The FT’s weak defense of the EU

Earlier this week, I tried to assess some of the implications for multilateralism of a possible EU disintegration. In yesterday’s Financial Times, the editors offered their own take, warning "if the EU fails, the most ambitious model for international co-operation will fail with it." They insist that recent troubles notwithstanding the EU remains a valuable ...

Earlier this week, I tried to assess some of the implications for multilateralism of a possible EU disintegration. In yesterday's Financial Times, the editors offered their own take, warning "if the EU fails, the most ambitious model for international co-operation will fail with it." They insist that recent troubles notwithstanding the EU remains a valuable model of global governance. And they point to the recent Durban climate change agreement as a key exhibit:

The Durban agreement is a fine example of both the merits and the limits of the European model of governance. A fierce commitment to negotiate international deals, no matter the technical complexities or political sensitivities, is characteristic of the EU. Unfortunately, so is the fact that the resulting agreements tend to be full of legal loopholes and vague commitments – that are then easily picked apart and reneged upon, once national governments leave the conference chamber and return home.

It is easy to mock this kind of supra-nationalism. But the alternative is simply to let global problems fester to the point where they cause conflicts between nations. It is worth struggling to preserve the European ideal – and not just for Europe’s sake.

Earlier this week, I tried to assess some of the implications for multilateralism of a possible EU disintegration. In yesterday’s Financial Times, the editors offered their own take, warning "if the EU fails, the most ambitious model for international co-operation will fail with it." They insist that recent troubles notwithstanding the EU remains a valuable model of global governance. And they point to the recent Durban climate change agreement as a key exhibit:

The Durban agreement is a fine example of both the merits and the limits of the European model of governance. A fierce commitment to negotiate international deals, no matter the technical complexities or political sensitivities, is characteristic of the EU. Unfortunately, so is the fact that the resulting agreements tend to be full of legal loopholes and vague commitments – that are then easily picked apart and reneged upon, once national governments leave the conference chamber and return home.

It is easy to mock this kind of supra-nationalism. But the alternative is simply to let global problems fester to the point where they cause conflicts between nations. It is worth struggling to preserve the European ideal – and not just for Europe’s sake.

As a defense of the EU’s value on the international stage, this is pretty thin gruel. I agree that European diplomats are often the engine of modern multilateral negotiations (not least because they enjoy the onerous process more than just about anyone else), but the piece leaves unanswered a rather obvious question: what exactly is the value of vague and nonbinding agreements that are full of holes? There’s a reason this kind of diplomatic exercise is easy to mock. In certain situations, time-consuming multilateral negotiations can distract policymakers from more meaningful action and convince them that they’ve accomplished more than they have. It’s not impossible to make a case that this kind of exercise is ultimately meaningful, but you’d have to work a lot harder than the FT did to make the case.

David Bosco is an associate professor at Indiana University's School of Global and International Studies. He is the author of books on the U.N. Security Council and the International Criminal Court, and is at work on a new book about governance of the oceans. Twitter: @multilateralist
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