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The resurgence of bilateral diplomacy in Europe

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As the conduct of international relations is changing in tone, bilateral diplomacy is back in vogue. This trend does not leave the European continent unaffected: intergovernmental bargaining is on the rise. Many EU member state capitals make good use of their diplomatic network across the continent to better understand what other member states aspire to achieve, and to promote their own voice within the European system. This Egmont Paper seeks to shed conceptual clarity on the resurgence of bilateral diplomacy in Europe. Firstly, it argues that in the absence of multilateral successes, bilateral approaches constitute the fall-back position for structuring the international system.  Secondly, it explains in what ways bilateral networks add political depth to intra-European relationships.  Thirdly, it addresses the question whether the revival of bilateralism in Europe inevitably undermines supranational institutions. It concludes one must appreciates the conspicuous complementarity between the
two approaches: bilateralism and multilateralism may well alternate in prominence, but can also reinforce one another. By way of postscript, it considers the implications this analysis entails for Belgium’s diplomatic posture.

(Photo credit: miko59, Flickr)