africa and this has given it the responsibility of intervening in case problematic issues arise.

Missions in Asia

Several operations have been launched in these regions. Three areas in this region have been of great concern and have attracted European involvement. These areas include Afghanistan, Iraq and the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Many European states have been engaged deeply in the case of Afghanistan.

However, this has mainly been through NATO. As for the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the EU has engaged actively in political consensus. However, it has been unable to engage politically in the case of Iraq but has opted to be involved at a small-scale level.

Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy

Following several accession negotiations, the EU managed to increase the number of its members to twenty-seven.[10] This recruitment process occurred in 2004 and 2007. The countries that were involved had to pass through a long and demanding process. The countries had to meet certain technical, legal and political requirements.

Other factors that were observed included the laws of the land, human rights issues and democracy. After successfully completing the process, Croatia finally completed and became the 28th member of the European Union. The EU is continuously seeking to expand its territory and the current candidates include Turkey, Macedonia, Iceland, Montenegro and Serbia. These five states are the official membership candidates.

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was introduced to facilitate future growth of the EU. This policy caused the development of deeper economic and political ties with states that had not been considered potential candidates for membership. With this initiative, several countries agreed to bilateral action plans.

This way, the EU would be able to recommend certain economic and political reforms to be adopted by the countries. Countries that would adopt the recommended reforms by the EU would be able to benefit from economic ties and fair trade policies. They would also benefit from technical assistance and humanitarian aid.

Development Assistance and Humanitarian Aid

The European Union is the largest aid donor. It accounts for more that 40% of humanitarian aid and over 50% of development assistance. Its member states and other affiliated states agree to the underlying principles.

In case of any crisis involving natural disaster or armed conflict, the EU would provide emergency assistance. The body that manages this activity is the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Directorate-general (DG ECHO). Other policies were launched to help deal with issues such as governance, education, health and poverty.[11]

Summary of European Union’s role in the Global Scene

A summary of the political roles played by EU around the world are outlined below.

  1. Peace building – The European Union has played a major role in building peace among several countries. This has mainly been through the provision of economic and political support. Some of the examples were seen in the case of the Yugoslav Wars in the Western Balkans and the conflict that arose between Kosovo and Serbia. The EU facilitated the ‘Belgrade-Pristina’ dialogue in this case.

The European Union worked hand-in-hand with Russia, the United Nations and the U.S. To achieve this, they work towards resolving the disputes between Arabs and Israeli.[12]

  1. Human rights – The EU has ensured that the human rights are respected globally. It has done this by ensuring that they are made central to EU’s external relations. It has ensured this is the case by holding political dialogues with third world countries. It has also developed policies to facilitate this venture.
  2. Building global security – The EU has worked to improve global security. This has been seen in its involvement in civilian and military missions around the world. This is done mainly under the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Some of the objectives include the enhancement of security on the borders and the training of the local police. By June 2012, twenty-five operations had been carried out under the CSDP.[13] They involved the use of civilian and military instruments in Asia, Africa and Europe. Some of the operations within the three continents included the following;
    1. European Union Military Operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina
    2. European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo
    3. European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia
    4. European Union Security Sector Reform Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo
    5. European Union Somalia Training Mission
    6. European Union Naval Force Somalia
    7. European Union Capacity Building in Niger (EUCAP – Sahel Niger)
    8. European Union Police Mission to Afghanistan
    9. European Union Military Operation in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
  3. The Union has also been involved in negotiating the Kyoto Protocol. This was deemed necessary following the concerns about global climate change. With its low-carbon agenda, it has remained very instrumental in pushing towards change for the better. The political role may also be seen in the way it focuses on formulating laws concerning climate change.
  4. Trade – The EU created trade ties resulting in a large trading bloc. Common trade laws are applicable to its members. While trading with international partners, free and fair trade is promoted.

Conclusion

After it was founded in 1958, the European Union (EU) has enlarged its territory to include 28 member states. The EU has been well known for its involvement in the economical wellbeing of its member states. This is mainly through the provision of humanitarian aid and development assistance. Its involvement in facilitating easy trade may be seen in the way it facilitated the free movement of capital, services and goods.

However, the EU has also taken part in influencing the political atmosphere around the world. This may be seen in the way it has been involved in various activities such as the promotion of democracy and human rights. It has also been involved in the shaping of the foreign and security policy. The EU has also been involved in various military and civilian missions across the globe. It continues to enlarge its territory as it develops enlargement and neighbourhood policies.

Bibliography

Allen, David, and Alfred Pijpers. European foreign policy-making and the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1984.

Debié, Franck. “The EU as a continent wide political entity: External normative actor and internal normative power.” IERI Working Papers 11(2013): 1-9.

“European Union External Action: About CSDP – Overview.” EUROPA. 2013. Web.

Ginsberg, Roy. “Conceptualizing the European Union as an International Actor: Narrowing the Theoretical Capacity-Expectations Gap.” Journal of Common Market Studies 2(1999): 1-29.

Ginsberg, Roy. The European Union in International Politics: Baptism by Fire. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2001.

Hill, Christopher, and Michael Smith. International Relations and the European Union (2nd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Langenhove, Luk, and Léonie Maes. “United Nations University. 2012. Web.

Meunier, Sophie, and Kathleen McNamara. Making History: European Integration and Institutional Change at Fifty. New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

“EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.” Government Offices of Sweden. 2009. Web.

Mix, Derek. “The European Union: Foreign and Security Policy.” Congressional Research Service 7(2013): 1-25.

Nugent, Neill. The Government and Politics of the European Union (6th ed.). New York: Duke University Press, 2006.

Footnotes

  1. Sophie Meunier and Kathleen McNamara, Making History: European Integration and Institutional Change at Fifty, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  2. Roy Ginsberg, “Conceptualizing the European Union as an International Actor: Narrowing the Theoretical Capacity-Expectations Gap,” Journal of Common Market Studies 2(1999): 16.
  3. Meunier and McNamara, Making History: European Integration and Institutional Change at Fifty.
  4. Derek Mix, “The European Union: Foreign and Security Policy,” Congressional Research Service 7(2013): 20.
  5. Franck Debié, “The EU as a continent wide political entity: External normative actor and internal normative power,” IERI Working Papers 11(2013): 6.
  6. Christopher Hill and Michael Smith, International Relations and the European Union (2nd ed.), (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).
  7. Mix, “The European Union: Foreign and Security Policy,” 22.
  8. “EU Common Foreign and Security Policy,” Government Offices of Sweden, 2009.
  9. “European Union External Action: About CSDP – Overview,” EUROPA, 2013.
  10. Roy Ginsberg, The European Union in International Politics: Baptism by Fire, (Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2001).
  11. Neill Nugent, The Government and Politics of the European Union (6th ed.), (New York: Duke University Press, 2006).
  12. David Allen and Alfred Pijpers, European foreign policy-making and the Arab-Israeli conflict, (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1984).
  13. Luk Langenhove and Léonie Maes, “The Role of the EU in Peace and Security: Human Security, Peace, Regional Integration,” United Nations University, 2012.
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IvyPanda. "European Union as an Actor in International Political Economy." September 27, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/european-union-as-an-actor-in-international-political-economy/.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "European Union as an Actor in International Political Economy." September 27, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/european-union-as-an-actor-in-international-political-economy/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'European Union as an Actor in International Political Economy'. 27 September.

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