New direction needed for multilateralism

MERCURY, EU-GRASP and EU4Seas projects highlight a number of ways for the EU to be more effective in its approach to multilateralism. Drawing on extensive empirical and theoretical work, the researchers have identified issues that EU policy makers should consider. These are briefly summarised below and the full text can be accessed at:

  • The EU must adapt to the redistribution of power and the emergence of multilateral actors of varying sizes, levels of resources and experience. More robust forms of multilateralism are needed to deliver on urgent global challenges, such as climate change, the financial crisis and maritime security
  • Be more flexible and innovative in multilateral engagement. The dream of a world of regions modelled on the EU can result in a tendency to focus on institutional questions at the expense of a strategic vision. This is particularly problematic in the case of issues or regions where institutions are absent or fail.
  • Strengthen internal capabilities by developing mechanisms to allow greater cohesion and a more unified decision-making process. For the EU to become a more effective multilateral player, it needs to focus on using the combined capabilities of EU institutions and EU national diplomats, and reducing the time spent negotiating amongst EU Member States.
  • A unified voice for the EU is needed. The EU has a role to play in solving many global challenges, but the EU will be most effective if speaking with a single, strong voice in, for example, the UN Security Council, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, G20 and other multilateral fora. This argument needs to be made to both politicians and citizens to secure greater acceptance of the role of the EU by its Member States.
  • The long-term interest of the EU can be served by promoting multilateral frameworks, but the EU should not define its interests too narrowly. The promotion of multilateralism is sometimes seen as conflicting with EU interests, but these conflicts are often more apparent than real. Multilateralism can act as a means of advancing EU interests.
  • Do not assume a moral high ground over individual countries or with less cohesive or less formalised groups of states. The EU has alienated some regional groups by over-stressing its unique level of integration and prioritising its own policies over genuine multilateral cooperation.
  • Make space for other organisations in Europe - The EU is not the only approach to regional integration and multilateralism, even if it is the most advanced and successful one. The EU border is one of the strongest dividing elements on the Continent and to uphold its commitment to multilateral solutions, the EU needs to reconsider policies to make space for wider as well as narrower (sub-regional) forms of multilateralism.
  • Overcome fragmentation - The European External Action Service (EEAS)1 could help develop the EU’s activities in regional and global multilateral forums, but this potential will only be realised if the Member States’ diplomatic services relinquish substantial parts of their own multilateral engagement.
  • Look forward and be prepared to lead – while the EU must exercise sensitivity to Member States to maintain credibility, it cannot afford to look solely inwards and must push for a greater European role in meeting the demand for multilateral solutions to global problems. For instance, the Euro crisis highlights the need for a strong Euro and a stronger EU in international monetary affairs.


1 See: