Based on ever greater economic and commercial integration, the European Union has become a major actor in globalization. Even though it struggles to assert itself in the diplomatic and military fields, where the large member states are reluctant to transfer their sovereignty despite the obvious decline of their influence on the international scene—particularly in the face of emerging countries—the EU’s capacity for action on these issues is becoming established, with one proviso: it is not happening via the traditional instruments of power.

The European Union (EU) is a regional organization with a unique model of integration. Having a solid institutional framework, it benefits from important transfers of sovereignty in a variety of spheres, particularly economic and commercial. Diplomacy and military affairs essentially remain under the direction of member states. While the EU has trouble intervening in international crises (Syria, etc.) and weighing in in international power relationships (with Russia, for example), it is not actually without influence. Influence is exerted not through coercion and military power, but through the standards it promotes. This particular form of integration in international relations is explained by the very nature of the EU and its origins.

Commercial giant, political dwarf

European integration is the result of particular historical circumstances and the voluntarism of actors that prioritized the search for consensus in a multilateral framework over and above power relationships. After the devastation caused by World War II, and from 1948, when the Cold War was splitting the continent in two, Europe’s founding fathers, inspired by liberal, sought to leave behind national rivalries by fostering economic integration between former enemies. Instead of the balance of power that had shaped the continent since the Vienna Congress (1815), but which proved incapable of preventing wars, the idea was to construct a space for free movement (of goods, capital, people, etc.) by eliminating borders ; a space where interdependence would make war impossible because it would be detrimental to all concerned. Aided by the United States, which, in the face of the USSR, was working for the continent’s economic recovery (Marshall Plan, 1947-1951) and military protection (NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization], 1949), Franco-German reconciliation was sealed by the ECSC (European Coal and Steel Community, 1951) and then by the EEC (European Economic Community, 1957), enabling Europe to enter an era of peace and political stability. This had been unknown for centuries and was honored by the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.

Europe’s labyrinthine intertwinings, 2018

Source: Organizations’ official websites

Comment: The map shows the institutional complexity of Europe, where national territories never entirely match up. There have been extensions over time, during the course of several decades, and a recent shrinkage, followed by the addition of the euro zone (smaller), the Schengen area (which does not include all EU member states but does contain some non-members), the Council of Europe (larger), and the NATO Military Alliance (which does not include all EU member states but, again, comprises some non-members).

Peace through economics

European construction was a political undertaking whose main purpose was to bring about peace and collective security on the continent by going beyond national state interests. But the means of achieving this was economic in nature, because it was the reinforcement of economic and commercial interdependence that was to ensure its success. Since the EU’s scope of activity mainly involved the economic and commercial domains, it was logically in these areas that it could exert most influence. With an internal market of a half billion inhabitants, representing 20% of global GDP and international trade, the EU is a major economic actor in the contemporary world, particularly within bodies such as the WTO, where the European Trade Commissioner negotiates for all member states. The EU is also a recognized negotiating partner in areas where competence has been transferred to the community level, as in international climate . Finally, the EU provides over half of world development aid (76 billion euros in 2017), making it a pre-eminent actor in this area, too. As a logical expression of its prime position in the trade sector, the EU negotiates bilateral agreements directly with other states (United States, China, etc.) and regional groups (MERCOSUR [Southern Common Market], ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations], etc.), and has formed institutional relationships with most countries in the world as well as with large international bodies.

Grandes découvertes et premier partage du monde

Source: authors’ compilation

Comment: The map was drawn up from a compilation of several historical atlases. It uses a projection showing the Atlantic area where the dividing line was situated, and arbitrated by the papacy, between the two late 15th-century colonial powers (the Spanish and Portuguese empires). It shows two different land masses: the global network of Portuguese trading posts extending as far as China on one side, and the Andean territory resulting from the Spanish conquests on the other.

Trade Agreements with the EU, 1973-2018

Source: European Commission,

Comment: Over the course of the last 45 years, the European Union has signed trade agreements with many states and regional networks, with the exception of a few states (the United States, Byelorussia, Australia, etc.). Countries in Central Africa and Asia are also exceptions, but future partnerships with them are due to come into force. Historically and geographically, these partnerships were first formed with neighbors to the east then to the south of the Mediterranean, before spreading to other continents.

Diplomacy without the military

Despite the gradual, but slow, establishment of institutional structures (Common Foreign and Security Policy [CFSP, 1993], the Common Security and Defense Policy [CSDP, 1999], the European External Action Service [EEAS, 2009]), member states remain jealous of their sovereignty and continue to manage most of their external relations independently, which often leaves them powerless (Yugoslavia during the 1990s, Iraq in 2003, etc.). The pooling of military capabilities remains a fond hope, since each large state seeks to promote its own arms industry. The EU therefore adopts a humanitarian approach to diplomatic and military affairs. Since 2003, it has engaged in civil and military actions on the ground, essentially for the purpose of peacekeeping and post- conflict reconstruction, in Bosnia, Kosovo, DRC, Mali, South Sudan, Afghanistan, and so on. Through the intermediary of the , it plays an active role in certain international negotiations, as in the Iran nuclear deal of 2015.

European Union peacekeeping missions, 2018

Source: European Union External Action Service,

Comment: This map shows European Union peace missions. Following a monitoring mission in Yugoslavia launched in 1991, these operations became more numerous only as of the 2000s, and their scale remained more modest than those of the UN. With the exception of an operation in Indonesia, they all take place, or have taken place in areas “close” to the EU: in Central Europe (the Balkans), in the countries of the ex-USSR (Ukraine, Caucasus, etc.), in the Near and Middle East and in Africa (Central, Sahel and Somalia).

For want of a shared political vision and willingness of states to transfer their sovereignty with regard to foreign policy, it is mainly toward its immediate neighbors (Eastern Europe, Turkey, North Africa) that the EU’s political influence makes itself felt. Thanks to the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP, 2003), the EU engaged in closer cooperation with these countries (in areas such as security, justice, trade, etc.), while encouraging respect for common European values (rule of law, market economy, etc.). It is therefore through soft power and not coercion that the EU asserts itself on the international scene and claims to be a major player in the globalization process.

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