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The EU’s Diplomatic Footprint: Shaping Regional Dynamics and Relations



Abstract:The following paper attempts to discuss the European Union’s elaborated techniques of diplomacy aimed at bridging the gap between nations as a part of the economic trade union to becoming a super-national entity in world politics. Essentially changing the dynamics of alliances all over the world. This alteration has further influenced other regions to join forces with neighbouring nation states to developing economic trade unions such as the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or the African Union but namely focusing on ASEAN. The increasing shift of state-centric approaches, even to a domain such as diplomacy, brings about the emergence of regional diplomacy as a practice of its own.


Henry Kissinger defines diplomacy as the “art of restraining power”, rather it has been seen as a tool or method of influencing the decision-making capabilities and certain behaviours of state governments from all around the world. The more commonly known applied notions of diplomacy exist within the boundaries of it being considered as a “policy” for states, further falling under the umbrella of ‘foreign policy tactics’. In the realm of international relations diplomacy has been side-lined throughout theoretical practices, however the epiphany of it being considered as a field of its own has become a gradual realization by those involved in this realm. The many faces of diplomacy have taken the tool through a journey of abandonment and appreciation.[1]

                The European continent has been such an entity to recognize the importance of conducting diplomatic relations among its neighbouring states.  Learning from the aftermath of the World Wars as well as other regionally fought inter-state conflicts, began an era of cooperation. Starting off from the establishment of the European Coal and Steel community, signing of the Treaty of Rome and eventually the creation of the European Economic Community (EEC) that allowed for a free-trade area, encouraging states to integrate their resource dependent economies creating an interdependent system of state alliances, ultimately making the notion of war “unthinkable”, between the current 27 neighbours. (Gabe n.d.)[2]. Gradually, as more and more countries began joining the community each state was required to conform to a certain set of regulations and laws, meaning each participant was to delegate an amount of their sovereignty to the entity, an act states do not take lightly.

               As mentioned previously, the notions of pulling away from state-centric approaches of diplomacy paved the way for the significance of regional integration and ultimately regional diplomacy. The motivations of the EU, as mentioned before for this integration was initially to prevent war, while also pursuing growth of social and political processes. Such integration is usually only thought to encourage economic growth, as was seen in the formation of the United States. Nonetheless the EU, displays to have other impetuses. For the EU this regional integration has developed into transforming the reigning world order, permitting states to strengthen their position in the international order while being able to protect their supra-national sovereignty[3]. Regional integration in itself largely refers to the procedures of proliferation of relations and the development of joint policies among the states to progress the development of common institutions in search of governance at a supra-national level. This is typically conducted with a myriad of activities specifically multilateral frameworks that target the undertaking of issues with the use of bilateral cooperation[4].

               The EU itself differs from typical alliances, as alliances themselves are formal agreements between nations, for the purpose of national defence promising to provide each other with aid during times of war. Similar to partnerships but less formal and often consist of military based activities[5]. In this sense, the EU has managed to create policies that incorporate a common foreign, security and defence policy.

               Bringing focus back to the influence of the EU integration model onto cooperation’s developed in other regions namely those in Asia. Particularly focusing on ASEAN which currently consists of 10 member states, and is an economic and political union with its headquarters based in Jakarta, Indonesia. The cooperation has played a large role in developing economic integration in Asia, being able to conduct negotiations and creating the world’s biggest free-trade agreement. Much like the EU the treaty that began the era of economic interdependence, “Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South East Asia” brings importance to the concept of mutual respect among member states as well as no interference in the on-going internal or external activities of a state. In 1992 the cooperation managed to develop the “ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA)” with the idea of developing a single market allowing for increased investments and trade among the participants. Despite such advancements made on economic terms, largely due to internal issues of the member states such as corruption or instability economic and political, majorly affecting its visions of creating an economic relation between the states. Furthermore, the recent Covid-19 pandemic which brought a halt to trade all over the world significantly impacting on-going economic investments. Damaging construction, industrial production activities as well as the average spending of consumers[6].

               In terms of diplomatic relations, ASEAN has had a widely different approach while also having influences from the EU model, with their diplomatic conducts being manufactured on malleable decision-making capabilities, a reduction in the use of institutions for the matters of governance, a certain level of informality and as mentioned before no interference. Rather having a more state centred approach, with the goal being to become a “nerve centre” rather than a supranational entity, pulling focus towards conducting activities through intergovernmental bodies[7]. It should be noted certain mechanisms have been constructed for the settling of disputes, a fund for development and cooperation in the matters of business as has been considered to be a key factor in developing relations. It adopts a non-confrontational style which is noticeably common among western diplomacies. However ASEAN has participated in wide range of efforts, by sending individuals to learn from the implemented ideas of the EU. Despite the promise of non-interference in recent years it has become increasingly comfortable with such intrusion specifically on the matters of human right’s violations namely in Myanmar.  Another regional cooperation, known as SAARC, which consists of South Asian countries Bhutan, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, has a similar code of conduct in terms of diplomatic relations. It applies a no higher governance system structure, while having a lower presence at a regional stage (Wiseman 2018).


               Despite efforts from other regional diplomacies to duplicate what the EU clearly has become a pioneer in, the results have not been of the same level. What other regional diplomacies lack are the reconciliations on the basis of historical events and the development of a collective identity, which ultimately requires them to share their sovereignty with other member states. These resolutions between previously notable rivals, France and Germany facilitated through the efforts of political undertakings. Where as in the Asian region no such ambitious reconciliations of any sort of have been attempted. Deep-rooted animosities between nations such as Japan and China, Japan and South Korea, Pakistan and India and among the neighbouring states of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, bring halt to any advancements. This feature proves to be a setback towards any economic integration or interdependence. It should be mentioned however that the EU itself has had its fair share of difficulties in their pathways with economic recessions, economic fragility among member states and the more recently the Covid-19 pandemic.

               On the other hand Asian regions have had a wider range of challenges which not only include wars and conflicts but also the everlasting impacts of colonialism and more commonly the underdeveloped system structures as well as domestic institutions. The EU’s diplomatic activities have influenced other diplomacies but are built on terms different to those in Asian regions, ultimately keeping activities to a limited range.

[1] Kerr, Pauline, and Geoffrey Wiseman. Diplomacy in a Globalizing World: Theories and Practices. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

[2] Gabel, Matthew J. 2019. “European Union | Definition, Purpose, History, & Members.” In Encyclopædia Britannica.

[3]Butorina, O. V., and Yu. A. Borko. 2022. “Benefits of Regional Integration: Redefining the Concept.” Herald of the Russian Academy of Sciences 92 (S2): S105–12.

[4]Gabe, Matthew J. n.d. “European Union.” Brittannica . Accessed December 24, 2022.

Wiseman, Pauline Kerr and Geofferey. 2018. Diplomacy in a Globalizing World. New York: Oxford University Press.

“Regional Cooperation and Diplomacy in 2022 | Diplo.” n.d.

[5] “Alliances vs. Partnerships.” n.d. U.S. Department of Defense.

[6] Kerr, Pauline, and Geoffrey Wiseman. Diplomacy in a Globalizing World: Theories and Practices. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018

[7] Cameron, Fraser. 2010. “The European Union as a Model for Regional Integration.” Council on Foreign Relations. 2010.

I am a student of Peace and Conflict Studies at National Defence University in Pakistan. My areas of interests include International affairs, Global Politics and Pop-culture. I can be contacted at ayraazhar23[at]

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Austerity, corruption, and neglect: How the Greek railway became Europe’s deadliest

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“Aren’t trains supposed to be safe?” This was the question on the minds of most Greeks after the fatal collision between a passenger and a freight train that took place on February 28th in the Tempi area of Central Greece. The crash cost the lives of 57 people, mostly young students returning home after the Clean Monday holiday. As it turned out, the trains in Greece were not safe at all. In fact, according to a 2022 report by the European Union Agency for Railways, Greece had the deadliest railway among 29 European nations even before the Tempi catastrophe.

The official inquiry into the disaster concluded that the station master had committed a series of critical errors that night; however it also highlighted that there were no safety systems in place to prevent or correct human errors. In the days following the catastrophe, the phrase “a serious accident was waiting to happen” was used many times by those working at the Greek railway.

Thanasis, 22, a driver for Hellenic Train, had the same opinion. Despite its name, Hellenic Train is a subsidiary of Trenitalia and is responsible for the operation of passenger and freight trains on the Greek railway lines. The state-owned Hellenic Railways Organization (OSE) is responsible for running and maintaining the lines as well as the accompanying infrastructure and systems (signals, stations, etc.).

That fateful night, Thanasis drove the IC62 passenger train from Athens up to Larisa, one station before the disaster. There, he changed shifts with his colleagues, who had to drive the IC62 to Thessaloniki. Approximately one hour later, they died from the collision. Thanasis learned about the accident on his way back to Athens.

“Shortly before we reached Thiva, we learned that something had happened because they called us from the Rentis train depot to ask if we were OK. At first, we did not give it much thought because we were told it was a derailment and derailments happen a lot. Afterwards, we learned that it was a head-on collision and that there were deaths. Shortly before we arrived in Athens, we began to see the first photos and videos [from the place of the accident],”he said.

According to the inquiry report, the absence of the European Train Control System (ETCS) played a central role in the disaster. ETCS is being used by the majority of European countries and it would have automatically stopped both trains after they entered a collision course. ETCS was installed gradually on Greek train engines from 2007 to 2018, but in order for it to be operational, the railway signals on the lines need to work.

However, copper thieves have been stealing cables from the railway lines for years. The theft and selling of copper are predominately dominated by criminal gangs called the “copper mafia”, but in some instances OSE employees have also been implicated. In 2017, a high-ranking OSE director and seven other employees were arrested after they were found to have taken tens of thousands of euros in bribes from these gangs. Due to its limited budget, OSE does not replace the stolen and damaged cables; as a result, the signaling system that is essential for the operation of ETCS is constantly out of order. The lack of signaling has resulted in the Greek railway relying on an obsolete system of station masters. This leaves no margin for human error, especially when all the traffic takes place on a single line, as was the case on the night of the Tempi disaster.

Another railway driver, who spoke on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisals, described how vulnerable the Greek railway system really is to criminal organizations taking advantage of it.

“There are extensive copper wire thefts. Even a few days after the accident, wires for the signaling system were installed in Katerini; they were stolen the same night, a few hours after installation. There is a serious problem. The system started to gradually get out of order,” he said. The driver also spoke of human smuggling rings active on the railway.   

During the last few years, the Greek railway system has become one of the main means of transport used by migrants and refugees attempting to reach Western Europe. This has attracted human smugglers, creating a dangerous environment for workers and migrants. In August 2022, three migrants were killed in their sleep near Drama after they got hit by a train.

“There is a trafficking problem within the organization (OSE), migrants have inside information such as the train and route numbers, they know each train’s destination and they are prepared. People have come into the cab and offered me 2.000 euros to hide them inside. Obviously I refused because I would be arrested.” stated the driver.

“Migrants sometimes hide even beneath the trains, when we find out, we immediately stop the train and call OSE, but they often tell us “What do you want us to do?”. Even the police do not come. If it arrives, it is usually just one run-down police cruiser with one police officer inside. Sometimes a train may have 90–100 people (migrants) on it,” he added.

Although copper theft and human smuggling are significant issues, the primary factor responsible for the decline of Greek railway is the severe budget cuts that have been implemented on OSE since 2010 as part of wider austerity policies. As a result, OSE gradually became underfunded and understaffed. It is telling that OSE went from employing around 6.000 people in 2010 to less than 1.000 people in 2021. This has led to many stations being left unmanned, while OSE employees sometimes have to work long hours, which makes them more prone to mistakes. Furthermore, the lack of funds means that damaged equipment and infrastructure cannot be easily repaired or replaced.

To make matters worse, the political clientelism that has plagued the Greek public sector for decades has also been present in OSE, with inexperienced individuals being given important positions within the organization simply because of their political ties. According to several reports in the Greek press, the station master charged with causing the Tempi tragedy was a political appointee of the ruling New Democracy party. He had been given the job in 2022 after a few months of training, despite being 60 years old and lacking prior experience.

Moreover, OSE seems to be afflicted by a culture of silence. Every OSE employee we tried to contact refused to talk, with some of them implying their upper-ups had forbidden them to speak publicly. A couple of weeks after the accident, this culture became evident during the visit of the ex-deputy minister of transportation, Michalis Papadopoulos, to the Larisa station. Papadopoulos, while addressing the press, made some inaccurate remarks regarding the station’s control board. When a station master stepped in and corrected the deputy minister, making him visibly uncomfortable, a high-ranking OSE director intervened, tapped the station master on the shoulder and coldly told him, “End it.” The station master complied and stopped talking at once.

A few days after the disaster, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis referred to it as a “sacrifice” that would help the state to prevent similar disasters in the future. However, if someone roamed the streets during the almost daily large demonstrations in the weeks following the Tempi catastrophe, the word that he would see mostly written on placards and banners was “murder.” This shows that a sizable part of society did not attribute the accident to the convenient explanation of human error but considered the Greek state responsible for the dreadful condition of the country’s infrastructure, including its railway system.

Following the catastrophe, the Mitsotakis government, which managed to secure reelection in June with an impressive 41% of the vote, increased the OSE’s annual funding from 45 million euros to 75 million euros and accelerated construction work, with the goal of having ETCS and signaling installed on the majority of the Athens-Thessaloniki line by November 2023.

Nevertheless, the disintegration of the Greek state’s capacity after 13 years of austerity makes it impossible to close one gap without opening another. In early September, catastrophic floods in Central Greece washed away the new constructions and destroyed a large part of the old railway infrastructure, once again highlighting the authorities’ lack of preparedness.

As a result, the work now has to start from scratch. “It will probably take us many months to return the railway to the point it was 15 days ago [before the floods],” admitted the newly appointed Infrastructure and Transport Minister, Christos Staikouras, in a recent interview. “The work [on the railway] will have been completed by 2026,” he concluded, attempting to reassure the citizens. However, a lot of them will probably be skeptical of the minister’s reassurances

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Nurturing Sino-EU Ties through Multilateralism

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Considering the fact that relations between China and the EU are shifting, they will continue since China’s position as a crucial economic powerhouse for the EU cannot be understated, especially as the EU confronts a real and technical economic downturn. In the Eurozone, countries such as the Czech Republic, Lithuania, and Germany are experiencing a deceleration in economic growth, which requires immediate consideration. The primary reason for this is the industry-related crisis caused by the collapse of export operations on both domestic and global markets due to a lack of purchasing power.

If this mild downturn becomes a full-blown crisis, the economies of both the European Union and the United States could stagnate. Because of these challenges, the European Union (EU) must strike a fine balance between resolving the current crisis and accommodating U.S. demands. The recent summit of European Union leaders holds great importance as the EU determined its policy towards China. The EU’s economic prospects are highly dependent on developing strong ties with China.

When combined with China’s growing consumer market and massive expenditures in infrastructure, the European Union’s economy has a once-in-a-generation chance to rebound and thrive. The European Union (EU) stands to gain from closer economic connections with China due to the opportunities it presents for increased collaboration, broader trade, and the infusion of much-needed Chinese investment into the EU’s flagging industrial sectors.

Recognizing this undeniable potential, the EU must priorities capitalizing on the benefits of its partnership with China, whilst likewise making sure that the relationship remains mutually beneficial and sustainable. The path towards achieving such equilibrium, however, is fraught with obstacles, mainly due to external pressures from the United States. Notably, the United States has imposed tariffs and trade restrictions on a number of European products, creating financial challenges for European companies. These actions are frequently used as pressure to influence Europe’s approach to China.

The EU is in a precarious position, compelled to navigate an environment where financial goals, geopolitical issues, and common values intersect. Maintaining a delicate equilibrium is essential. The pressure exerted by the United States highlights the necessity for Europe to assert its own interests and independence in international affairs. It is essential that the EU devise an independent and principled strategy that protects its own interests while approaching China with a productive discussion.

European Council President Charles Michel’s recent statement that it is in the EU’s best interest to maintain “stable and constructive” ties with China has, in a sense, confirmed the continuation of EU-China relations. In a latest commentary, Josep Borrell, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, pointed to how the EU could modify its policy towards China. However, he advocated for “vigorous engagement” between the EU and Beijing.

Under the weight of US pressure, maintaining a delicate balance in EU-China relations requires careful handling. European leaders will have the opportunity to define the EU’s position on China at the upcoming EU summit, ushering in a future of balanced, constructive, and mutually beneficial engagement. It is essential that European leaders seize this opportunity and set a course that protects their economic interests and fundamental values. In this manner, the EU can promote stability, resilience, and sustainable growth in the face of changing global dynamics.

At this critical juncture, leaders must engage in exhaustive dialogues that incorporate the many facets of the EU’s relationship with China. The promotion of human rights should be coupled with economic considerations. Considerations such as trade disparities, rights to intellectual property protection, and the development of equitable market practices must be addressed in an open discussion. This strategy will ensure an equitable playing field for EU and Chinese businesses, fostering an environment conducive to healthy competition and long-term economic growth.

The foundation of Sino-EU relations should base on mutual interest and respect, multilateralism, and economic exchanges, and they should be exempt from illicit US interference and pressures. By navigating these complexities and forging a path that safeguards economic interests and fundamental values, the EU can promote stability, resilience, and sustainable growth in the face of changing global dynamics.

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China-Germany Win-Win Cooperation



photo:Yao Dawei / Xinhua

The China-Germany cooperation exemplifies the transformative potential of collaboration based on mutual regard, shared objectives, and complementary strengths. This exceptional partnership has spawned a domino effect that extends beyond bilateral relations, inspiring other nations to pursue similarly mutually beneficial partnerships.

 As the world becomes more interconnected, countries can learn from the China-Germany model of cooperation, which fosters economic development, technological advancement, environmental stewardship, and cultural exchange. By adhering to the principles of win-win cooperation, nations can construct a more prosperous, sustainable, and harmonious global community.

China and Germany’s dynamic and mutually beneficial cooperation is a shining example of win-win collaboration on the global stage. Both nations have nurtured strong economic and diplomatic ties over the years, resulting in enormous advances and benefits for their respective societies.

Strong and coordinated global action is needed immediately to combat climate change and advance sustainable development. There is still a lot to be done, but China and Germany have already shown their dedication to environmentally friendly and low-carbon development. By aligning their strategies and exchanging best practices, they can expedite the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable economy.

China’s pledge to peak carbon emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060 shows its commitment to a deep low-carbon transformation of its economy and society. Through the International Climate Initiative (IKI) administered by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH, the German Federal Government supports Sino-German climate change cooperation.

 Collaboration in areas such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, the circular economy, and sustainable transportation can lead the way for a greener future, mitigating the effects of climate change and nurturing ecological equilibrium.

China and Germany have established a strong economic partnership that has benefited both countries significantly. Germany’s main commercial partner is China, and vice versa, and this strong bilateral commerce has led to significant economic growth and employment creation. This collaboration has given German businesses access to the sizable Chinese market.

Notably, the exchange of products, services, and knowledge between the two nations has fostered innovation, productivity, and economic resiliency, thereby laying the groundwork for long-term cooperation. This commitment to cooperation has yielded an array of beneficial effects, strengthening the conviction that win-win partnerships can drive progress and prosperity in an interdependent world.

The dynamic economic partnership that has grown between the two nations is one of the pillars of China-Germany cooperation. Germany, known for its scientific prowess, inventiveness, and precision engineering, found a favourable market in China, with its enormous customer base and rapidly expanding economy.

On the other hand, China’s manufacturing expertise and devotion to infrastructure development have presented German businesses with incredible possibilities to expand their operations and enter new markets. Entrepreneurs from both nations could keep pursuing openness, inclusiveness, and win-win cooperation, as well as keep the stability of industrial and supply chains with high-level practical cooperation. This symbiotic relationship has allowed both nations to capitalize on their respective strengths, resulting in economic expansion and job creation for both countries.

China and Germany have also established cooperation in the fields of innovation and research, recognizing that advancements in these fields are crucial agents of economic and societal progress. Through joint research initiatives, academic exchanges, and institution-to-institution collaboration, both nations have been able to pool their intellectual resources, foster innovation, and address global challenges. This cooperation has not only led to revolutionary scientific discoveries, but it has also set the groundwork for future innovations in technology that will benefit all of humanity.

China and Germany have fostered cultural exchange and people-to-people diplomacy in addition to their economic and technological cooperation. By encouraging education exchanges, cultural events, and intercultural dialogue, both countries have built bridges of appreciation, understanding, and friendship. Not only do these interactions enrich the lives of individuals, but they also strengthen the bilateral relationship as a whole. They facilitate dialogue, eliminate preconceived notions, and set the groundwork for mutually beneficial relationships and respect.

By expanding on these accomplishments and upholding a spirit of mutual respect and shared objectives, the China-Germany partnership can continue to advance progress and inspire global collaboration.

The China-Germany model of win-win cooperation provides valuable lessons for nations seeking to forge prosperous partnerships. It emphasizes the significance of mutual respect, trust, and open communication as the foundations for productive collaboration. It also emphasizes the importance of recognizing and capitalizing on balance in strengths and resources, which allows nations to maximize the positive effects of cooperation.

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