GR:EEN—Global Reordering: Evolution Through European Networks

Vivien Schmidt has served as lead member for Boston University for GR:EEN—a European Commission Seventh Framework program examining the current and future role of the European Union in an emerging multipolar world coordinated by Warwick University. Boston University is one of 16 universities around the world participating in the program.

GR:EEN is a global collaborative research project engaged in academic research that impacts EU policy and practice, seeking to define the role of the EU in the emerging global order. The research is coordinated through 10 work packages, each led by a European partner and populated by our global partners.

The distribution of power in world politics is changing. New powers are emerging that are altering the distribution of resources, goods and money around the globe. They are also seeking a greater say in the way that global issues are governed; some are challenging the basic principles that have underpinned global governance since at least the end of the Second World War. Alongside the “rise of the rest”, there is evidence of an apparent decline of the West. In particular, (ongoing) financial crises have changed the way that others think about Europe – both in terms of the EU as a coherent global actor, and Europe as a source of ideas, norms and mechanisms that might lay the basis for effective global governance.

GR:EEN’s objective is to consider how the EU can and should operate in this changing environment. It assesses how the EU can not only defend its own interests in the face of new challenges, but also proactively ensure that European values and objectives influence the way that the global order evolves. GR:EEN does this by first looking inwards to consider how European preferences for forms of transnational governance emerge. The focus here is on how different governance structures have emerged in different policy areas. We explain this by thinking about how different networks of interests first develop specific identities and objectives and then how they inform policy debates. To this end, we identify and map existing networks in the public and private sectors, as well as European engagement with international organisations and transnational networks. We have a specific interest in how the flexible forms of experimental governance emerge to incorporate different interests in individual policy areas rather than following a rigid “one size fits all” model.

The next step is to consider how these different networks and governance forms influence the nature of the EU as a global actor – in particular thinking about ways that networks inform the way the EU functions in multilateral organisations. In keeping with our emphasis on diverse outcomes, we identify how varied types of behaviour have emerged in different policy areas, and evaluate how successful they have been. We also study how the EU interacts with other global actors, and ask if these other actors conceive of the EU as a single coherent and influential global power in its own right (as opposed, for example, to individual European states).

A core dimension of the GR:EEN project is a recognition that the EU is not free to shape the world as it pleases. It is important to consider the alternative interests and objectives of others – both other “traditional” powers like the US, and those of new emerging powers. But if we are truly to understand the different dynamics and potential power alliances that might shape the way the global order evolves in a post unipolar era, it is important to go beyond a simple focus on the major powers. The way that the world order evolves will also be shaped by the response of “intermediate powers” to the preferences and initiatives of existing and emerging powers alike. And once more, we start from the understanding that there will be no single pattern across all issue areas. These considerations create the framework through which we can then return to the study of the changing nature of governance in a multipolar world, and the EU’s ability to shape the changing world to meet its interests. So a key part of our agenda is to consider the nature of EU regional leadership in key policy areas. Here research is focussed on the distribution of power and influence across three key policy areas that affect the lives of everybody on the planet. In our work on economics, we focus on the regulation of labour, finance and trade; in security, on challenges to human rights, sources of radicalisation, and the relevance of the Arab Spring; in energy and the environment, on geopolitical competition for different types of resources, and how energy strategies might be coordinated between individual European states.

Whilst bilateral relations clearly remain significant, GR:EEN has a specific focus on the role of regions, and how regional leadership in other parts of the world conditions the way that those regions engage with emerging global governance forms. Our goal, then, is to consider the relative nature of European power and EU regional leadership in each of these areas; which other actors are most important in any given policy arena; where (if at all) their interests and objectives align with European ones; what the main alternatives entail; and finally, where they come from and who supports them.

As part of this multi-university academic initiative, Boston University hosted two workshops:

The first, in collaboration with the Center for International Relations, entitled Liberty and Security in a Time of Global Reordering, took place in March 2012. The focus of the conference was on human rights and security issues and the ways in which rights are seen as a legitimate part of the security discourse. Panel discussions included “Power Relations and Global Challenges in a Time of the BRICS,” “The Rise of the BRICS: Emerging Issues,” “Europe, the US, and the Middle East,” “Religion, Radicalization, and Counterterrorism,” and “Cultural Discourses of Human Security”. Keynote speeches were given by Shaun Breslin, professor of politics and international studies at the University of Warwick—where GR:EEN is headquartered—and Andrew Bacevich.

The second, in collaboration with the Center for Finance, Law & Policy, entitled Financial Stability and Energy Security in the Americas and Europe: The Role of Transnational Policy Networks, took place in February 2013. The focus of the conference was on transnational policy networks which are emerging as important elements of trans-state policy making in the twenty-first century. In recent years, the ability of NGOs, transnational governance bodies, and firms to shape world politics has steadily grown and an inquiry into their workings adds an informal, nongovernmental dimension to the debates on the interactions between the EU and other regions in the world. The conference brought together policy makers and academics mainly working in the fields of energy security and financial stability. These two areas were chosen not only because they are key themes of the GR:EEN research project but also because they provide two salient and relevant lenses through which to understand the nature, dynamics, and influence of transnational policy networks (TPNs).