“The EU needs to reinforce effective multilateralism as its key strategic objective in a multipolar world” By Juha Jokela

456x272_WHO-article-Revive multilateralism or fail global developmentThe return of power politics and collapse of the norms and principles governing European security must serve as a wake-up call for the EU to reinforce its commitment in and instruments to promote world order based on effective multilateralism writes Juha Jokela, the Programme Director of the EU research programme in the Finnish Institute of International Affairs.

A world order based on effective multilateralism is one of the key strategic goals of the EU outlined in its first ever security strategy in 2003. At the time, the concept was seen as a response to George W. Bush administration’s unilateralist tendencies, and linked to previous Clinton administration’s multilateralist commitment and policies of first assertive and then deliberative multilateralism. In both sides of the Atlantic, promoting multilateralism has meant support and confidence in international institutions, rules and partnerships. These in turn have been seen central in addressing conflicts, transnational challenges, sharing burden of and securing legitimacy for leadership in world politics, as well as promoting market economy in an interconnected and globalized world. Due to EU’s history and character, multilateralism is argued to be deeply embedded in its identity and thus reflected to its external relations.

Many have however suggested a crisis of multilateralism in world politics. Existing arrangements and institutions are often portrayed as politically weak, bureaucratic and therefore inefficient and unable to reform. At the same time, multipolarity has cast a shadow over the future of multilateralism. The increasing number of powerful global players has made it more difficult to realize common interests and absolute gains, and has highlighted national interests and relative gains. Even if the EU has aimed to utilize its strategic partnership with the US during Obama administration, and ‘multilateralize multipolarity’, effective multilateralism and EU’s global strategy in general seem to be increasingly outdated. Not least because of the sharpened internal divisions within the EU which saw daylight long before the financial and economic crisis that has led to an increasingly differentiated EU.

EU’s aspiration to reach a global and binding multilateral arrangement to tackle climate change has gone in vain. It has not been able to forge consensus to reform the UN Security Council even within its own member states, or advance trade liberalization though the WTO. It has turned defensive within the G20 in light of the increasing political pressure to reform the Bretton Woods institutions, and in doing so address European over-representation. Most recently, the Ukrainian crisis and Russia’s annexation of Crime has cast a long shadow over international law, underpinned by norms and principles cemented in the Helsinki Accord and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, for instance.

The return of power politics and collapse of the norms and principles governing European security must serve as a wake-up call for the EU. As its instruments in playing great power games are weak, the EU must reinvigorate its dedication to effective multilateralism and generate strategic vision and action to shape the world around it, rather than accept to be shaped by it. The current crisis has underlined the need to work through and continue to streamline common European institutions in terms of effective decision-making and coherent external representation. At the same time the EU should not shy away from developing its resources and instruments in order to response events in its neighborhood and beyond, including common security and defense policy, common energy policy as well as soft and hard economic instruments. These are, after all, crucial in promoting and securing a world order favorable for the EU and Europeans.

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