EU Enlargement

Projecting EU Influence Abroad: An Existential Question

EU expansion is the European Union’s single most influential foreign policy instrument at a time when exerting international influence is turning into an imperative.

Oana Popescu-Zamfir is the director and founder of the Global Focus Centre in Bucharest.
Oana Popescu-Zamfir is the director and founder of the Global Focus Centre in Bucharest.Alex Mazilu

Though a market of half a billion people, the European Union remains small at the scale that global geopolitical shifts are playing out these days. US-China competition will continue to define the coming years. Important regional powers refuse to align with either the West or its rivals on key international issues such as sanctioning Russia over its aggression against Ukraine, the Israel–Hamas conflict, the conduct of trade, or maritime security. India, Indonesia, Mexico, and others will likely emerge strengthened from this year’s elections, albeit less democratic and potentially less like-minded with the European Union. Meanwhile, the number and frequency of conflicts are increasing as emerging powers see an opportunity to challenge the dominance of the Western alliance and the rules-based international order. In contrast, the EU is struggling to put together a coherent defence while facing a Russian security threat on its borders.

„If we fail to use the EU’s pull factor to stabilise the region, . . . we will see . . . problems
to keep mushrooming. “

Oana Popescu-Zamfir

The Union was never conceived to influence foreign policy and never aspired to be a top global player. The European project has always been about securing peace on the continent. Yet, increasing the bloc’s capacity to project influence abroad is becoming an existential question, primarily to secure our ability to preserve the European way of life, living standards, democracy, and political and economic freedoms. Geopolitical competition is carried out simultaneously through hard power or military means and, increasingly, with hybrid instruments such as cyber-attacks, disinformation, and election interference that target the cohesion of society and, in the case of the EU, adherence to its founding values.

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