Shapes of Multilateralisms Collection

A joint publication of

European Council on Foreign Relations Stiftung Mercator


Multilateralism is in flux. Nations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America demand a greater voice in the multilateral system. Some contest and seek to displace Western leadership – or domination, as they see it – of the system’s various forums and organisations; others serve their own ends by attempting to derail processes or perpetuate disfunction.

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year amplified these trends. On the eve of its first anniversary, 141 United Nations member states called on Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally” withdraw its military forces from Ukraine. But only a few side with the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia for its aggression and war crimes. Many see Western hypocrisy at work, pointing to Iraq, Libya, and Yemen. For others, a food crisis means the alleviation of shortages trumps enforcing accountability on those who caused them.

This collection of commentaries explores the forces that are reshaping multilateralisms – those institutions that Europeans co-created in the post-second world war era and then worked to expand after the end of the cold war, and the strategies Europeans have employed to further their interests and values through and within this global polity of overlapping cooperative frameworks.

Across policy areas, the authors examine how Russia’s war, China’s rise, the climate crisis, and other trends challenge Europeans’ multilateral impulses and approaches. They also set out how concerted action by Europeans through the EU could help to shore up multilateralisms and even advance multilateral solutions to global problems.


First and foremost, we thank the many experts, diplomats, and policymakers in various EU capitals, Geneva, and New York; at the UN, the European Space Policy Institute, the European External Action Service, and elsewhere for taking the time to share their insights and experiences with us about multilateralism in flux.

We are also grateful for the contributions of ECFR’s associate researchers: Adam Balcer, Vladimir Bartovic, Robin-Ivan Capar, Euan Carss, Lívia Franco, Vincent Gabriel, Amna Handzic, Harry Higgins, Tuomas Iso-Markku, Marin Lessenski, Tara Lipovina, Marko Lovec, Daniel Mainwaring, Justinas Mickus, Matej Navrátil, Christine Nissen, Aleksandra Palkova, Oana Popescu-Zamfir, Astrid Portero, Alberto Rizzi, Sofia-Maria Satanakis, Hüseyin Silman, George Tzogopoulos, Viljar Veebel, Zsuzsanna Végh, Gesine Weber and Niels van Willigen. Their work – as usual – was instrumental in gaining a truly pan-European understanding of the issues we explore in this series. Gosia Piaskowska oversaw the survey’s implementation. Angela Mehrer held the line on multiple organisational fronts.

Our partnership with Stiftung Mercator, through Teresa Spancken and Jennifer Hecht, is the trusted foundation upon which the work of the Re:shape Global Europe team builds.

Finally, we thank ECFR’s communications and publications teams for their outstanding support in shepherding this series across the finishing line; special credit goes to Kim Butson, Martin Tenev, and Nastassia Zenovich.