EU Support for International Institutions: On the Rise or in Decline?

Franziska Petri
Franziska Petri
EU Support for International Institutions: On the Rise or in Decline?
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The EU often speaks out in favour of international institutions, but does its actions follow its words? A review of how the EU supports multilateralism.

The EU has long been a strong rhetorical supporter of international institutions. In particular, it has championed multilateralism as a mode of international cooperation within the United Nations system. However, the EU has also stressed that multilateral cooperation should adapt to today’s global challenges. For example, its 2022 Strategic Compass – issued in the days after Russia fully invaded Ukraine – finds that the EU’s vision of multilateralism has “come under strong questioning” as a result of “the shattering of universal values” and “are turn to power politics,” among other factors.

At the same time, the EU has also adopted geopolitical ambitions of its own and resorted to the traditional tools of great powers, such as negotiating strategic trade agreements, “weaponising” international institutions like the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), and using the EU internal market as a unilateral tool to further its own interests. Viewed from this perspective, is the EU’s multilateral approach actually in decline?

In this literature review*, we survey and analyse the relevant scholarship and research to determine how do the EU and its members relate to international institutions in a contested world in transition. Specifically, we focus on two sub-questions: How does the EU support international institutions in their activities (beyond its rhetorical commitments)? And how has the EU changed its approach in response to rising challenges to international institutions?

How do the EU and its members relate to international institutions in a contested world in transition?

Overall, we find that:

  • The literature shows that the EU’s support for international institutions varies. However, most studies focus on single institutions, which makes it difficult to arrive at comparative insights into the EU’s activities across issue areas and institutions. While we thus know that variation exists, we know less about common patterns of and explanations for this variation.
  • Much academic attention has been dedicated to internal factors that explain the EU’s activities in international institutions. This internal perspective represents a bias in the literature. We argue that external contextual factors as well as the agency and perceptions of other actors in international institutions need to be integrated more widely into the academic research.
  • We lack studies on how internal and external contestation dynamics impact the EU’s approach to global governance transformation. In this context, it is crucial to study the EU’s support for international institutions critically, and to acknowledge divergent approaches to and perceptions of transformation.

Citation Recommendation: Petri, Franziska. 2024. “EU Support for International Institutions: On the Rise or in Decline?” ENSURED Research Report, no. 3 (April): 1–34.

*This is one of three literature reviews on global governance. Read the other two reviews to learn about effectiveness and democracy in global governance and the robustness of international institutions.

Photo: European Parliament / Flickr
For more, read the full literature review.
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