1. Disappointing EU member states
BSSB.BE ecfr.eu 13.08.2018
Balkans Danube Ex-USSR Germany
* The roots of coalitions: Like-mindedness among EU member states
As the nineteenth century wore on, foreign policy in Europe increasingly became the preserve of cabinets rather than feudal rulers, calling into question bonds between royal families across the continent.
As Lord Palmerston – a master of diplomacy in his time – observed, states do not have permanent friends; they have permanent interests. Today, Palmerston’s dictum seems only half true: the permanent interests he saw as key to foreign policy combine with other relevant factors – including principal values or preferences in rules and processes of engagement with others, as well as a shared history of cooperation and responsiveness. Together, these interests and other factors guide relationships and interactions between states.
In the early twenty-first century, Palmerston’s world seems to have made a comeback with a resurgence in geopolitics and great power rivalry. Nonetheless, the European Union has developed as a political system that could hardly be more different from the flexible alliances of his time.
The Union integrates large and small member states into a common legal and institutional framework that often privileges the small, and that has tamed the power of the strong through the rule of law. But this does not mean that EU member states’ interests and preferences will always align with one another. Interestingly, a range of strong bilateral relationships and frustrated expectations shape the modern EU.
- As demonstrated in the chapter on preferences in ECFR’s forthcoming EU Coalition Explorer, the Union encompasses a mixture of balanced and lopsided relationships.
- A strong relationship involves significant consensus and reciprocal engagement between two countries. For example, respondents from two member states in such a relationship listed their countries as having shared interests with each other significantly more often than they did with other EU countries.
Lopsided relations involve a high level of engagement by one side that the other does not reciprocate. For example, in the survey, 24 percent of votes from Danish respondents listed Sweden as responsive in dealing with Denmark, while only 11 percent of votes from Swedish respondents listed Denmark as responsive in dealing with Sweden. In votes Swedish respondents cast, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, and Estonia came out as more responsive than Denmark.
Judging by member states that have strong relationships, a shared neighbourhood often appears to be an essential factor in European integration.
- The survey demonstrated that France and Germany have positive relations across the board;
- each country recognises the value of working closely with the other, complementing all other member states’ recognition of them as key partners.
- Like the Franco-German tandem, the relationship between the Netherlands and Germany is balanced and strong, as is that between Sweden and Finland.
The only other pairs of countries that are highly responsive to each other across the board are members of the Visegrád group. Poland has formed a robust partnership with Hungary, as has the Czech Republic with Slovakia. There is an extremely high level of consensus within each pair, but the survey indicates that there is no comparable consensus between them.
This suggests that the Visegrád group is a 2+2 relationship that includes some inbuilt rivalry and disagreement – which could significantly constrain its members’ collective impact. While the relationships between Baltic states are close, they are not always balanced. Although the survey provides further evidence that Greece and Cyprus have a close relationship, it also leads to the surprising conclusion that Spain is more closely connected to France than Italy.
Denmark, Austria, Ireland, Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, and Slovenia appear to have no close partners in the EU. Meanwhile, Belgium, Luxembourg, Italy, and Lithuania seem to have only one close partner each. Thus, these countries have relatively weak or unbalanced relationships with other member states. For example, Ireland most often contacts the United Kingdom and Germany, but the UK and Germany most often contact countries other than Ireland.
Similarly, the Irish perceive themselves as having greater shared interests with the Dutch than the British, but the Dutch do not perceive themselves as having significant shared interests with the Irish. The UK and the Netherlands top Ireland’s list of most responsive partners – a perception that that the UK moderately agrees with, but the Netherlands does not.
- The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: ecfr.eu