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Home arrow Political science arrow Global Governance from Regional Perspectives: A Critical View
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The European Union and Global Governance

Thomas Christiansen

Introduction

The European Union (EU)[1] constitutes a curious element in the context of global governance: more than an international organization, but less than a state (Wallace 1983); frequently driven by crisis and yet continuously expanding and deepening; increasingly criticized by its own governments but with apparently great appeal for many beyond its borders (as the 2014 Maidan protests in Kiev demonstrated). One of the many riddles of European integration has been the relationship the EU has developed with the rest of the world, be it third countries, other regions, or institutions of global governance. On the one hand, the EU has long perceived itself as a champion of multilateralism, as leading the world in trade and foreign direct investments, as deeply involved in the development of important global regimes such as climate change, as the world's biggest donor of development aid and, as some have argued, can be seen as a 'normative power' in its external relations (Manners 2002). On the other hand, the EU's foreign policy is severely constrained by the need for consensus among all member states, is hampered by material and practical limitations, is often regarded as a 'fortress' seeking to shut out immigrants, and lacks the capacity to confront global powers in the realm of traditional security.

Such contradictions make the EU an interesting case when exploring different regional perspectives on global governance. An EU perspective on global governance is more than, and arguably very different from, a European perspective more generally. The EU and Europe are often being used interchangeably, yet it is important to recognize that the focus in this chapter is not so much on the European continent as a geographical region, but rather on the European Union as a regional organization bringing together a collectivity of states as well as a set of unique institutions.

The development of this institutional structure over the past sixty years has added a high degree of intergovernmental coordination across the board of policy sectors and has provided an independent organizational perspective arising from the 'actorness' of these common EU institutions (Smith 2008, p. 3). It has fundamentally transformed the conditions for politics on the European continent, both within and among the states. It is also this transformation of the political culture in Europe, under the influence of a deeply invasive integration process, that contributes to a distinctive perspective on global developments, and the EU's place within these.

This chapter seeks to illuminate the background to these developments and to explore the implications that this may have in terms of the role the European Union can play in the world. It starts with a more detailed analysis of the political-cultural transformation that Europe has undergone over the past decades, looking at three different levels: first, the shift that has taken place in interstate relations in Europe; second, the changing nature of statehood and domestic political life in the EU member states; and third, the particularity of EU external relations. Based on the foundation of this analysis, the chapter then looks at the relationship between the EU and the structures and actors of global governance in greater depth, including an examination of the conceptual place that the EU has sought for itself internationally. A final section explores three possible ways of looking at the EU's relationship with the rest of the world. These scenarios are designated as, respectively, 'experimental laboratory', 'gated community', and 'cultural museum' in order to emphasize, in an exaggerated fashion, specific aspects in the relationship between European integration and global governance.

  • [1] The European Union, established through the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, constituted acontinuation of the integration process that started with the creation of the European Coal andSteel Community, setup in 1952, and of the European Economic Community, setup in 1955. Bothof these organizations were merged in 1965 into the European Communities, which in turn waslater called the European Community. For stylistic reasons, but also because of the historicalcontinuity that persisted despite these name changes, this chapter applies the term 'EuropeanUnion' to the organization throughout this evolution from the 1950s onwards.
 
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