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Book Review: Foreign Policy of the European Union—Assessing Europe’s Role in the World. By Federiga Bindi and Irina Angelescu (eds.)

For­eign Pol­i­cy of the Euro­pean Union—Assessing Europe’s Role in the World sets out to treat the for­eign rela­tions of the EU in a holis­tic, all-encom­pass­ing man­ner. For this pur­pose the book is divid­ed into five parts, each of which devel­ops a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive on the EU’s exter­nal actions.

Part I deals with the legal, con­sti­tu­tion­al frame­work of the Euro­pean treaties. Parts II and III are ded­i­cat­ed to the analy­sis of the spe­cif­ic EU rela­tions with the EU’s imme­di­ate neigh­bors and more dis­tant coun­tries and regions respec­tive­ly. Part IV is an analy­sis of hor­i­zon­tal issues of EU for­eign rela­tions and deals with the nor­ma­tive agen­da behind the EU’s for­eign pol­i­cy and its often allud­ed to “soft pow­er”. The fifth and final part con­cludes on the ana­lyt­i­cal results. The book is com­posed of con­tri­bu­tions from a num­ber of authors, prac­ti­tion­ers as well as aca­d­e­mics from Euro­pean and non-Euro­pean ori­gin, all of whom are experts on the top­ics of their respec­tive arti­cles. The indi­vid­ual pieces, short and to the point, demon­strate the cur­rent state of EU for­eign affairs, enabling read­ers to gain a quick and yet per­va­sive under­stand­ing of the fun­da­men­tal issues con­cern­ing Euro­pean for­eign pol­i­cy. Unde­ni­ably an advan­tage, read­ers are exposed to in-depth accounts filled with exper­tise and insight in con­cise issue areas in each con­tri­bu­tion. The book finds the right bal­ance between con­vey­ing the essen­tial infor­ma­tion and doing so in a clear and con­cise way. It there­fore offers an excel­lent intro­duc­tion to EU for­eign pol­i­cy, includ­ing some of its spe­cif­ic subtopics bridg­ing the oth­er­wise inter­dis­ci­pli­nary gaps between law, inter­na­tion­al rela­tions and polit­i­cal econ­o­my. This com­part­men­tal­iza­tion into subtopics writ­ten by dif­fer­ent experts does pro­duce ten­sions with the coher­ence of the book, as the read­er often feels oblig­ed to start fol­low­ing a new train of thought when con­front­ed with yet anoth­er con­tri­bu­tion. The book will nev­er­the­less be use­ful to both read­ers who are entire­ly new to the sub­ject as well as prac­ti­tion­ers and schol­ars seek­ing to famil­iar­ize them­selves with spe­cif­ic issue areas. As such, it rep­re­sents an impor­tant schol­ar­ly con­tri­bu­tion to the quick­ly evolv­ing and high­ly com­plex field of EU for­eign pol­i­cy. Giv­en the chang­ing dynam­ics of this area, this sec­ond edi­tion, tak­ing into account in par­tic­u­lar the changes prompt­ed by the Lis­bon treaty, has also to be under­stood as a time-bound account of the cur­rent state of affairs.

Part I of the book, enti­tled “The Euro­pean Union’s For­eign Pol­i­cy Tools” fea­tures an intro­duc­tion to the his­to­ry of EU for­eign rela­tions by co-edi­tor Fed­eri­ga Bin­di. Bin­di presents his­tor­i­cal facts knowl­edge­ably, but also with a den­si­ty that can ren­der the chap­ter a chal­leng­ing read. This his­tor­i­cal chap­ter is suc­ceed­ed by accounts on the nor­ma­tive frame­work of EU for­eign pol­i­cy as amend­ed by the Lis­bon Treaty, which among oth­er things attrib­uted legal per­son­al­i­ty to the Euro­pean Union and cre­at­ed the Euro­pean Exter­nal Action Ser­vice (EEAS), with­out how­ev­er attain­ing the goal of unit­ing indi­vid­ual nation­al inter­ests in one Euro­pean for­eign pol­i­cy voice. Part I also intro­duces to the Euro­pean Com­mon Defense and Secu­ri­ty Pol­i­cy in an arti­cle by Stephan Keukeleire and Kol­ja Raube; and includes an arti­cle by Francesca Lon­go on the inter­nal com­pe­ten­cies of Jus­tice and Home Affairs and their impact as for­eign pol­i­cy tools. The chap­ters give account of the high­ly frag­ment­ed con­sti­tu­tion­al struc­ture for the con­duct of a Euro­pean for­eign pol­i­cy to this day. The for­eign pol­i­cy of the EU, so the authors argue, encom­pass­es much more than the nar­row­ly defined areas of the CFSP and CSDP, but yet remains dif­fi­cult to define in terms of con­crete strate­gies and goals.

Part II deals with the Euro­pean Union’s rela­tion­ships with its imme­di­ate geo­graph­i­cal neigh­bors, ana­lyz­ing the spe­cif­ic for­eign pol­i­cy instru­ments used in this field. By con­trast­ing the EU enlarge­ment as a for­eign pol­i­cy tool from the Euro­pean Neigh­bor­hood Pol­i­cy, the authors argue the prospect of mem­ber­ship remains the strongest and most suc­cess­ful for­eign pol­i­cy tool of the Euro­pean Union in deal­ing with third coun­tries. Pos­i­tive con­di­tion­al­i­ty, that is the prospect of mem­ber­ship offered by the EU in exchange for reforms, rep­re­sents the great­est lever­age in the pur­suance of the EU’s inter­ests and the cre­ation of a coher­ent space of com­mon polit­i­cal struc­tures and val­ues. By their very nature, the scope of applic­a­bil­i­ty of enlarge­ment and inte­gra­tion are lim­it­ed to imme­di­ate neigh­bors. The authors crit­i­cize the EU’s much less per­va­sive poli­cies toward third coun­tries under the Euro­pean Neigh­bor­hood Pol­i­cy umbrel­la in the absence of a prospect of mem­ber­ship. The exam­ples of Belarus and Ukraine, for instance, are to the point in show­ing how much the EU los­es in appeal and influ­ence as a for­eign pol­i­cy part­ner if there is lit­tle prospect of join­ing it. The con­tri­bu­tions on the Balka­ns and Turkey, on the oth­er hand, show how pow­er­ful a dri­ver of devel­op­ment the mere prospect of mem­ber­ship can be.

Part III deals with the EU and its rela­tions to non-neigh­bor­ing coun­tries and regions, includ­ing the Unit­ed States, Cana­da, Latin Amer­i­ca & the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and Chi­na. Authors point out that rela­tions with some regions, Africa and Latin Amer­i­ca in par­tic­u­lar, are char­ac­ter­ized by an asym­met­ri­cal focus on indi­vid­ual Euro­pean con­cerns such as migra­tion or secu­ri­ty issues (Africa) in the absence of an encom­pass­ing for­eign pol­i­cy strat­e­gy. The dia­logues with many part­ners are more­over dis­con­nect­ed from their respec­tive con­cerns and inter­ests, indi­cat­ed for exam­ple by the inces­sant but unheard calls for the lib­er­al­iza­tion of trade in agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts from African and Latin Amer­i­can coun­tries. Often, more­over, the EU for­eign pol­i­cy approach of pro­mot­ing democ­ra­cy, human rights and intrare­gion­al coop­er­a­tion appears less effec­tive than the more prag­mat­ic, bar­gain­ing type of approach exer­cised espe­cial­ly by Rus­sia in East­ern Europe and Chi­na in Africa, through the pay­ment of devel­op­ment aid in exchange for min­ing con­ces­sions for exam­ple. The chap­ters all rec­og­nize that the EU’s major flaw is the lack of a coher­ent uni­tary voice, which pro­duces par­tic­u­lar dif­fi­cul­ties in the dia­logue with nations of equal or sim­i­lar pow­er such as Chi­na or the Unit­ed States. The con­tri­bu­tions in this part are high­ly knowl­edge­able and filled with insights. Tak­en as a whole, they tend how­ev­er to blur the sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ences between EU for­eign poli­cies toward dif­fer­ent non-Euro­pean regions and coun­tries and the dif­fer­ent goals that the EU pur­sues. That is in part due to the fact that each author adopts a sin­gle per­spec­tive with its dis­tinct emphases. The arti­cle on EU-US rela­tions, for instance, con­tributed by Amer­i­can schol­ar Daniel S. Hamil­ton, is writ­ten from a dis­tinct­ly Amer­i­can per­spec­tive, and is char­ac­ter­ized by vocal obser­va­tions regard­ing US expec­ta­tions toward Europe. While Hamilton’s account cer­tain­ly offers impor­tant insights regard­ing under­stand­ing of the EU’s exter­nal per­cep­tions, it stands in stark con­trast with oth­er arti­cles in which the per­spec­tives of the EU’s part­ners are high­ly neglect­ed, to the point that inter­ests in the rela­tions with Europe are bare­ly men­tioned, much less ana­lyzed.

Part IV fea­tures a hor­i­zon­tal approach ana­lyz­ing the under­ly­ing val­ues of EU for­eign pol­i­cy. Apply­ing a mod­el of learn­ing derived from social sci­ences, Lau­ra Fer­reira-Pereira asks how the EU’s “soft pow­er” and its suc­cess or fail­ure in pro­mot­ing human rights and democ­ra­cy in the world can be explained. In con­trast­ing the EU’s “soft pow­er” approach from that of the Unit­ed States, it becomes evi­dent how inter­nal coher­ence and suc­cess are cru­cial for the per­va­sive­ness of a mod­el. Only if the EU is suc­cess­ful inter­nal­ly, Fer­reira-Pereira con­cludes, it will be per­ceived as a mod­el worth repli­cat­ing and thus increase the impact and influ­ence of the EU. Recent glob­al devel­op­ments how­ev­er, such as the Arab Spring and the finan­cial and eco­nom­ic cri­sis have shown the EU to be an inde­ci­sive and stag­ger­ing actor, whose lack of con­sen­sus over inter­nal issues pre­vents it from assert­ing the influ­ence it could oth­er­wise have.

Bin­di pro­vides a sem­i­nal and over­ar­ch­ing con­clu­sion in Part V of high ana­lyt­i­cal val­ue. It assess­es the EU’s for­eign pol­i­cy and paints a more com­pre­hen­sive pic­ture, point­ing out in par­tic­u­lar, that short­falls in effi­cient­ly achiev­ing tan­gi­ble pol­i­cy results are due to a lack of unequiv­o­cal agree­ment on clear pol­i­cy goals and strat­e­gy among EU mem­ber states. In devel­op­ing a per­spec­tive for the future, Bin­di argues, that greater EU inter­nal coher­ence and the for­mu­la­tion of a com­mon strat­e­gy must be sought, includ­ing in par­tic­u­lar the needs of new and prospec­tive mem­ber states, acknowl­edg­ing that long-term Euro­pean for­eign pol­i­cy inter­ests can only be pur­sued togeth­er against the back­ground of a mul­ti-polar world in which sev­er­al major pow­ers will give their dis­tinct imprint on the future glob­al devel­op­ment.

The main point of cri­tique to be made on For­eign Pol­i­cy of the Euro­pean Union con­sists in the lack of the book’s over­all coher­ence caused by the vari­ety of approach­es and per­spec­tives that authors adopt for the pre­sen­ta­tion and analy­sis of their sub­ject mat­ter in ques­tion. This some­times results in rep­e­ti­tions and a lack of clar­i­ty. Even though bilat­er­al rela­tions of the EU to dif­fer­ent regions should be com­pa­ra­ble among one anoth­er, the diver­si­ty of emphases and foci adopt­ed ren­der it dif­fi­cult to con­trast the EU’s rela­tions to one region to that to anoth­er. On the oth­er hand, the assem­bly of authors with diverse nation­al and dis­ci­pli­nary back­grounds also rep­re­sents a clear strength of the book in its effort of explain­ing a mul­ti-dimen­sion­al, high­ly com­plex and dynam­i­cal­ly evolv­ing sub­ject mat­ter. It is there­fore a great point of depar­ture for the study of EU exter­nal rela­tions and spe­cif­ic sub­ar­eas there­of.

Reviewed By Alexan­der Ehrle

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