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A Civilian Power

The EU as a New Type of Actor


Jean Giraud ‘10

ccording to Mark Leonard, the executive director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, we’ll soon see the emergence of a “New European Century, not because Europe will run the world as an empire, but because the European way of doing things will have become the world’s.” But the European Union, unlike the U.S., lacks coherence on the international stage. After Kosovo’s declaration of independence, the EU failed to speak with one voice: countries like Slovenia, France, and Germany recognized the new self-declared state, but other countries like Spain and Romania refused to do so, fearing the potential contagion of independence claims of minorities in their own territory. Even the incentive of an easy accession to the EU did not prevent Serbia from rejecting Kosovo’s independence. Indeed, after the Iraq War, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the EU seemed to be in tatters. How could 27 different nations have agreed on such divisive issues without any institutional incentive to do so? Some critics deny the EU any capacity to ever become a power on the world stage. Such criticism is accurate only if the EU is viewed as a would-be state, one expected to have a coherent foreign policy based on classical diplomatic and military definitions. Indeed, the EU cannot become a new U.S.-like superpower, simply because it is not based on the American conception of sovereignty. Rather, the EU is itself a new model challenging classical interstate relations; its influence in the world does not depend on the coordinating the foreign policies of its member states but on the Union’s intrinsic capacity to affect and alter basic international rela-

tions. Because it can never become a state, the EU cannot fit within classical definitions of power. The European project is premised on viewing states as more than mere units in an anarchical world. As The Economist noted, the EU tries to “tame the Leviathan,” to domesticate the world using law. Currently, only two levels of law are commonly acknowledged: domestic and international law. The former law is enforceable, passed by states to regulate internal affairs. The

such a political organization is therefore crucial. In EU jargon, regulations—as opposed to directives—don’t need to be transposed into internal law by the national legislator: they are directly enforceable and legally binding for states and may create rights for the citizens. Even directives may have a “direct-effect,” meaning that under certain conditions, if an EU member state doesn’t abide by an EU law, it can be taken before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and sued by its citizens. As citizens of EU member states, these people are granted European citizenship, allowing them to elect the European Parliament and vote in local elections in all member states. The concept of shared sovereignty explains how this jus cosmopoliticum can be implemented in real life—each member state possesses a part of the European sovereignty exercised in common. This means that some member states might have to implement rules they disagree with if a qualified majority of countries passes them. Since the EU has no military means to enforce its decisions, especially those made by the ECJ, it can at best threaten economic and political sanctions. Unlike George Washington, Jose Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, cannot use military force against any disobedient state partaking in a European-style Whiskey Rebellion. Notwithstanding all of these problems, the EU works. Persuasion and dialogue, though time-consuming, seem sufficient to keep the Union alive. This preference for what College of Europe professor Zaki Laïdi calls “norm over force” shapes not only the internal functioning of the EU, but also its conception of the world and of international relations. Without real military capacity, the EU tries to influence the world through legal rules and standards. According to Ian Manners, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, the EU is a “normative power able to shape what is normal in international relations.” Of course, this form of influence rests on the fact that the EU possesses the largest consumer market in the

“Because it can never become a state, the EU cannot fit within classical definitions of power.” latter is essentially unenforceable, and consists of conventions between states. Nevertheless, Jean-Marc Ferry, a professor of philosophy and political science at the Université Libre in Brussels, points out that the EU has created a new type of law, the Kantian jus cosmopoliticum defined as the “conditions of a universal hospitality.” These “conditions” are the European four freedoms set forth by the Treaty of Rome: free movement of goods, services, capital and persons. This cosmopolitical law aims at creating a direct relationship between the supranational entity and citizens without denying the authority of states, and therefore, without challenging international law. Unlike international law, however, the jus cosmopoliticum does not exclusively regulate interstate but also “inter-people” relations by overcoming artificial, contingent political borders. Once created by the states, cosmopolitical law can be used by the citizens against their own state to defend their rights as members of a cosmopolitical entity. The institutional framework of

April 2008


April 2008 Issue  

AFP's April 2008 print edition