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.

Ayra Azhar
Ayra Azhar
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]