EU Strategic Partnerships: Shallow political summits, active technical dialogues?

  A new paper on EU external action sheds light on engagement and contacts between the EU and its ten strategic partners.


This paper provides a global picture of the structured dialogues that underpin the ten strategic partnerships of the EU. It goes, for each partner, into the details of the bilateral relation, disclosing the list of technical meetings that take place on a regular basis between the European External Action Service (EEAS) or the Commission Directorates, and each individual partner. These official meetings have been established over time.

Individual snapshots are provided for in annex, disclosing the “internal structure” of the ten strategic partnerships. They show, for each partner, how many of these technical dialogues are at work behind the scene, and on what specific issues.

From agriculture to human rights to customs or intellectual property rights, the list of dialogues reveals large differences in quantity, frequency, and quality between the partners.

After presenting the results of the investigation for the ten partners, the paper discusses the variations between them.

Finally, we argue that the technical dialogues could be used better by the EU in order to run more effective strategic partnerships. Although it is true that political momentum can be key for partnerships to bear fruit and although the wider geopolitical context counts, the work that is carried out at technical level does make a difference, especially for the EU. Such work is not just the consequence, or the mirror, of the political context. It can be a driver of the relation.

This is due to the fact that while the EU lacks some of the tools of a traditional diplomacy (notably military power, visas and the prestige of nations-states), its norm setter’s power as well as its technological collective knowledge make it attractive for third countries to discuss at technical level. Along with the concept of “reciprocal engagement” (Fox and Godement, 2009), we argue that the EU could leverage stronger on this and that an adequate management of bilateral technical groups could improve its international negotiation power.

Read the full paper, “EU Strategic partnerships: Shallow political summits, active technical dialogues?”, here. For more discussion, see François Godement's commentary, Europe engages China in earnest

Emmanuel Vivet is a member of the Institute for Research and Education on Negotiation at the ESSEC business school in Paris and a former adviser on Asia to the Permanent Representation of France to the European Union. Victoire de Lalande is a researcher on Asia and a former programme officer of the Institute for Research and Education on Negotiation at ESSEC. 

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


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