Some interesting conclusions can be drawn from the study of the external relations of the European Community/Union. The first and foremost is the attractiveness of the integration process compared to its rival, the intergovernmental cooperation applied by the European Free Trade Area (EFTA). We have seen the members of the later, one after the other, leaving it in order to accede to the EC/EU; the most recent candidate for the switch-over being Iceland [see section 25.1]. It is also interesting to note that after the fall of their communist regimes Central and Eastern European countries ignored the possibility of acceding to the European Economic Area and applied for membership to the EU in order to strengthen their feeble economies and stabilise their fragile democratic systems [see sections 25.2 and 25.3]. On their side, the old Member States have not only proved their willingness to enlarge the membership of the Union, but have helped and are helping economically and politically candidate countries to make all the changes required by EU membership and, in particular, by the adoption of the acquis communautaire, i.e. all the existing legislation of the European Union.
EU enlargement is based on a vision of a united Europe with a principal role in the global scene. The very essence of European integration is to overcome the division of Europe and to contribute to the peaceful unification of the continent. Over 100 million new EU citizens, with rising incomes, help to drive the European economy forward. New Member States and candidate countries are rapidly catching up with the old Member States, who benefit from new trade and investment opportunities. Past and future enlargement helps to increase prosperity and competitiveness of Europe as a whole, enabling it to respond better to the challenges of globalisation. Politically, enlargement and the prospects of EU accession help consolidate democracy, the rule of law, human rights and stability across the continent, thus strengthening the security of all Europeans. Last but not least, enlargement increases the EU's weight in the world and makes it a stronger international player, who can influence favourably third countries better by diplomatic, economic and commercial means than by the use of force.
Whereas at the outset the European Community was viewed with indifference, scepticism or even hostility by the rest of the world, it is now recognised as being a major economic, commercial and, potentially, political power. In this and in the two preceding chapters we saw that the European Union is dealing, negotiating and conversing with many countries large and small throughout the world, which see it as an important group of prosperous, democratic and peaceful countries. Through its Neighbourhood and Mediterranean policies [see sections 25.4 and 25.5] and through its ever closer relations with Asian and Latin American countries [see sections 25.6 and 25.8] the EU is weaving a network of friendly nations around the world.
In fact, the Union's external policy is made up of a number of common policies, which support one another. It goes beyond the traditional diplomatic and military aspects, which are ostensibly in the ambit of the Union, and stretches to areas such as trade and customs affairs, development aid, justice and police matters, environment protection, external relations of agricultural and fisheries policies and external representation of the euro zone. Through its development aid policy, its common commercial policy and its external relations, the European Union has a strong presence on the world stage. It notably exerts a strong pressure, through its statements, representations and economic sanctions, on many countries practising serious violations of democratic principles and human rights [see section 24.1].
However, the fragmentation of initiative, decision and action causes the inadequacy of the Union's foreign policy. The European Union cannot exert a political influence commensurate to its economic weight in the world affairs, as long as the external policies of the EU, examined in this part, are not well coordinated or better integrated in the common foreign and security policy of the Union. It is up to its Member States to let the European Union become a world power by accepting to share their political sovereignty in the same way they share their economic and monetary sovereignty [see chapter 7 and section 1.5.3]. The implementation of the treaty of Lisbon may serve this end.
The Union has the potential to play a role as a world power. To this end, it must propound its democratic values and its integration paradigm, stand up and be counted as the bearer of a shared and sustainable model of development [see section 1.5]. It must pursue an external policy open to dialogue between civilisations, cultures and religions, and based on cooperation with the countries at its borders and on the resolve to help the economic, political and social development of all the countries in the world. By enhancing its power and image in the world arena, the EU could better help other countries in the world, torn by their economic and political differences, imitate its successful formula of multinational integration. In fact, Europe's experience with economic and political unification is being watched with close attention throughout the world and countries in other regions of the globe, notably in Latin America, are trying to imitate it. This could be a valuable contribution of the European Union to world peace and prosperity.
The EU could also contribute in world order and multilateralism in international relations, by resisting the unilateral tendencies of one superpower and by reinforcing the role of the United Nations Organisation. It could help the UN system deliver effective global governance, especially in the fields of sustainable development, poverty reduction, security and peace. It could also enhance its cooperation with the UN in three areas: shaping policy at the UN, cooperation on the ground and EU support to help the UN meet its commitments.