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Europe, the Cold War and the global stage

Posted on 21 October 2020

A new book by Professor Federico Romero, Dean of Research at the EUI, and fellow Professors Ulrich Krotz (EUI) and Kiran Klaus Patel (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich)  fills a gap in the understanding of the development of the European Community’s (EC) role as a global actor during the Cold War. 

Europe’s Cold War Relations: The EC Towards a Global Role also holds lessons for Europe today. Professor Romero offered a glimpse of the book’s contents ahead of a book presentation on Friday 23 October.

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Historian Federico Romero

Q: Why did you write this book in this particular moment in time?

A: “We wanted to provide a comprehensive review and analysis of the European Community’s (EC) external relations during the Cold War from the 1950s to the Maastricht Treaty, and in particular their broader impact and significance, tracing the multifaceted and often discrete ways in which the EC became an actor in world affairs. While it is true that the European Community did not develop a clear-cut foreign policy during the Cold War – it did not become a classical power – it did deploy a long list of other means to interact with the world. Historians were, and are, developing systematic research on these various means and it was high time for a systematic reconstruction and analysis. The book investigates the EC’s relations with key countries and world regions while also providing the necessary contexts of Cold War, international and European history to assess them and to bring them into a dialogue with the empirical findings and theoretical questions driving research on the post-Cold War period.”

Q: What can we learn from Europe’s Cold War relations about its role on the global stage today?

A: “The analysis of the history of these external relations is important because this early trajectory has had a massive impact on more recent developments. Anyone seeking to understand the external and foreign policies of today’s EU, including their rationales, capabilities and future potentials, ought to be aware of their pre-configuration during the Cold War. Our volume identifies and examines the factors that at the various junctures either supported or impeded Europe’s international projection and the EC’s development into a more prominent and efficient international player while also emphasising the limits of its role and remit. In doing so, we explore the substance of the EC’s external relations – including its policy goals, instruments, achievements and difficulties – as well as the rhetoric and discourse that surrounded its emergence during this period. Thus, we unpack some of the dilemmas and paradoxes of the EC/EU, starting with the crucial issue of its very nature. Neither a full-fledged super-state nor a simple international organisation, the EC does not lend itself easily to comparisons with the classical agents of international relations. Should its external relations be assessed against the template of the modern nation-state, with its great-power prerogatives and pretensions? Or rather against imperial formations that incorporate different communities and populations in a constantly renegotiated hierarchical order? Or should we compare it to the many international organisations with which the EC interacted, and to a certain extent competed? The European Community’s role as a fundamental stabilising factor in post-war Europe is an international relations’ achievement of historical proportions, but the traditional parameters do not fully account for it.”

Q: In the book, international history meets international relations. What is the added value of this interdisciplinary approach?

A: “International history and International Relations (IR) would be natural bedfellows, one might think, but the evolution of these academic disciplines left them to largely develop in isolation from each other. When studying the EC, this separation is particularly damaging, since we have had abundant attempts to solve the EC paradoxes by means of overarching theoretical frameworks. We thought we could bring empirical historical studies to bear and elucidate how their findings meet and fit with IR theory and theorising (and vice versa). For instance, the book explores an interesting Cold War-induced ‘double logic,’ wherein the Cold War both permitted (or encouraged), but also hampered and limited the scope and influence of the EC’s foreign relations from the late 1950s to the early 1990s. Thus, it contributes insights on the double impact of important system-level catalysts to European politics during this period, while at the same time highlighting the relevance of other levels of analysis, including the national and even individual levels.”