European Union as an emerging superpower

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The European Union (EU) has been called an emerging superpower by scholars and academics like T. R. Reid[1], Andrew Reding[2], Andrew Moravcsik,[3] Mark Leonard[4], Jeremy Rifkin[5], John McCormick[6] and some politicians such as Romano Prodi[7] and Tony Blair.[8] They believe that the EU is a superpower, or will become one, in the 21st century – while noting that the concept of "superpower" has changed to one of soft power rather than the hard (military) superpowers of the 20th century. Others have challenged their views.


Mark Leonard cites several factors: the EU's large population, large economy (the world's second largest both nominally and by purchasing power parity), low inflation rates, and the unpopularity and perceived failure of US foreign policy. He compares this with the high quality of life (especially when measured in terms such as hours worked per week, health care, social services) of certain EU member states.[9]

John McCormick believes that the EU has already achieved superpower status, based on the size and global reach of its economy and on its global political influence. He argues that the nature of power has changed since the Cold War-driven definition of superpower was developed, and that military power is no longer essential to great power; he argues that control of the means of production is more important than control of the means of destruction, and contrasts the threatening hard power of the United States with the opportunities offered by the soft power wielded by the European Union.[10]

Parag Khanna believes that "Europe is overtaking its rivals to become the world's most successful empire."[11][12] Khanna writes that South America, East Asia, and other regions prefer to emulate the "European Dream" rather than the American variant.[13] This could possibly be seen in the African Union and UNASUR. Notably, the EU as a whole has some of the world's largest and most influential languages being official within its borders.[14]

Andrew Reding also takes the future EU enlargement into account. An eventual future accession of the rest of Europe, the whole of Russia, and Turkey, would not only boost the economy of the EU, but it would also increase the EU's population to about 800 million, which he considers almost equal to that of India or China. The EU is qualitatively different from India and China since it is enormously more prosperous and technologically advanced.[2] Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in 2005: "In 10 or 15 years, the EU will be a place where civilizations meet. It will be a superpower with the inclusion of Turkey."[15]

Robert J. Guttman wrote in 2001 that the very definition of the term superpower has changed and in the 21st century, it does not only refer to states with military power, but also to groups such as the European Union, with strong market economics, young, highly educated workers savvy in high technology, and a global vision.[16] Friis Arne Petersen, the Danish ambassador to the US, has expressed similar views. He conceded that the EU is a "special kind of superpower," one that has yet to establish a unified military force that exerts itself even close to the same level as many of its individual members.[17]

Additionally, it is argued by commentators that full political integration is not required for the European Union to wield international influence: that its apparent weaknesses constitute its real strengths (as of its low profile diplomacy and the emphasis on the rule of law)[10] and that the EU represents a new and potentially more successful type of international actor than traditional ones;[18] however, it is uncertain if the effectiveness of such an influence would be equal to that of a more politically integrated union of states such as the United States.[19]

Barry Buzan notes that the EU's potential superpower status depends on its "stateness". It is unclear though how much state-like quality is needed for the EU to be described as a superpower. Buzan states that the EU is unlikely to remain a potential superpower for a long time because although it has material wealth, its "political weakness and its erratic and difficult course of internal political development, particularly as regards a common foreign and defence policy" constrains it from being a superpower.[20]

Alexander Stubb, the Finnish Minister for Foreign Affairs, has said in 2008 that he thinks the EU is both a superpower and not a superpower. While the EU is a superpower in the sense that it is the largest political union, single market and aid donor in the world, it is not a superpower in the defense or foreign policy spheres. Like Barry Buzan, Alexander Stubb thinks that the most major factor constraining the EU's rise to superpower status is its lack of statehood in the international system, other factors are its lack of internal drive to project power worldwide, and continued preference for the sovereign nation-state among some Europeans. To counterbalance these, he urged the EU leaders to approve and ratify the Lisbon Treaty (which they did in 2009), create an EU foreign ministry (EEAS, established in 2010), develop a common EU defense, hold one collective seat at the UN Security Council and G8, and address what he described as the "sour mood" toward the EU prevalent in some European countries in 2008.[21]

Contrary views[edit]

Some do not believe that the EU will achieve superpower status. "The EU is not and never will be a superpower" according to the former UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs David Miliband.[22] EU parliamentarian Ilka Schroeder argues that conflicts such as the Israeli–Palestinian dispute see close EU involvement largely to compensate for European inability to project military power internationally.[23]

The Economist's Robert Lane Greene notes that the lack of a strong European military only exacerbates the lack of unified EU foreign policy and discounts any EU arguments towards superpower status, noting especially that the EU's creation of a global response force rivaling the superpower's (United States of America) is "unthinkable."[24] "The biggest barrier to European superpowerdom is that European elites refuse to bring their postmodern fantasies about the illegitimacy of military 'hard power' into line with the way the rest of the world interprets reality" according to Soren Kern of Strategic Studies Group.[25]

Britain's Michael Howard has warned against the "worry" that many Europeans are pushing for greater EU integration to counterbalance the United States,[26] while Europe's total reliance on soft (non-military) power is in part because of its lack of a "shared identity."[27] While to some the European Union should be a "model power" unafraid of using military force and backing free trade, its military shortcomings argue against superpower status.[28]

George Osborne, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, has also pointed to what he saw as an economic crisis of the European Union. In 2014, Osborne said: "The biggest economic risk facing Europe doesn't come from those who want reform and re-negotiation. It comes from a failure to reform and renegotiate. It is the status quo which condemns the people of Europe to an ongoing economic crisis and continuing decline." Osborne also said that the EU is facing growing competition with global economic powers like China, India and the US, and the European Union should "reform or decline."[29][30][31]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Reid, T. R. (2004) The United States of Europe 305p, Penguin Books ISBN 1-59420-033-5
  2. ^ a b Reding, Andrew (January 6, 2002). "EU in position to be world's next superpower". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 7, 2014.
  3. ^ Moravcsik, Andrew. "The Quiet Superpower" (PDF). Princeton University Press. Retrieved July 26, 2014.
  4. ^ Leonard, Mark. Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century. Perseus Books Group. ISBN 1-58648-424-9.
  5. ^ Rifkin, Jeremy (2004). The European Dream. ISBN 1-58542-345-9.
  6. ^ McCormick, John (2007). The European Superpower. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781403998460.[page needed]
  7. ^ D.C. Dispatch (February 1, 2005). "Europe Is the Next Rival Superpower. But Then, So Was Japan". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on August 28, 2008. Retrieved July 26, 2014.
  8. ^ Brogan, Benedict (October 7, 2000). "Blair wants EU to become superpower". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved March 27, 2014.
  9. ^ "Europe: the new superpower". CER. February 18, 2005. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  10. ^ a b McCormick, John (November 14, 2006). The European Superpower. ISBN 978-1-4039-9846-0.
  11. ^ Khanna, Parag. "The Empire Strikes Back". Retrieved March 14, 2014.
  12. ^ Parag Khanna. "US scholar Parag Khanna on the rise of the new Rome - Europe | World news". The Guardian. Retrieved March 14, 2014.
  13. ^ Khanna, Parag. "The Empire Strikes Back". Parag Khanna. Retrieved August 2, 2014.
  14. ^ "Languages of the world". Nocturne. Archived from the original on March 2, 2010. Retrieved July 26, 2014.
  15. ^ "'EU will be Super Power with Turkey'". Turkish Weekly. June 4, 2005. Archived from the original on March 20, 2012. Retrieved February 10, 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |dead-url= (help); Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  16. ^ Europe in the New Century: Visions of an Emerging Superpower. Lynne Rienner Publishers. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
  17. ^ "Danish Envoy: Economic Strength Makes EU a 'Rising Superpower". Globalatlanta. Retrieved July 19, 2014.
  18. ^ Hyde-Price, Adrian (October 23, 2004). "The EU, Power and Coercion: From 'Civilian' to 'Civilising' Power" (PDF). ARENA Centre for European Studies. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 26, 2009.
  19. ^ "Europe vs. America by Tony Judt | The New York Review of Books". Retrieved February 10, 2012.
  20. ^ Buzan, Barry (2004). The United States and the Great Powers. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity Press. p. 70. ISBN 0-7456-3375-7.
  21. ^ "Will the EU Ever Become a Superpower?" (PDF). Carnegie Endowment. July 17, 2008. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
  22. ^ "(FCO) Europe 2030: Model power not Superpower - Bruges Speech by the Rt Hon David Miliband MP Foreign Secretary" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-26. Retrieved 2012-02-10. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  23. ^ Stahl, Julie (January 2, 2004). "Europe Wants to Rival US as Military Superpower, Says EU Parliamentarian". Retrieved February 10, 2012.
  24. ^ "EU Constitution: A 'Superpower Europe' It Won't Be". 2003-07-18. Retrieved 2012-02-10.
  25. ^ "So Europe wants to be a superpower". November 5, 2007. Retrieved July 19, 2014.
  26. ^ "Howard warning on EU 'superpower'". BBC News. November 17, 2004. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  27. ^ "The European Union, a "Quiet Superpower" or a Relic of the Past | USC Center on Public Diplomacy". March 25, 2007. Retrieved May 28, 2014.
  28. ^ "Miliband EU speech in full". BBC News. November 15, 2007. Retrieved June 28, 2014.
  29. ^ Kirkup, James (January 14, 2014). "George Osborne lectures the EU on reform". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  30. ^ "EU falling behind India, China: British finance minister". The Times of India. January 15, 2014. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
  31. ^ Osborn, Andrew (January 16, 2014). "Reform or lose us as member, Britain's finance minister tells EU". Reuters. Retrieved March 17, 2014.