JILP Online Forum

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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