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Discuss The European Union is an ‘economic giant but a political dwarf

In 1991, the Belgian Minister of Foreign Affairs Eyskens had famously retorted that ‘Europe was an economic giant, political dwarf, and a military worm.' This statement reflected the incoherence and lack of coordination between different European members states during 1991. The inability of the Union to frame a coherent federal framework that reflected in its foreign political actions. The threat experienced by its members about the growing encroachment of EU upon their national sovereignty is a significant factor that had produced this lack of coherence.

However, over the period the European Union has managed to create a reasonably coherent and consistent foreign policy. This gets reflected in the consensus among its member nations about the economic sanctions imposed on Russia in 2014. These developments have challenged the conditional balanced achieved in the functioning of EU. The financial problems, as well as the immigration crisis experienced by the European countries, have produced a major challenge to the coherence enjoyed by the Union. These and many other issues that current envelope EU gets further exacerbated by the recent phenomenon of ‘Brexit,' which resulted in the UK exit from the EU. Thus, this and other development in the current world order heralds the growing influence of, ‘Euroscepticism’ a doctrine that advocates against the increasing integration achieved by the European Union.

Nevertheless, the continued existence of EU despite these difficulties reassures us about the ambitious project that is the Union. The European Union formed through the integration of various sovereign nations is a unique experiment in the anarchical world as conceived by the realist scholars. Here, rather than debating about the kind of integration the Union has managed or indulging in predicting the future of the union I would like to understand kind of ‘power’ that the European Union enjoys in the international world order. To do that I would like to elaborate on my understanding of authority and how it functions in the international world order and try to understand if the power exerted by the union is just restricted to the economic sphere or has the coalition managed to transform and extend it into other areas.

Understanding Of Power In The International World Order:

In the present global world system, the states no longer enjoy the sole monopoly over the exercise of power. Instead, the role and significance in the international world order as its primary and most significant actors are being encroached upon by various non-state actors. In the era characterized by nuclear deterrence, development in economy and technological advancement achieved are thus paying a more significant role. Due to this, different international organizations and associations have emerged to gain increasing importance in the world system (Bossuyt, 2007, p.9).

The ‘soft power’ the term coined by Joseph Nye to includes the deployment of more non-coercive forces like diplomacy, implementation of various economic as well as social and technological sanctions, etc. instead of the usage of more coercive forces that involves deployment or threat of a military action. The world has witnessed the devastation that the hard power has produced now tend to be inclined towards the employment of soft power while regulating the interactions between different nation states. Thus, the understanding of power in the present global world order has undergone a dramatic transformation. The traditional understanding of power in international relations based on the understanding of the state as the primary and the most significant actors have undergone a significant shift. Thus, this needs to be replaced by a broader understanding of power that also included the functioning of other non-state actors in the global world order.

Also, in the current world order Strange’s argues that is a broader understanding of power not restricted to only the traditional, ‘visible’ actors provide us with an understanding of power which is being increasingly diffuse and involving increasingly new non-state actors. Thus, due to it had become more analytically difficult to distinguish between political and economic power (Strange, 1987).

Thus, Strange argues that, given the transformation of the world system and global society, ‘structural power’ a concept that tries to include in its conceptual understanding both soft and hard power. This collective analysis has become more important to an understanding of the international system than relational power (Strange, 1989, p. 164). Thus, there is a need to understand a more collective and inclusive understanding of the interactions between both the states as well as non-state actors. The understanding of the power exercised by the European Union thus also needs to be studied under this collective less. The focus of the analysis thus should try to the study of power and influence exerted by the Union through the analysis of how the economic dominance enjoyed by the Union has been transformed to regulate or change the interactions between different nation states. Thus, of imposition economic, social and technological sanctions imposed and the changes that it has helped produce in the political and diplomatic behavior of the state needs a broad study.

The European Union:

The European Union is a unified trade and monetary body based on the idea of a ‘common market.' It’s an ambitious project that aims at creating an organization of different sovereign nation states. Its objective is to emerge as significant European trade block in the competitive global market. With England decided to leave the union its current membership includes 27 other European nations like Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden (Amadeo, 2017).

The European Union's understanding of a single market is based on the idea of free transfer and exchange of goods and services across the boundary between different nation states. Apart from increasing trade, this organizational association has also proved beneficial to its member countries in various areas like achieving sustainable development, environmental protection, research, developing an alternative form of energy resources, etc. The union also provides for severe reduction and complete removal of various trade and tariff barriers between different nation-states. The organization provides for the implementation of uniform economic reforms thus producing a standardized form of taxation within the Union. Its objective and aims, however, is not restricted at just achieving economic integration and improving trade and strategic relations between its member nations but its concerns also extend to various socio-cultural issues. It had collective helped framed the policy for the integration of migrant community as well as introduced many other political reforms to provide aid to different nations.

Thus, over a period this alternate system produced through cooperation among various states has managed to evolve into a federal organization that provides for adequate representation of its members. Originally conceived to be an organization that provides for only economic integration for its members, the Union has managed to transform into a complex, multilayered structure successfully. The Union's influenced expanded not only in some significant areas including trade and finance but its success has been further extended into other sectors and has proved influential in other foreign policy issues as well as framing defense systems (Viilup, 2015). Thus, a historical analysis of how the organization and its objectives have evolved from its focus on achieving economic interaction to a broader understanding thus becomes necessary.

Historical trajectory:

Europe in the Post-Second World War era was suffering from extreme desolation. Though emerged victorious, its participation in the war severely affected its economy. Thus, to encourage reconstruction of their economy and military capabilities there developed a need for them to come together and form cooperative associations that world ensures development in trade and security.

The origin of the European Union can be traced to the European Coal and Steel Community founded in 1950. It constituted of six nation-states that included of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. It further evolved into the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1957 under the Treaty of Rome. The EEC enjoyed an increase in membership that included nations like Denmark, Ireland, Greece, Spain and the United Kingdom. Increase in its membership and further formulation and implementation of different policies and programs also resulted in a corresponding rise in the organization's power compared to its predecessor. In its infancy, the Community focused on framing a uniform agricultural policy for its member nations. Followed by the formation of various economic reforms that aimed at reduction and further elimination of various trade barriers.

Through the Single European Act enacted in 1986, the EEC was successful in establishing a framework for cooperation among its member nations and also managed to increase its influence. The European Economic Community was also successful in the creation of a single European market economy. The Maastricht Treaty that came into force in the year 1993 created the European Community (EC), which then emerged to replace the EEC. Around the 1990’s the Union has thus emerged to achieve significant economic development with Germany, is described as the economic miracle.

The Union wasn’t however successful in transforming this achievement to influence or regulate the behavior of different nation states. There was a lack of coherence and the consensus between its members was lacking. With Germany, a significant actor in the organization always hesitating to vote on the significant decisions and the growing disagreements and divisions between different European nations the decisions taken by the organization during that period was characterized by growing hesitancy and uncertainty. Even as early as in 1991 since the Balkan wars, the European Union has powered ineffectiveness in resolving the conflict. Its decisions and their implementation are characterized by lack of decisiveness and coordinated among its different members. Its impotency was quite obvious in 2008 when it proved its incapacity in dealing with the conflict between the nation of Russia and Georgian. Its silence was glaringly also noticeable during the 2013 war in Iraq.

The Union’s inability to respond to such significant international events, therefore, portrays the image of an organization that lacks coordinated and thus is incapable to consent to a uniform policy. The European Union’s capability and its ability to continue to exits are further questioned as the union continues to deal with fiscal instability and economic problems in the aftermath of Euro crisis, migration issues and the most significantly the UK’s exit from the organization. However, through this significant and damaging transformation, the Union has tried to transform itself and has tried to develop coherence and consist framework into the recent years (Williams, 2016).

The organization of the European Community was later transformed into the European Union under the Treaty Lisbon enacted in the year 2009. The union’s focus thus formed was expanded not just to abutting economic integration among its different nation states it also aimed to create various political, socio-cultural reforms. The peace that characterized Europe in the recent year has been contributed to the existence of the European Union. In 2012, the union was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize, ‘for over six decades contributed to the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe’. The European Union thus formed also provides for the usage of a single currency called ‘euro' by all its member nations. The EU has also evolved into a significant trade organization; its GDP in the year 2014 amounted to as much as $13.8 billion.

Over a period, it can be noted that the EU has increasingly used its external trade policies and the threat of economic sanctions as an important factor in regulating and influencing the behavior of various Eastern European and Mediterranean countries such as Bulgaria, Romania and Morocco (Bossuyt, 2007, p.12). The Union has also played a significant role in establishing peace deal between Serbia and Kosovo in 2013 and the role it played in successfully conducting the nuclear talks with Iran has indeed been significant. Contrary to the indecisiveness it has earlier exhibited in dealing with Russia its current coherent policy against the same nation with response to the Ukraine war seemed a significant departure from its earlier policies and actions (Viilup, 2015).


The different global actors, as well as the different issues that characterize the world order today, are very distinctive that the world order that existed half-century ago. The traditional tools like military actions and threats appear inadequate against different challenges such as climate change and the threat of terror that increasing Islamic fundamentalism in the world. The emergence of diverse non-state and threat that they pose can’t be combated with the deployment of traditional methods. The significant of various non-state actors like European Unions and the collective and integrated response the organization has managed to deploy needs to be understood in the current global order. The Union also has to display a consistency and coherence through its various policies and programs.



Bossuyt, F., 2007. An economic giant, political dwarf and military worm?: introducing the concept of 'transnational power over' in studies of (the EU’s) power. In 4th ECPR general conference. European Consortium of Political Research (ECPR).

Strange, S., 1989. Toward a theory of transnational empire. Speed Global Changes and Theoretical Challenges, pp.161-76.


Amadeo. K., 2017. What Is the European Union? How It Works and Its History.

Viilup. Elina., The EU, Neither a Political Dwarf nor a Military Worm. In Depth.

Williams. A., 2016, How valid is the claim that the EU has delivered peace in Europe?

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