European Union Politics

Palgrave Foundations Series

by John McCormick

Chapter 25: The EU and the World

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In Chapter 24 we looked at how the EU’s foreign, security and trade policies have shaped its role as a global actor. In this chapter, those policies are examined more closely by looking at the EU’s relations with different parts of the world. We begin with an assessment of the most important political and economic relationship in the world, between the EU and the United States. This has not always been an easy relationship, the differences that lurked under the surface during the Cold War having become more visible since the collapse of the Soviet Union removed the one project that the two most clearly had in common.

The chapter then looks at the EU’s relations with its immediate neighbours: the Mediterranean, the Middle East and Russia. Beyond the inner rim of potential future members of the EU there is a ‘circle of friends’ consisting of countries that have no realistic prospect of EU membership, but with which the EU is building close political and economic ties. Particularly important is Russia, by far the biggest of its neighbours but the one over whom the greatest doubts continue to linger.

Further afield, there are fascinating developments in the EU’s relations with China, for many the most convincing candidate for the world’s next superpower. Ties between the two have improved, and yet uncertainties remain and the EU is wary about China’s human rights record and foreign policy. Finally, Europe’s former African, Caribbean and Pacific colonies have long played a part in the definition of the EU’s global interests, and the EU has become by far the biggest source of official development assistance in the world. But the jury is still out on the efficacy of European development assistance policy.
  • The relationship between the EU and the United States is the most important in the world, and yet it has not always been a happy one.
  • The United States has provided direct support to European integration, as well as indirect support by pursuing policies that have united the Europeans in support or in opposition, and by helping the EU identify its weaknesses.
  • Both sides agree on the general goals of promoting democracy and capitalism, but they also have quite different styles and values on a wide range of issues, raising questions about how the transatlantic relationship will evolve.
  • The EU has been active in reaching out to its neighbours with the goal of creating a ‘circle of friends’ and of promoting democracy and free markets in the region.
  • The Barcelona Process had the goal of strengthening political, economic and social ties between the EU and all non-EU Mediterranean states, and was relaunched in 2008 as the Union for the Mediterranean.
  • The European Neighbourhood Policy has the goal of avoiding the emergence of dividing lines between an enlarged EU and its immediate neighbours.
  • The EU relationship with the Middle East has been troubled, while that with Russia has blown hot and cold, in spite of the fact that both need each other.
  • The EU–China relationship has undergone much change in recent decades, although it is not yet fully understood.
  • Their shared history has placed Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific at the top of the EU development policy agenda. But the jury is still out on the effects of that policy.