Global Re-ordering: Evolution through European Networks (GR:EEN)

The research project GR:EEN was a European Union (EU) funded project under the 7th Framework Programme (FP7) that started in March 2011 and ran till February 2015. GR:EEN aimed to study the present and future role of the EU in an emerging multipolar world through a programme of stock-taking, multi-disciplinary research. Emphasis was placed on the variety of actors, from the 20th century’s resilient actors to the rising powers of the 21st, the increasingly influential non-state actors and the new transnational regulatory networks created by public and private policy-makers and regional agencies.

The research programme consisted of five main components. At a preliminary stage, a theoretical and conceptual background was developed through an integrated analysis of the theory and practice of international organisations and networks in the emerging multipolar world. Secondly, a study of the evolving EU policy and practice was undertaken. Thirdly, the effects of regional leadership in Africa, Asia-Pacific and the Americas were considered. Fourthly, attention was given to the EU and multipolarity in six issue areas, namely human rights, security, energy, environment, trade and finance. Finally, a foresight exercise has been conducted, which details scenarios for EU policy towards the emerging world order. UNU-CRIS coordinated two work packages, which respectively focused on the role of regional leadership in multipolarity and on foresight.

GR:EEN brought together a consortium of 16 partners. The project was coordinated by the University of Warwick (UK) and involved UNU-CRIS (Belgium), Universiteit van Amsterdam (The Netherlands), Université Libre de Bruxelles (Belgium), Copenhagen Business School (Denmark), Central European University (Hungary), Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales (Spain), Istituto per gli Studi di Politica Internazionale (Italy), Norsk Utenrikspolitisk Institutt (Norway), Boston University (USA), University of Cape Town (South Africa), Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (Argentina), Rajaratnam School of International Studies (Singapore), Peking University (China), University of Western Australia (Australia), and Waseda University (Japan).

Project context and objectives

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 World War II. Alongside the “rise of the rest”, there is evidence of an apparent decline of the West. In particular, 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 was to consider how the EU can and should operate in this changing environment. It assessed 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 did this by first looking inwards to consider how European preferences for forms of transnational governance emerge. The focus here was on how different governance structures have emerged in different policy areas. We explained 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 identified and mapped existing networks in the public and private sectors, as well as European engagement with international organisations and transnational networks. We had 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 was 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 identified how varied types of behaviour have emerged in different policy areas, and evaluated how successful they have been. We also studied how the EU interacts with other global actors, and asked 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 was 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 were 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 was 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 started from the understanding that there will be no single pattern across all issue areas. These considerations created the framework through which we could 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 was to consider the nature of EU regional leadership in key policy areas. Here research was 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 focused 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 had 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, was 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 their interests and objectives align with European ones; what the main alternatives entail; and finally, where they come from and who supports them.

For more information please consult the GR:EEN website.