Events & News


The European Union and Rising Powers between Regionalism and Multilateralism

Prof. Dr. Tanja A. Börzel & Prof. Dr. Thomas Risse (Freie Universität Berlin

09 Apr 2012

Faculty of Arts & Social Science – Faculty Lounge (L2 of The Deck) National University of Singapore, Kent Ridge Campus, Arts Link

10.30 am – 12.30 pm


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The lecture began with Prof Thomas Risse sketching out the contours of the contemporary global order.  He felt that the concept of multipolarity is an old 19th Century concept that does not quite capture the inter-connectedness and interdependence of the present world and ignores the impact of globalisation and transnationalism. Similarly the conceptualisation of the present order as a ‘world of regions or civilisations,” also does not fully reflect the extent of inter-connectedness and ignores mutual cultural influences.

Turning then to the “hype” of the emerging powers as represented by the BRICs, he agreed that the Western-centric dominance of the global order is fading. The West however has not fully accepted this new reality as it believes that it can either “contain” or “socialise” the rising powers.  At the same time, he is not entirely convinced that any of the emerging powers in the so-called BRICS would rise to become a global power anytime soon as, to be a global power, one must not only possess material and ideational capabilities but must have a widely-articulated vision of the kind of world order envisaged and have clear ideas on how to shape the world order.  Such a power must be able to translate its capabilities to influence, and become a productive power, willing to lead.  He does not see any of the “BRICs” countries developing that kind of vision and strategy. This led then to the next part of the presentation by Prof Tanja Börzel who looked at how these rising powers have used regionalism to advance their interests.

Prof Börzel’s central argument is that the rising powers such as Brazil, South Africa and China have used regionalism to address problems of inter-dependence, and in particular to contain negative externalities. These can be inward looking or externally oriented, but on the whole, theirs a very self-interested approach towards regionalism rather than seeing regionalism as a stepping stone or building block toward global governance.

Prof Börzel also contends that the EU has the capabilities and vision to be a global power, but unfortunately seems unable to translate these capabilities and vision to influence and real power.  However, the EU does have an indirect influence on regionalism because it has been seen as a rather successful model of regional integration.  She added that the EU does not proactively promote its model of regional integration, but its indirect influence comes more from the passive power of example, and also perhaps through some its policies and the values and norms that the EU embodies.