Why EU strategic partnerships matter

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Series Details No.1, June 2012
Publication Date 11/06/2012
ISSN 2254-6162
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The pursuit of so-called strategic partnerships between the EU and a selected range of important countries owes less to a clear-sighted masterplan than to the travails of the EU to redefine its role in a post-hegemonic, polycentric international system. It is commonly argued that these bilateral relations have evolved in an accidental way. The very concept of strategic partnerships is ill-defined and the informal list of the ten partners in question is too heterogeneous to provide direction.

Furthermore, strategic partnerships are often deemed ineffective in producing tangible deliverables for the EU, whether in terms of market access or support for EU-sponsored sanctions. Grand summit statements conceal the more mundane practice of inconclusive and disconnected technical dialogues and negotiations. Process, the argument goes, fails to deliver progress at the political level, where the instincts and positions of the EU and many of its strategic partners remain apart on issues from climate to trade. Relations with unlike-minded countries would not fit the bill because of the normative divides between them and the EU.

These and other reservations about the concept and practice of strategic partnerships stem from years of inadequate partnering. This paper argues, however, that the political rationale behind the elevation of strategic partnerships to one of the top priorities of EU foreign policy in 2010 is a sound one. Besides, a truly strategic approach to these partnerships suggests that their effectiveness should be assessed against a broader range of criteria and objectives than usually done.

Investing in bilateral strategic partnerships fits the transition reshaping the international system, strengthens the distinct identity of the EU and contributes to mdefending its interests at the bilateral and multilateral level. In a fluid global context, the EU needs to reposition itself, sharpen the definition of its priorities and adapt its foreign policy to remain a pertinent, if in many ways unusual, power. Strategic partnerships are a critical vector of this essential adjustment process. Shortcomings and inconsistencies in the operationalisation of strategic partnerships call, in the words of High Representative Catherine Ashton, for 'fewer priorities, greater coherence and more results.' However, they do not detract from the merit of the strategic investment in these relationships.

Source Link http://www.fride.org/publicacion/1031/por-que-importan-las-asociaciones-estrategicas
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