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Partnerships for effective multilateralism? Assessing the compatibility between EU bilateralism, (inter-)regionalism and multilateralism

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This article investigates the notion of ‘lateralisms’ and how various modes of engagement (namely bilateralism, regionalism and multilateralism) relate to one another. It begins with a careful analysis of the evolution of ‘lateralisms’ and their (in)compatibility at the global level, building on the existing literature from multiple research disciplines. The second part of this article focuses specifically on the European Union’s (EU’s) foreign policy approach. The author puts forward two main hypotheses. First, the EU has performed a rebalancing act between bilateralism and regionalism/multilateralism over the last decade in favour of the former, notably through the deepening of its so-called ‘strategic partnerships’. Second, this enhanced bilateralism is not necessarily compatible with other ‘lateralisms’, as it can at times undermine regional integration processes or the building of an effective multilateral order. The author eventually formulates some recommendations to ensure that bilateral partnerships are geared towards the strengthening of the multilateral fabric which remains the EU’s fundamental and long-term objective.

This article was published online by the Cambridge Review of International Affairs on 10 July 2015 (DOI 10.1080/09557571.2015.1060691). It can be accessed via the journal’s website:
The PDF can also be downloaded from the author’s own webpage.

(Photo credit: Cambridge University)