A view from the outside: How does the world view the EU?

The European elections are not only relevant to EU citizens. Other countries around the world are also watching with great interest to see what happens in June of this year. They have specific ideas and expectations regarding the EU’s role in the world and its cooperation with other countries and regions. After all, many decisions that are taken in Brussels and national capitals affect many people outside the EU as well. Five experts from Argentina, India, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and the US present their view of the EU and their recommendations.



«New alliances for democracy»

Latin America and the EU should focus on developing joint strategies against the far-reaching influence of right-wing forces on their societies.

Text: Gabriela Mitidieri and Robert Grosse

Gabriela Mitidieri und Robert Grosse

On November 19, 2023, the extreme right won the presidential elections in Argentina in a runoff race supported by the conservative alliance Juntos por el Cambio. The result shocked many, although similar patterns have been observed in Brazil, the US, Hungary, and the Philippines. We must therefore look beyond the regional impact of this government that seeks to destroy the state, persecute activists, and deny climate change. Now is the time to critically assess the potential for new international alliances, especially with Europe, in this global threat situation for democracies and human rights.

Since the return to democracy in many Latin American countries, the EU’s primary focus in its “strategic alliances” with these countries over the past 40 years has been to secure advantages for itself: by trading goods and services and via continued extractivism under so-called environmental or energy pacts. But did these alliances ever really foster sustainable, inclusive, and equitable development? Or were they more likely to harm Latin American societies, their quality of life, their environment, and their democracies?

We feel there is an urgent need to revise the very foundations of our cooperation in order to build a truly emancipatory alliance with Latin America. No trade agreement can be more important than protecting fundamental democratic rights, which are under threat once again in our region and worldwide. Despite their long history of democratic state and society building, Europe’s democracies are also under threat from the rise of right-wing parties. We must overcome the historical asymmetries between our regions and stand together against these dangerous developments.

Let’s formulate guiding questions and a joint roadmap against the far right

The new manifestations of right-wing extremist movements and their disruptive strategies appeal to young people, particularly in the digital space, bridging the gap to the traditional right. As in other historical moments, they succeed by capitalizing on widespread social and economic discontent, so they are not a new phenomenon. However, we in the progressive camp must realize that we need to rethink our own strategies. A few guiding questions could help us to develop a joint roadmap. We need to look at places that were able to contain the advance of the extreme right and ask: Which international alliances were vital to their success? We need to look at places where anti-democratic actors are already in power and ask: How can we strengthen civil societies through cooperation between democracies? How can we coordinate efforts to stand united in our criticism of governments that ally with authoritarian actors? What can an international alliance of democratic actors do to counter cooperation between far-right governments?

Gabriela Mitidieri is a historian and expert on labor and gender at the Instituto de Investigaciones de Estudios de Género (University of Buenos Aires). She is a member of the team for mobilization/surveillance against the right at the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS).

Robert Grosse is a sociologist and expert in international development cooperation. He is currently working for the international working group at CELS. He lives and works in Latin America and Europe.


«The image of Europe is changing»

Optimism about new synergies: The dynamics of the strategic partnership between India and the EU have gained momentum in recent years.

Text: Jagannath Panda

Jagannath Panda

India is keen to reinvigorate its relations with the European Union and its Member States – from economic, technological, climate, and energy security to multilateral cooperation. This is evident from the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s emphasis on personal diplomacy with the European leaders in the last two years. It would be safe to say that the (receding) momentum in the India–EU strategic partnership has in recent years received a fillip – ironically after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, where the two sides have divergent stances. The movement is similar to India’s evolving trajectory with the US, particularly on economic, technological, and regional security concerns, even though the details certainly vary. India has begun to appreciate the EU’s relevance as a valuable middle power and, more importantly, a balancing power in the complicated, fragile Indo-Pacific affairs that are dominated by the US–China hegemonic competition.

The India–EU relationship is centered on economic ties, with technology becoming a focal point of cooperation, too. That has only been strengthened with the establishment of the Trade and Technology Council (TTC) and the ongoing fast-tracked free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations. There is great optimism in India about the new synergy.

Joint innovation and support to build a climate-resilient infrastructure

Furthermore, from the perspective of civil society and experts in India, climate action is an extremely vital area of collaboration with the EU/Europe. As a pioneer, the EU could not only help in building climate-resilient infrastructure, but could also participate through knowledge-sharing and joint innovation in the renewable energy sector, for example.

In the multilateral arena, a reinforced commitment to effective multilateralism and global governance is a staple expectation from the EU. India looks to the EU to not just champion the principles of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, but also to support reforms in the international forums, such as the United Nations system.

At the same time, Europe’s image among the general Indian populace, including certain civil society and strategic sections, is still colored by its colonial past: a rich, developed region that is hypocritical about framing norms for others, particularly the developing world or the so-called Global South. This is also not a new or India-specific assertion: Besides other issues, overfishing (e.g., “neo-colonial plundering” of tuna) and Europe’s energy hypocrisy (e.g., double standards on fossil fuels) have long been in the news globally.

Nonetheless, on the issues of democratic solidarity, human rights, conflict prevention, peace-building, third-country cooperation, and building human-centric regulations on new technologies, among other such themes, the EU is seen as a reliable partner. Moreover, the need for strengthening this partnership is seen as imperative.

Dr Jagannath Panda is the Head of the Stockholm Centre for South Asian and Indo-Pacific Affairs at the Institute for Security and Development Policy, Sweden.


«A better agreement for both sides is possible»

Brexit has created more problems than solutions. This is a fact understood and absorbed by the majority of people in the UK. The EU and the UK still have one last chance to reset their relations.

Text: Naomi Smith

Naomi Smith

In 2026, the UK–EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) is finally up for its first review. This represents the last meaningful chance for a reset in relations between the EU and the UK, and thus the last opportunity to achieve a better deal for both.

Brexit has been an unmitigated disaster for the UK. Whether looking at rocketing food prices, reduced opportunities for young people, our ailing health service, our sluggish economic growth, poor productivity or divided families, the signs are evident everywhere.

This is a fact understood and absorbed by the majority of people in the UK, including many of those who voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum and now regret it. Indeed, the polling we carried out in May of this year showed that 63 percent of people in Britain thought that Brexit had created more problems than it had solved. Only 21 percent thought the opposite.

Accepting this, many Brits agree that the current arrangement the UK has with the EU isn’t working and must be improved. A majority of UK voters now want a closer relationship between the UK and the EU. The Labour Party is among them.

Even post-Brexit, we do have an opportunity to reset our relations

Led by Keir Starmer, the party is on track to win the upcoming general election. This is significant for EU–UK relations because by the time the TCA review comes around, the EU will no longer be dealing with a hostile negotiating partner, but one seeking rapprochement.

Keir Starmer has already made this known. He is clear that rejoining the EU Single Market, the Customs Union or as a full member is not yet an option. Yet he has said that if elected Prime Minister, he would use the TCA review to seek a “closer trading relationship” with the EU, a sentiment echoed by a number of other ministers on the Labour front bench.

It is crucial that the European Council, Commission and new European Parliament appreciate the opportunity that the TCA review therefore represents for not only the UK but the EU, too. Instead of driving us apart, the review can, and should be, about bringing our people closer together, for the first time since Brexit, to reach a lasting and more mutually beneficial agreement.

Recognizing this, the EU should get ready to engage with a completely different UK. One that is open and prepared to approach the TCA review in good faith. This opportunity may not come around again. For if the review is a failure, there is a serious risk our relationship will be sealed once and for all, to the detriment of both the UK and the EU. So while the opportunity still exists, it is essential that the EU chooses to grasp it, as the UK will undoubtedly try to do.

Naomi Smith is the managing director of Best for Britain, a non-partisan campaign group in the United Kingdom, whose mission is to solve the problems facing the UK after Brexit.


«A watchful eye toward Europe»

Observers and actors from across Africa and the Global South seek to understand how the increasingly fragmented geopolitical landscape and a possible shift to the right in Europe could affect future relations between Europe and the African continent.

Text: Philani Mthembu

Philani Mthembu

The previous elections to the European Parliament took place in May 2019 at a time when the world looked vastly different to the contemporary reality. The Covid-19 pandemic had not taken place, and the conflict in Ukraine had not escalated to its current phase. These events have had far-reaching impacts on Europe’s role in the world. The pandemic saw a backlash from Africa and much of the Global South, with European countries accused of adopting nationalistic approaches that played out through the hoarding of vaccines, the imposition of unilateral travel bans with negative impacts on the economies of trade and development partners in Africa, and a failure to support positions advanced by South Africa, India, and many countries from the Global South on a temporary waiver of intellectual property rights to boost vaccine production and distribution in the Global South.

What role can Europe play in maintaining peace and stability?

Observers from across Africa and the Global South are seeking to understand the implications for Europe’s relations with the continent in an increasingly fragmented geopolitical landscape, especially as the EU seeks to tackle issues such as immigration, climate change, economic partnerships with Africa, and EU enlargement. African stakeholders will also continue to observe whether the EU can build up its own defense capabilities, enabling it to play a larger role in peace and stability efforts within Europe, and in Africa and the Global South. This is especially important with the conflict in Ukraine continuing to escalate and with the US appearing to be playing a more proactive role than European stakeholders, despite the conflict taking place in Europe and having far-reaching implications for the economic and social wellbeing of EU citizens and the European security architecture.

African stakeholders will be especially interested in ensuring closer alignment between the EU’s trade policy in Africa and the continent’s own efforts to enhance regional integration and intra-Africa trade through the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). The EU will, however, need to address African criticism of its approach to the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), as key African stakeholders have accused the EU of further fragmenting the continent by not negotiating through existing regional economic communities (RECs). It will also be important that the EU focuses less on countering China and Russia in Africa, and more on its own value proposition on the continent through enhanced infrastructure financing, continued development cooperation, and supporting the institutional capacity of Africa’s pan-African institutions.

In working with civil society organizations across the continent, the EU should follow a two-pronged strategy of building their capacity, including through institutional funding, while not neglecting the task of building the capacity of African state institutions. Indeed, weak states tend to be bad for efforts to enhance development and growth on the continent and have the potential of eroding democratic gains.

Dr Philani Mthembu holds a PhD in political science and serves as Executive Director at the Institute for Global Dialogue (IGD), an independent foreign policy think tank based in Tshwane (Pretoria), South Africa. Prior to that, he completed a joint doctoral program at the Graduate School of Global Politics at Freie Universität Berlin and the School of International Studies at Renmin University in Beijing. 


«Get out of the comfort zone»

In the numerous crises that exist and will always exist, the EU must prove itself capable of acting and not as a place where political ideas wither away or are forgotten.

Text: Rachel Rizzo

Rachel Rizzo

For American policymakers, think tankers, and members of civil society, the global role of the European Union is both complicated and unclear. The political body is seen as a powerful yet esoteric web of institutions, complex relationships, and major global players. And while it’s true that the EU has successfully weathered numerous storms over the last decade – from the Greek sovereign debt crisis to the rapid increase in migration since 2015, to the Brexit debacle of 2016 – it has also remained somewhat stagnant in its ability to truly shape or influence global events. Since the beginning, the EU has viewed itself as a “normative power,” a term first popularized by Ian Manners in 2002. The normative power of the EU refers to its ability “to influence the behaviour of others by exporting its values.” Further, the creation of the EU represented “a new and distinct kind of actor within the international system” which “transcend[ed] the anarchic and self-interested behaviour of states.”

The idea of Europe as a community of shared values, however, simply may not be enough to keep the EU relevant in the future. Gideon Rachman of the Financial Times laid out this case a few months ago. In 2008, for example, the US and EU economies were roughly the same size, whereas today the US economy is nearly one third bigger than the EU’s without the UK. Europe is dominated by US tech firms like Microsoft, Amazon, and Apple. China and the US dominate AI development.

Further, the European continent is still woefully dependent on US security guarantees. And even though the block has tried to develop and better integrate its own defense industry, national interests and mutual mistrust between EU members mean that most would rather just buy American.

The EU must figure out new ways to flex its muscles on the global stage

The US is fine with that, too, as it ensures a steady drip of European defense clients buying expensive American equipment like multi-billion-dollar purchases of the F-35. Finally, in terms of foreign policy, the EU simply hasn’t been able to flex its muscles on the international stage. For those who have spent time on X (formerly Twitter), most have seen the account “Is EU concerned?” It mockingly tracks every time EU leaders use words like “dismayed,” “appalled,” “concerned,” and “worried” to describe international events instead of responding with any type of policy substance.

For many in the US, especially those who spend time studying the EU, it is well-understood the US–EU relationship is one of the most important in the world. But the EU must figure out new ways to flex its muscles on the global stage. In the numerous crises that exist and will always exist, the EU must prove itself capable of acting and not as a place where political ideas wither away or are forgotten.

Whether that’s exploring ways to issue debt to fund joint defense projects, expanding the use of qualified majority ‒ instead of unanimous ‒ voting in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, or finally making EU enlargement a real possibility. It’s true that the bloc has been able to change and adapt in response to crisis, but now it must get out of its comfort zone and proactively change and adapt to remain relevant.

Rachel Rizzo is a Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center. Her research focuses on the European Union, NATO, and the transatlantic relationship.

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