The role of the EU in Global Politics

17 January 2006

A series of workshops and seminars at the World Social Forum
Organised by :

  • Hemispheric Social Alliance - Alianza Social Continental (ASC)
  • Transnational Institute (TNI)
  • Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam - Coalition for Comprehensive Democracy in cooperation with NIGD and Attac-Finland

The Need for a South-North Engagement

Europe is too large an issue to be left to the Europeans alone. This is true for already reasons of democracy: In the light of Europe's large, and growing, significance for the South European policies increasingly need to be assessed from the point of view of their international effects it is becoming increasingly vital for movements of the South to understand and influence European politics. Also, given the growing international significance of the EU, a truthful European self-understanding for our times can only come about through inter-continental dialogue.

Our proposal

We propose that one way of reaching a more unified response to European developments is that Southern and Northern activists and analysts come together to improve their understanding of the role played by the European Union in North-South politics.

Specifically, we propose a series of analytical, empirically oriented engagements on the following key aspects of European politics

  1. Foreign policy, security, anti-terror, the militarisation of globalisation and the possible role EU as a counterbalancing force to the US;
  2. Neoliberal globalisation: what is the role of the EU in the Bretton Woods institutions, the World Trade Organisation, in efforts to reform financial architecture, and in regional and bilateral economic relations with the South, such as Economic Partnership Agreements.
  3. Environment and Development policy globally, including policies related to aid and development cooperation, global warming, biodiversity, the digital divide, technology transfer and energy solutions.

To this end Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam (India and Finland), has in cooperation with the Hemispheric Social Alliance - Alianza Social Continental (Brasil), the Transnational Institute (the Netherlands) and others registered the following events for the polycentric WSFs in 2006:

* Bamako, Mali (January 2006)
The role of the EU in the global political economy - present trends and future possibilities. Implications for intiatives on the WTO and the EPAs (Economic Partnership Agreements) and for international campaigns on financial architecture.

* Caracas, Venezuela (January 2006)
The role of the EU in global militarisation and security policy - present trends and future possibilities: Implications for future EU-LA relations

* Karachi, Pakistan (dates open, possibly March 2006)
The role of the EU in global environment and development policy - present trends and future possibilities. Implications for future action on aid, biodiversity and climate change.

All events will be taped and/or video-recorded. The tapes will be transcribed, translated (English - Spanish and Spanish -English) edited for publication (by professional editor in cooperation with the speakers) and made available as a web-report that will serve as the basis for further work in the topic.

Introductory Note:

The New Europe: The post-war project of Western European integration through economic cooperation was, by the end of the 1980s by and large completed with the Single Treaty Act. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin wall the European Economic Community (the EEC) rapidly entered a new phase of development. Between 1990 and 2005 a series of enlargements and of treaty revisions from Maaastricht (1992) over Amsterdam (1997) to Nice (2001) transformed the EEC into the present European Union, a new supranational institution with 25 member countries in Western and Central Europe, endowed with vast legislative and executive powers.

What we now see is the European Union emerging as a new major player in international trade, the political economy of globalisation, development, migration, environment policies and, increasingly, in foreign and security policy.

The new entity that aspires to enter world history is not well understood. Is the EU the primary laboratory of neo-liberal reform, creating negative models that are later exported to other continents? Or should we rather invest our pragmatic aspirations and even utopian hope in this new incarnation of the ex-colonial powers?

The questions are wide-open. Hence, it has been problematic for forces united around values of democracy, social justice, solidarity and ecological responsibility to define common perceptions of European integration and common political positions.

The differences in judgment of Europe are felt in many fields, but most acutely so in trade policy. Most South-based movements that engage in the WSF-process tend to see the WTO-politics of the EU as a major threat to Southern development aspirations, arguing, as for instance in the run-up to the ministerial meeting of the WTO in Hongkong in December 2005, that "No deal" is preferable to a "bad deal". At the same time, it is common among North-based NGOs with solid WSF-credentials to argue for a rather different view and to see e.g. lobbying of the European Parliament as a key tool on the way to benign WTO-reform. Similar divergence in strategic assessment can be seen in relation to perceptions of the Iraq war, anti-terror, global warming, biodiversity, aid conditionalities etc.

Euro-reformists from the Global Justice Movement propose that we view the European Union as a problematic but, by and large, promising, new political instrument. They typically argue for this line on the basis of three kinds of consideration.

(1) Re Globalisation: The European Union, whatever its faults, is one of the few powerful postnational instruments on offer. It is vital that red-green political actors of all shades from centre to left work together in order to domesticate, develop and use this instrument if we want to exercise effective political control of the (post-)capitalist economy in its new transnational phase of development.

(2) Re people's security: In the politics of war and peace, and more broadly, in security policy, reformists see the European Union, potentially at least, as a counter-balancing force to the military hegemony and aggression of the US. The minimal claim is that it better for the South to deal with two super-powers than only one, as any differences of interest between the two will provide political opportunities.

(3) Re Environment and Development: In view of the global environment and development crisis, and in view of migration policies, euro-reformists turn to the European Union in their search for new positive leadership. The Kyoto-protocol is often mentioned as a modest but necessary first step toward globally significant reform that would not have been conceivable without a positive role of the EU.

Red and Green Euro-sceptics claim that the lack of internal democracy in the European union, the neoliberal drift of its internal economic policies, the mostly negative role played by the EU from the point of view of the South in international trade and anti-terror, and the predominance in the real politics of short-term, selfish economic goals and implementation instruments over ecological concerns and solidarity commitments make the optimistic scenarios difficult to sustain - despite their obvious attractions.

The inconclusive debate between euro-reformists and euro-sceptics tends to leave the political forces that are committed to solidarity and democracy at a loss.

As long as we do not know how to deal creatively with the differences Europe is likely to face the exacerbation of the neoliberal and anti-democratic tendencies of the European Union internally and of its anti-South politics in global affairs.