What Does the Future International Landscape Mean for EU Foreign Policy? (Part II)

Analysis by Danaë LAZARI

In Part One of this article, contemporary EU foreign policy was shown to broadly exist on two planes – conventional (which is somewhat different to what is normally understood by the term), and structural (whereby the EU stabilises external countries to its ‘ways of doing things’). Characterised by an extremely complicated and slow policy process, EU foreign policy is widely agreed to require significant structural reforms in order to become more efficient. In the second part of the article, we will examine the future international landscape, and the role contemporary EU foreign policy can be expected to play in it.

The EU's 2004 enlargement was one of the most successful instances of its structural foreign policy to date - unknown, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5
The EU’s 2004 enlargement was one of the most successful instances of its structural foreign policy to date – unknown, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

As with any type of forecasting, political forecasting is obviously not a certain representation of the future – it is best understood as a scenario of minimised uncertainty. It is also important to note the context, author, and environment of the forecasts in order to be aware of biases – reports may portray a forecast in order to bring about desired changes in the present. However, three broad common themes emerge when attempting to get a picture of the future international landscape, which can be set out as follows.

  1. The continued rise of Asia and other emerging economies in Africa and South America will result in the decline, if not the end, of the Western-led global order characteristic of the past two centuries. These new powers may undermine the global order if they choose to pursue nationalistic objectives, though may also help the promotion of strategic cooperation. Globalisation will continue, but will increasingly be driven by new actors with different values, resulting in a heightened potential for confrontation between key actors. The political landscape will be a multi-polar scene, more fragile and unpredictable.
  2. The growth of new economies, coupled with rising energy consumption and a growing middle class, will put a strain on global resources. Competition may increase for water, oil, and other commodities, leading to potential tensions. The interdependence of powerful actors with different values may not be matched by good governance, leading to potential struggles for resources.
  3. A social and democratic revolution will result in the emergence of new ‘social contracts’ and new forms of governance. Citizens will be more empowered, better connected, and less committed to full-time jobs, resulting in pressure for more transparent and accountable levels of governance. Anti-establishment feeling may rise further, as well as recourse to less traditional and more local initiatives. In addition, a technological revolution will transform societies in ‘almost every aspect’.
Brazil is a country whose rising economy is likely to make it a key player on the future international landscape - by Rafael Matsunaga, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Brazil is a country whose rising economy is likely to make it a key player on the future international landscape – by Rafael Matsunaga, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Since conventional EU foreign policy is fraught with structural weaknesses that impede its ability to act quickly in times of crisis (e.g. the Balkans, Libya), to say that it would be effective in what will likely be a more volatile international landscape, probably more prone to crises over resources or power struggles – would be questionable at best. In order for the EU to exercise an efficient, coherent conventional foreign policy in the future, it is highly likely that structural reforms in the form of a more cohesive foreign policy are necessary. As this would mean the delegation of power by Member States in foreign policy to an EU or external actor – as well as measures put in place to hold them accountable – it is difficult to imagine in the current context how or when this would take place.

Instead, the main opportunity for the EU’s foreign policy in the future seems to come as a result of the projected social and democratic revolution. More politically aware and demanding citizens from third countries (specifically ones with different values) may become increasingly opposed to their own modes of governance and look for new options. If the EU can become more outward-looking and overcome the decline in legitimacy it is currently facing, it could employ structural foreign policy successfully to fill this gap. However, it is crucial that the deployment of structural foreign policy is legitimised under the EU’s enduring normative power, which has come under question in recent years in recently acceded MS (Bulgaria, Romania), in its neighbourhood (the Western Balkans), and globally, through the lack of cohesive action by a “normative” EU in human rights crises such as Libya (due to a too-slow foreign policy process, and an EU preoccupied with navigating its own internal crisis).

Ultimately, if the EU wants to remain a player on the international scene, its foreign policy will need to take a form that will allow it to act quickly in a volatile world, be transparent enough to be attractive to a global citizenship, and be credible enough to hold its own in a world dominated by continent-sized nations with different values.

No small ask, then.


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