The European Union and World Politics: Consensus and Division

October 15, 2009

Nearly 40 years ago, Ralf Dahrendorf, who was then the European Commissioner for external relations, commented on a current round of negotiations with a developing country: "We're talking about tomatoes, but it's really about freedom." Indeed, the European Union, sometimes characterised as a "civilian power", has tried to use the instruments of trade, aid and technical assistance not only for its own direct advantage, but also to promote political stability, human rights and international co-operation in other regions.

Alongside these "soft power" endeavours, the EU has developed a Common Foreign and Security Policy for diplomatic co-operation and a European Security and Defence Policy for armed peacekeeping and related activities. EU peacekeepers and observers have been deployed in several conflicts - in Bosnia, Chad, eastern Congo, Darfur and Aceh in Indonesia - and there is a massive academic literature analysing the EU's modest achievements and manifest limitations in this field, and its performance in world politics in general. The bibliography in one of the standard works, International Relations and the European Union (2005), edited by Christopher Hill and Michael Smith, lists more than 500 titles.

Despite this book's title, contributors to The European Union and World Politics, with few exceptions, completely bypass these issues and this literature: they are, quite simply, interested in other things. The exceptions are: Andrew Gamble, whose chapter, "The United States and the European Union: The End of Hegemony?", touches on some of the issues in transatlantic relations; Mario Telo, whose closely argued theoretical chapter offers a challenging development of the concept of "civilian power"; Rosemary Hollis, who writes interestingly (although too briefly) on European policies towards the Middle East; Simon Bromley, in a penetrating analysis of the EU's energy policy (a topic, inevitably, with both "external" and "internal" aspects); and Vivien Schmidt, who briefly assesses the EU's foreign policy "discourse" in her illuminating and original analysis of the forces shaping the EU as a whole.

As for the other contributors, David Lane and Martin Jacques discuss the political economy and self-image of, respectively, Russia and China. (These powers are, of course, vital "targets" for EU policies, but the details of this are hardly mentioned.) Georgy Lengyel and Max Haller report on opinion polls indicating the contrasting attitudes of European "elites" and others towards the EU as a political project. Other authors focus on economic and social themes: Georg Menz on European deregulation and national re-regulation; Otto Holman on neo-liberal restructuring and related issues; Ben Clift on European welfare and social policy models; and Patrick Minford and his colleagues on macro-economic policy, especially protectionism.

Clearly, most of the subjects covered in these stimulating contributions have at least some degree of relevance to the EU's role in world politics - if Europe is economically or socially fragile, its international clout will be reduced - but they belong, essentially, to other debates, and neither the contributors nor the editors do anything to establish the connections. (Otto Holman does suggest that the EU's claim to lead the way on climate change and international security in general may be no more than a "social imperialist" ploy by the ruling elite, to distract the working class from the real issues, but he gives no evidence for this.) Even Montserrat Guibernau's perceptive concluding chapter, "Towards a European Identity?", fails to address the fundamental "foreign policy" point that self-interested politicians play up national foreign policies as an expression of their country's "national identity", at the expense of joint European ones. A more apt title for this interesting but disparate collection would have been Socio-economic Change, Political Economy, and the Future of the European Union.

The European Union and World Politics: Consensus and Division

Edited by Andrew Gamble and David Lane. Palgrave Macmillan. 320pp, £60.00. ISBN 9780230221499. Published 12 August 2009

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