Europe’s success in internationalising its preferences remains mixed. We have found considerable evidence that the EU’s efforts to extend its internal rules and governance processes are contributing positively to transnational governance in some areas. In a number of sectors the EU has even become the de facto global standard-setter. We suggest that the best conditions are where the EU has some capacity for unilateral regulation (e.g. in establishing conditions whereby others can access the European market), but is also constrained by the rules of multilateralism or pressures from powerful partners. But in some cases, for example energy politics, the EUs preference for liberal forms of governance sits at odds with strong state control in a number of core energy providers.
A key variable is the extent to which different national forms of governance can result in a coherent EU position. A positive example is in the realm of finances, where despite the diversity of financial systems and sectors that existed within the EC, member states have been willing and able to agree on a single set of rules converging around a liberal model of financial markets. The EU is weaker when individual states pursue their own (often conflicting) policy initiatives. Examples include European responses to the Arab Spring and in diverse national strategies towards securing energy supplies. Some states still tend to prioritise national interest in their relations with major and emerging powers acting, at times, in competition with each other. While the Lisbon Treaty has increased external action, unrealistic expectations and new institutional tensions have left a lack of clarity externally about what the EU’s role is in global affairs. A lack of coherence in different member state positions on how to respond to the crisis within Europe itself has also resulted in scepticism over whether Europe can evolve as a coherent actor. The Eurozone crisis has also called into question the dual constitutional structure of the Lisbon Treaty: supranational for the single market and intergovernmental for the EMU.
In searching for solutions to the financial crisis, our work illustrates the importance of ideas; where they come from and how they are transmitted. For example, how did the concept of “too big to fail” come to inform responses to the crisis, and translate into policy in Europe and the USA? It’s also important to consider how innovation is sometimes blocked and how “transnational veto players” manage to keep (often more radical) proposals off the agenda, and thus limit the parameters of reform proposals to fundamentally not challenge the status quo.
Imposing “top down” policies that have little “bottom up” support are unlikely to be successful. For example, because human security was introduced as a core objective in a top-down way by key individuals, it was not sustained once those individuals left, and the human security agenda failed to be diffused as a core European strategy. But ideas can be changed. Our research points to the importance of transnational institutions and policy networks that disseminate policies that generally align different actors with European social and economic values. NGOs are also important – but with the importance and type of influence varying over issue areas. In some cases ideational influence can depend on the skills and identities of specific individuals. But size matters and NGOs with greater resources can command public attention even when they have a weaker skill set in providing policy alternatives.
Our research has shown that regions can play an important role in promoting innovation and reform. Regional cooperation has become a global phenomenon but one that has become ever more diverse; the regional dimension is fluid and very susceptible to the preferences of key regional powers. While the BRICS are increasing their power in the global order, most often at the expense of the non-US OECD, the systemic power of the US remains higher and more stable than is often asserted. Moreover, the BRICS do not constitute a single group. Rising powers share some traits: the size and magnitude of their economies, high growth rates, and frustration with the status quo. However, the paths to prominence of the different rising powers are fundamentally different, they occupy different power positions and draw on different combinations of sources of power. Moreover, leaders need followers - and while some regional rising powers like Brazil do seem to have the capacity to develop such leadership, others, like China, have less regional legitimacy. Global power, then, appears to be increasingly diffuse which requires a variegated EU response based on the specific issue at hand.