The foundation of the European Union (EU) is built on the belief that the pooling of natural resources creates a framework for interdependence, which in turn eliminates the potential for conflict. As I noted in my previous Defence-in-Depth piece The EU: A model for economic governance?, this ideal is rooted in Liberal economic thought which became a priority following the end of World War II. The Brussels based entity has succeeded in its goal of eliminating conflict between the European member states since its foundation, and has extrapolated this idea when dealing with foreign actors in the international system. However, there have been complications in this process which have led to a less than successful EU interdependence-based foreign policy in action.
Internally, the EU has been faced with barriers and issues surrounding the successful implementation of its foreign policy since the foundation of the supra-national organisation in 1951. These include barriers surrounding the over-bureaucratisation and politicisation of issues. Aside from these aspects, a further set of more nuanced issues have surfaced when the EU’s interdependence-based foreign policy has been implemented outside of the European continent.
In an article in International Affairs titled Trade and peace: the EU and Gaddafi’s final decade, I argue that the failure in the case of Libya was largely due to the fact that Brussels failed to take into account the environment in which it deployed its interdependence-based foreign policy. I also made corroborating arguments for a further two Middle Eastern state case studies in my book The Political Economy of EU Ties with Iraq and Iran. The key takeaway point from this research project has been that the EU faces a set of barriers when flexing its attempts at governance on an international scale.
These barriers vary from case to case and can broadly be put into two categories. First, each country in which the EU implements its interdependence-based foreign policy has a unique history, culture, context, set of internal, external and strategic interests which are in play. Such an amalgamation of characteristics makes for a complex environment in which to implement such a Liberal-orientated policy. This was particularly the case in Libya, Iraq and Iran.
Second, the economic interests of the actors involved evidently plays a predominant and in some cases, a usurping role when implementing the EU’s interdependence-based foreign policy. These actors can be in the guise of European leaders, policymakers, businesses, etc… and their counterparts in the country with which the EU is interacting with (in foreign policy terms). Empirically speaking, this has led to situations where economic incentives, such as demand for energy or a drive for profits in the private sector, have taken precedence over the political goals of limiting and eliminating the potential conflict.
Consequently, unless the factors in the first category are understood and then accounted for, and the factors in the second category overcome, the EU’s interdependence-based foreign policy will continue to face the same barriers to success.
Image: The European Quarter (aka Quartier Léopold) in Brussels, containing the headquarters of the different EU institutions. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.