The European External Action Service
The EU's foreign policy ambitions were boosted by the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in December 2009. Among its innovations are the creation of the post of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy – held by Baroness Catherine Ashton - the upgrade of the European Commission's foreign representations into fully fledged EU embassies, and the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS).
Since then, however, the results have been mixed. Time and again the EU struggles to find a single voice and often seems to find itself marginalised by other countries.
After it failed to secure full representation in the UN General Assembly in September 2010, a vote in the 192-nation assembly in May 2011 saw 180 countries vote in favour of granting the EU 'super observer' status, which does not give the bloc voting rights but will allow Ashton to speak on behalf of the European Union.
Nevertheless, European countries have seen their representation reduced at the IMF and the World Bank to make room for emerging countries.
To some extent this is an inevitable reflection of the relative decline in Europe's demographic and economic weight in the world. At the same time, few would argue that the EU's influence abroad is proportional to its foreign expenditure or the size of its diplomatic corps.
The EEAS and EU member states' diplomatic services together cost an estimated €8 billion per year, while the US spends €8.4 billion. In addition, while the member states' diplomatic services employ some 55,400 national staff and 38,400 local staff, the US has only 21,800 national staff and 6,000 local staff.
The EU also provides more than €53 billion in development aid, of which €12.1 billion is European Commission aid with the rest coming from EU member states. The United States spends about half that.
While it is to be expected that EU member states have some difficulty in coordinating their foreign policies, scholars at the Centre for European Policy Studies have identified what they call "continued inter-institutional disagreements over the details" and "some signs of back-tracking by member states over an effective implementation of the Lisbon Treaty in the external domain".
Ashton's leadership itself has also often been criticised for alleged passivity. Co-President of the Greens/European Free Alliance group in the European Parliament Daniel Cohn-Bendit has voiced harsh criticism, saying "she can't just give us her agenda and tell us about the people she has met: that is not enough". German elder statesmen have also criticised the EU for its divided and timid diplomacy.
These problems recall comments revealed by WikiLeaks that Chris Patten, then-EU commissioner for external affairs, made to a US diplomat in 2004. Patten apparently said that the EU could not be a "real power" because there would always be a member state who favours a more cautious, if not passive, approach and so prevent EU action.
In the 2011 Libyan crisis, in which European nations France and Britain played leading roles, the EU has not been prominent. France initially overshadowed and even contradicted Ashton. Other member states, notably Germany and Italy, have been far less keen on intervention.
These developments do not augur well for the EU's ability to represent itself abroad, including in international institutions and forums. However, some note that it has been only two years since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and just over one year since the launch of EEAS.
Pierre Vimont, the new secretary-general of the EEAS, recently called for patience, noting that European integration is a slow but steady process.
Reshaping Europe's role starts with representation
The problem of European representation has been a recurring one in various international forums. On one hand, EU member states tend to be overrepresented for historic reasons and emerging nations have pushed for more representation for themselves.
Former World Bank head Robert Zoellick, for example, has said that many emerging nations find it "a little odd that of those 25, 26 [people at the G20], about nine are European".
On the other hand, the EU itself is often not fully represented or finds its voice diluted by the multiplicity of member states present.
EU member states are heavily overrepresented in the United Nations Security Council. France and the United Kingdom, as victors following the Second World War, hold two of its five permanent seats and hold veto powers (along with the US, China and Russia). EU countries are also represented as rotating non-permanent members of the Security Council. Being present in both the 'Eastern Europe' and 'Western Europe and Other' regional blocs, the EU typically has three non-permanent members at any one time.
This means the EU, which is responsible for about a quarter of the global economy and comprises less than 7% of the world's population, often holds a full third of the Security Council's seats, including two with veto powers.
Attempts to reform the UN Security Council have gone nowhere. India, Brazil, Japan and Germany have often been put forward as potential new permanent members.
The EU itself, however, is not a full member of the UN General Assembly. An attempt to get enhanced participation and full speaking rights for the EU in that body failed to pass in September 2010, when a majority of developing countries unexpectedly voted against the move.
EU members are overrepresented at the IMF and the World Bank. The EU currently holds a massive 32% of voting rights at the IMF and eight of 24 seats on the body's executive board.
Last October, the G20 agreed to shift six percentage points of voting weight and two executive board seats from EU members to emerging countries. These reforms will take effect in 2012 and a further review is planned for 2020.
In April 2010, the World Bank similarly reformed its voting system, albeit much less dramatically, with EU members' total voting weight falling from 28.54% to 26.32%.
Here too, the EU as a body is poorly represented. The European Central Bank has observer status at the IMF and there is no EU representation at the World Bank.
Given that monetary affairs are an exclusive EU competency for countries using the euro, numerous observers and actors, including the president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, have called for full eurozone representation at the IMF.
Economic governance: Trade liberalisation and crisis management
The importance of international trade, foreign direct investment and relatively stable exchange rates to the global economy have led to significant interdependence between world's economies. International cooperation to manage this interdependence is long-standing.
In terms of institutions, it can be traced to the creation after the Second World War of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT; the forerunner of the World Trade Organisation).
These institutions have continued to work, often controversially, to eliminate tariffs and trade barriers, liberalise capital flows, expand the application of intellectual property rights, and so on.
Regular summits of the world's major economies date back to 1975, when the G6 summit met following the 1973 oil crisis and the prospect of prolonged economic 'stagflation' (low growth and inflation).
Initially attended only by the world's wealthiest countries, these summits have gradually been expanded to include the G20 of the world's largest economies, including rapidly growing emerging countries such as China, India, Brazil and Russia (the so-called 'BRICs').
The summits attempt to promote trust and economic coordination despite economic difficulties and the selfish, mercantilist tendencies these tend to entail.
International economic interdependence was confirmed during the 2007 financial crisis and ensuing recession which, while starting in the US, proved to have lasting global repercussions.
Global economic governance today has focused on mitigating the effects of this crisis. Governments have been concerned about numerous issues, including:
Protectionism: At the first G20 summit of heads of state and government in November 2008, a heavy emphasis was placed on preventing protectionist moves.
Currency wars: Governments are naturally inclined to boost their country's exports by undervaluing their currency, thus making their products more competitive. Both the United States and the European Union have been particularly concerned about the current valuation of the Chinese yuan.
World reserve currencies: The overwhelming majority of foreign currency reserves are held in US dollars, which has raised questions as to advantages the US derives from this and the world economy's vulnerability to fluctuations in the US economy. The EU, China and other countries have been active in promoting alternative currencies or a basket of currencies to rival the US dollar.
Stimulus coordination: Many countries, notably the US, have used low interest rates, increased public spending and 'quantitative easing' (the purchase of government bonds) to stimulate demand and thus encourage growth despite the recession. This has led to tensions with trading partners over concerns that this destabilises their economies by encouraging inflationary pressures and artificially undervaluing the currency.
Financial regulation: The 2007 financial crisis was the immediate cause of the recession in the late 2000s. Among the roots of the crisis itself are easy credit conditions, deregulation, the housing bubble, overleveraging of banks and overly complex, opaque derivatives. The EU and the international community have since been involved in regulating the financial sector to avoid a repeat (see articles in 'Euro & Finance' section). Numerous responses are possible, including new supervisory rules, taxing financial transactions and increasing the transparency of derivatives and credit rating agencies.
Commodity prices: The economic recovery has been accompanied by rising food and energy prices as well as price volatility. This threatens both continued economic growth and the purchasing power of consumers. It has been a crucial factor in recent unrest in the Arab World and other countries. Some nations, notably France, have cited speculation as a cause and have sought international cooperation to mitigate the problem.
Economic governance has also been at the core of the EU's internal agenda, particularly following Greek and Irish debt crises.
To support the euro, European leaders have responded to economic woes at home by bailing out indebted countries, creating a €440 billion rescue mechanism and establishing a 'competitiveness pact'. At the time of writing, the final outcome of these and other measures is unknown (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on financial regulation).
Environmental governance: Growing ambitions but limited implementation?
Global environmental cooperation is much more recent and less developed than that taking place in the economic or security spheres. However, over the past decade, environmental conventions have multiplied and public agencies and departments have mushroomed at all levels, leading to a patchwork of agreements and regulations. Businesses have created their own environmental departments, and many new research and academic institutions have also been established.
The number of 'green' institutions has grown at a rapid rate in recent years to tackle a very broad range of issues including climate change, biodiversity, soil deterioration, water scarcity, desertification and genetically modified organisms (GMOs), among others.
International efforts were largely developed following the June 1992 'Earth Summit' in Rio de Janeiro, following which major conventions on climate change and biodiversity were adopted. At global level the two main institutions currently involved are the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), established in 1972, and the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD), created in 1992.
In June 2012 a new 'Earth Summit' will be held in the same city (see EURACTIV's LinksDossier on Rio+20). The summit will try to look at policy instruments to boost the green economy, including removing subsidies and imposing taxes on activities that harm the environment.
Perhaps the most prominent effort concerns rising greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Since 1995 global summits have been held in the context of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in a bid to create collective agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change.
In December 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Japan, setting binding targets to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of industrialised countries. The United States, the world's second biggest carbon emitter, refused to ratify the agreement. The protocol expires in 2012 and it is uncertain whether it will form the basis for future UN agreements on emissions reduction. Countries such as Japan, Russia and Canada have opposed an extension of Kyoto.
The most recent negotiating efforts have been focused on the now yearly UNFCCC summits. The December 2009 Copenhagen conference was widely considered a failure. It was felt the EU had been excluded from negotiations to draw up the final non-binding accord, which was largely negotiated bilaterally by the United States and China.
In 2010, the UNFCCC conference in Cancún led to a relatively modest agreement which formalised the Copenhagen Accord as part of the UN process, created a Green Fund and provided for North-South technology transfers. Policymakers and stakeholders felt trust between the parties involved had improved in Cancún, particularly between developing and developed nations, and saw encouraging prospects for forging a more ambitious agreement at the next summit in Durban, South Africa at the end of the year.
So far the EU has made limited progress in persuading other countries to reduce their carbon emissions. Possible bargaining chips include increasing the EU's 2020 reduction target to 30% and the imposition of carbon tariffs at Europe's borders.
Other somewhat more successful agreements have included the adoption by 190 countries of the Nagoya Protocol on biodiversity, establishing a target to earmark 17% of the world's land area as nature reserves by 2020.
Europe leads by example on continental governance
The EU has been keen to export its model of regional integration to other parts of the world. Ashton has called regional organisations the "building blocks for global governance".
Regional integration efforts, sometimes explicitly modelled on the EU, are common across the world but they have never reached the same degree of integration and supranational decision-making as in Europe.
In East and South-East Asia, regional integration efforts are hampered by stronger cultural differences, starkly different political systems and incomplete post-war reconciliation.
Some of the organisations have achieved a limited degree of integration, in particular in the economic sphere. They include the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN), the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), Mercosur in South America, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the South African Development Community.
There are also pan-regional bodies who generally have achieved very limited integration, notably the African Union, the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) and the Arab League.
The EU has encouraged regional integration efforts, largely through the specific allocation of development aid.
For the 2007-2013 period EuropeAid, the EU's directorate-general for development and cooperation abroad, assigned €775 million to Asia for regional assistance. It has similarly supported the African Union fund its peace efforts by providing over €740 million to the African Peace Facility for projects to promote regional dialogue and peacekeeping operations in Somalia, Darfur and the Central African Republic.
Smaller sums totalling approximately €175 million have been allocated for the regional integration efforts in Latin America, notably for Central America, the Andean Community and Mercosur.
From its creation, the European Union has engaged in crisis management and conflict prevention. Conceived as a means to end war in Europe through institutional integration and a voluntary pooling of sovereignty, the EU continues to strive for peace, security, and prosperity across the European continent and beyond.
The EU has sent peacekeeping missions to several of the world’s troubled spots and is involved in anti-pirate patrols off the coast of Somalia. A necessary element in today’s conflict management operations, traditional peacekeeping focuses primarily on monitoring cease-fires.
In August 2008, the EU brokered a ceasefire between Georgia and Russia, deployed EU observers to monitor the situation, and provided humanitarian aid to people displaced by the fighting.
Two years after the conflict, Switzerland acted as a mediator for an agreement between Russia and Georgia on the supervision of customs controls. The agreement also settled differences between Georgia and Russia over Russian membership of the WTO.
Switzerland’s neutrality has been internationally recognized since 1815, and has allowed the country to act as a mediator throughout the world. Today, Switzerland contributes to both international and European peacekeeping missions throughout the world with civil as well as military staff.
Within the EU’s CSDP, Switzerland is involved in two main deployments in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo.
However, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs states that “Switzerland decides independently whether, when, where and to what extent it will participate in a given CSDP mission.”