Diverse but united: the EU at international negotiations

Currently, world leaders are gathering in Doha, Qatar at the 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to discuss how to we can deal with the changing climate. The European Union, representing its 27 member States, is one of the Parties to the Convention. How does this supranational union assimilate all the different views of its Member States and speak with one voice at the negotiations table? This article looks at the international climate change debate and the role of the EU herein. 


Over the last decades, the EU has profiled itself as a frontrunner in environmental policy, implementing far-reaching policies on climate and energy, environmental, waste management, biosafety and eco-labeling in its Member States. On the global scene, the EU has taken a leading position on a number of environmental issues and put sustainability high on the agenda in international negotiations, despite the worldwide economic situation which often overshadows the environmental crisis. Looking at Doha, expectations are high and numerous policy-makers from across the world call for a continuation of the EU’s leadership role in environmental negotiations.

Since mid-1990, the competences of the EU on policy areas such as environment, energy and climate have grown. Member States have increasingly delegated decision-making power from the national and regional level to the EU. This has allowed the EU to strengthen its decision-making power on environmental matters which has made it easier to have a stronger voice in representing Member States at international meetings.

The role of the EU in international negotiations is determined by a mandate. This mandate is drafted by the Council of Ministers made up of the Member States’ ministers responsible for a certain policy area, e.g. the ministers for the environment meet when the Council needs to negotiate environmental issues. By this mandate, the policy issues on which the EU delegation can decide on its own during international negotiations are defined. In policy areas of shared competences with Member States such as e.g. energy and environment, the EU delegation can only speak with one voice when unanimity is reached in the Council of Ministers. During negotiations it is therefore necessary that the EU delegation consults with the ministers of the Member States.

This procedure, which was designed to achieve mutual understanding, leaves little space for the EU negotiators and, at times, it has been a source of delays and frustration. However, if the agreement is reached, the EU can represent the joint position of its Member States more easily since all Member States act together in the process of implementation of the commitments. A Commission official has described this as follows: “Once the course is set, the EU can act as a ‘weighty ship’”.

Read the full article on the latest IUCN European Union Update

Work area: 
Climate Change
Global Policy
Climate Change
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