Review of 'External Economic Relations and Foreign Policy in the European Union'

European Law Books, November 2005

Posted: 20 Apr 2006

See all articles by Rafael Leal-Arcas

Rafael Leal-Arcas

Queen Mary University of London - School of Law


This is a research project by ten Austrian scientists under the supervision of Stefan Griller and Birgit Weidel. The project tackles a complex binomial area of law and international relations, i.e., the European Union's (EU) foreign and external economic relations, where there is a very vast body of scholarly literature.

It is presented in two parts. The first deals with the topical constitutional question of the EU's division of competences in the field of external relations, common positions, joint actions and the unique phenomenon of its representation in international organizations. In this sense, it argues that the current EU system of competence distribution "might entail uncertainty and confusion for third countries about the identity and authority of their negotiation partner" (p. 140). The EU is the victim of its own system: the accusations of inefficiency, inconsistency and democratic deficit are the result of the intra-EU inability to find a mechanism to terminate these deficiencies. The EU Constitutional Treaty aims at rectifying this but, in the light of most recent developments, it may never see the light. The second part illustrates with nine case studies the complexity of the EU's external relations within the vast gamma of the EU's external action. In this sense, the EU's dilemma of federalism versus intergovernmentalism is analyzed through various case studies on the economic and monetary union, human rights, and development.

Since the thesis of the book is that both the political and economic aspects of the EU's external relations are inseparable (as is evidenced in the bananas and hormones disputes), the aim is to find a mechanism to enable the conferral of competences from the national to the supranational/federal level, filling thereby the current legal vacuum in the EU treaties. The book argues that the "artificial" division of EU policies into pillars, which "does not correspond to the needs of a modern foreign policy" (p. 10), and which has been traditionally and metaphorically presented to resemble a Greek temple, weakens the role the EU has in the international arena.

We see this in the external political and economic relations of the EU: the EU is certainly an economic giant, but remains a political gnome. This results in a bipolar power asymmetry; its representation in some international organizations such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is polycephalous in nature [since the European Community and its 25 Member States are members of the WTO and FAO, but not of the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, where "only countries are allowed for membership" (p. 468)]. This shows the EU's internal struggle for external presence.

Most of the book deals with very traditional and somewhat overlapping topics on the EU's external relations. However straightforward the overall diagnosis in the book is, sepulchral silence remains in relation to the prognosis of the EU's external relations. For example, in his conclusions, Martenczuk criticizes that "this distinction between three pillars of the Union, and in particular between Community competence and CFSP, is becoming increasingly outdated" (p. 415). It is fine to criticize and de-construct, but it does not suffice; it is necessary to propose alternatives and re-construct accordingly. His proposal limits itself to merely arguing that "the coherence and efficiency of the European Union's external action would be increased if all its external activities were brought under one common legal framework" (p. 416). One would have hoped for an intellectually more serious and rigorous prognosis of the EU's external relations than just that, the obvious.

Keywords: External Economic Relations, Foreign Policy, European Union

JEL Classification: F02, F13, K33

Suggested Citation

Leal-Arcas, Rafael, Review of 'External Economic Relations and Foreign Policy in the European Union'. Available at SSRN:

Rafael Leal-Arcas (Contact Author)

Queen Mary University of London - School of Law ( email )

Lincoln's Inn Fields
Holborn, London WC2A 3JB
United Kingdom


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