The European Union’s Changing Approach towards Multilateralism

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Series Details Volume 2017, Number 8
Publication Date September 2017
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In this paper I analyse in how far the 2016 EU Global Strategy (EUGS) has changed the European Union (EU)’s approach towards multilateralism compared to the approach under its predecessor, the 2003 European Security Strategy (ESS).

I identify three major innovations: First, while the EUGS incorporates the EU’s long-standing commitment to ‘effective multilateralism’, its approach of ‘effective global governance’ goes beyond that earlier approach and represents a qualitatively different concept. Second, the EUGS transcends the ESS in terms of emphasising the need to transform rather than just to preserve the multilateral system. Third, the EUGS neglects traditional ‘strategic partnerships’ and expands the EU’s partnership approach towards engaging with a wider range of actors in a more pragmatic way.

In a second step, I discuss the shortcomings of the new approach, which need to be addressed in the EUGS’s second year of implementation for which multilateralism has been chosen as a priority area. They include political and conceptual issues concerning the engagement with non-state actors and emerging powers as well as an unresolved dilemma in which individual EU member states must give up power to prevent the erosion of their collective influence and of the multilateral system at large.

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