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European Union Foreign Policy and the Global Climate Regime


Simon Schunz

Ever since the first international negotiations on climate change in the early 1990s, the European Union has aspired to play a leading role in global climate politics.
This book engages in a longitudinal analysis of the EU’s participation in and impact on the United Nations climate regime.
It provides not only comprehensive insights into the evolution of EU foreign climate policy, but also a thought-provoking audit of the potential and limits of the EU’s influence in a major domain of global affairs.
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Chapter 7. Explaining EU Influence on the Global Climate Regime

← 274 | 275 →CHAPTER 7

Explaining EU Influence on the Global Climate Regime

Chapters 2 to 6 of this study analysed EU influence by tracing ­actors’ interactions in the global climate regime through different time periods. In so doing, they generated numerous findings on the Union’s foreign policy activities and their effects and provided explanations of its influence for each analysed period. This chapter strives to generalize within the longitudinal case. It does so by, first, synthesizing findings so as to identify patterns of EU influence and of all pre-specified and newly emerged ­potential explanatory factors over time and to explore associations between them; second, by identifying outliers in these patterns; and third, by engaging in explanation-building on the scope conditions that account for EU influence via arguing or bargaining.

Patterns of EU Influence across Time

Building on the analytical framework developed in Chapter 1, Table 5 synthesizes the evidence for all studied time periods and key variables. In so doing, it allows for a visualization of its main results by incorporating various levels of analysis, different theoretical perspectives considered as complementary (institutional, interest-, power-, value-based) as well as dynamics over time. It thus fully accounts for the complexity of the instances of social reality studied in this work. At the same time, it accomplishes – wherever applicable and not previously achieved – a conversion of empirical data into more abstract categories to facilitate the formulation of explanations. Concepts coded in this manner are treated, if possible, as continual (e.g. regarding the interest constellation: very homogenous-homogeneous-heterogeneous-very heterogeneous) (Miles/Huberman 1994: 57–58).

There are numerous ways in which the table can be read. Three types of interpretation seem crucial to move from descriptive inference to explanation (Miles/Huberman 1994: 91, 119–122): (i) a consideration of each identified concept (cluster) in its temporal sequence so as to identify patterns of change across time; (ii) a focus on outliers in these patterns; and – against that backdrop – (iii) an exploration of associations between independent variables that seem to be most significant in accounting for EU influence, the dependent variable.

← 275 | 276 →Table 5: EU influence on the Global Climate Regime over Time← 276 | 277 →

← 277 | 278 →image

← 278 | 279 →When tracing patterns across time, several continuities and some significant discontinuities can be detected. Emphasis is placed on each broader concept cluster.1 As all other variables will need to be interpreted in relation to the dependent variable, it is useful to begin with the latter: EU influence. Medium EU overall influence could be detected for the entire climate regime history up to the period 2007–2012, with the exception of the year 2009, which constituted a major break with previous trends because the Union’s influence suddenly became much lower. This overall influence had been attributed on the basis of an analysis of its influence on two key pillars of the climate regime. EU impact on the key norm of the regime (emissions reduction targets) was found to be fairly consistently moderate until 2009, and particularly high during 1995–1997. By contrast, its influence on the principle of responsibilities was permanently non-existent. EU influence over the agenda of the UN climate negotiations was consistently moderate, even if it did not systematically lead to leverage over the end product of talks. Moreover, a notion of EU influence over “where to discuss” climate policy (i.e. in which fora to conduct negotiations) emerged from the analysis (see Chapters 4–6). Repeated attempts by other players, notably the US, to dislocate climate talks from the multilateral arena into other fora (APP, MEF) were countered quite successfully by the EU (and its allies) during the period after the US withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol ratification process in 2001. Confirming the identified pattern, slightly less impact in this regard was detected for the period 2007–2012. finally, the findings indicated a clear break for this latter period with regard to the causal mechanisms underlying successful EU influence attempts: where bargaining had played a major role when the EU was central to last-minute compromises (as on the UNFCCC, the Kyoto Protocol, the Marrakech Accords) or on Russia’s ratification of the Protocol, arguing was decisive in the few major instances of EU influence during the post-2012 talks (especially on the inclusion of the 2°C reference in the Copenhagen Accord).2 Altogether, the period between 2009 and 2012 constitutes thus a break with a long-term pattern of continuously moderately positive EU influence-wielding on the climate regime. The identification of such an outlier in a long-term pattern allows for engaging in a broader exercise of explanation-building.

Continuing the discussion of Table 5 from top to bottom, the cluster external context had originally been designed to trace external events both in general and regarding the issue of climate change. No major single event ← 279 | 280 →with durable effects on the climate talks was however detected. By contrast, in the course of the research, the cluster had to be modified to also include general long-term global trends. For one, a clear tendency of increasing complexity of climate politics was observed (fora). This was paired to a trend of rising importance of emerging economies in this arena and in global politics more generally. For the last two analysed periods, these changes were perceived as significant factors impacting EU influence, which merit further exploration below. The issue of climate change itself was considered in conjunction with the external context: after initial scientific uncertainty in the first IPCC report (1990), the second report of 1995 led to greater awareness of climate change, but also nourished the belief in its manageability through, e.g., flexible mechanisms. While the third report of 2001 did not receive such wide attention, the findings of its 2007 successor were more compelling and shaped many politicians’ and public perceptions of climate change as a topic deserving urgent attention. Given the EU’s approach to climate change based on the precautionary principle, science has been interpreted in Chapter 5 as a major enabling condition of its influence through arguing in the post-2012 talks.

The evolving science did not spark major durable change in the regime dynamics, which marks another key cluster. As these dynamics are partially the expression of domestic contexts clashing at the global level, the latter first require consideration. During the entire regime evolution, the major non-EU players (US, China, India, Japan, Russia) faced intricate internal institutional contexts (e.g. in the US through high institutional hurdles for international treaty-making, in other countries through deficient and/or competing institutions involved in climate policy-making). Moreover, the domestic interest and beliefs constellations on climate change remained consistently heterogeneous. The observed complexity represents a rather stable long-term trend. As these circumstances usually complicated decision-making on climate change, favouring conservatism, they certainly did not facilitate the EU’s attempts at decisively tackling the problem globally. Yet, as this cluster of factors remained largely unaltered over time, it can also be ruled out as key explanatory factor for cross-time variation in EU influence.

At the aggregate level of regime dynamics, these complicated domestic contexts found their expression in a complex interest constellation among key actors in the climate regime since the early 1990s. During each time period, the regime was characterized by very divergent preferences not only on major topics such as targets or responsibilities, but also on related issues like the modalities of emission reductions. Fundamental cleavages opposed the industrialized and the developing world, but also regularly the US (often with allies) and the EU (sometimes with other industrialized countries), and doubtlessly qualify as significant continuities ← 280 | 281 →of the climate regime. While such divides may restrain the Union’s ability to change others’ behaviour and preferences in general, the fact that they remained largely unchanged throughout the evolution of the regime implies that they cannot account for variation in its influence. The same can be said for the logic of action under which the regime operated due to these contradicting interests: arguing in early stages of negotiation processes was systematically substituted by bargaining for balancing out players’ positions at later stages. Although this might help to account for the difference between EU influence on agenda-setting as opposed to over final outcomes, as further explored below, it cannot aid in explaining its variation across time. A slightly different picture emerges when considering the beliefs constellation: more compelling climate science after the fourth IPCC report led to a moderately more homogeneous constellation, when all players became slightly more inclined to engage in reforms of the regime. They did not, however, fundamentally change their key positions, which is why it is also improbable that this factor can account for variation of EU influence over time. A major discontinuity with regard to regime dynamics concerned then the power constellation among actors in the climate regime.3 Clearly, this constellation evolved most remarkably since the early 1990s. While the US was the largest emitter and hegemon of sorts in the early 1990s, the US-Japan-EU triangle was dominant in the regime during the mid-1990s. In the 2000s, gradual socioeconomic transformations, notably in the emerging countries, rendered the world – and the climate regime – politically more multipolar. In 2009 then, tendencies of a new bipolarity could be observed with the central importance of the G-2 regrouping the two major, economically closely tied emitters US and China (sometimes via the BASIC group).4 For the EU, the evolving power constellation meant a discontinuity with regard to its own relative power, which may have strong explanatory value for its influence on the regime: fairly powerful in the 1990s, the Union seized the opportunity when the US disengagement during the George W. Bush era opened a window of opportunity for greater exercise of influence. This has come to a gradual halt since 2007, and most notably in 2009, when it partially lost its clout to the emerging economies. These power-related cleavages had repercussions on many discussions in the regime, and also found their ← 281 | 282 →expression in an ever-increasing complexity of the institutional set-up of the negotiations (with the two tracks under the UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol plus many fora outside the UN until 2012). This observation about how the Union fit into the overall external environment with regard to power, self-evidently a central variable for explaining its influence, also necessitates a consideration of how it was situated vis-à-vis other players regarding its positions. In the course of the evolution of the climate regime, it was not only increasingly less powerful in relative terms, but also often defended outlier positions. This was particularly the case regarding the overall issue of regime development during the period after 1997, when the EU was calling for a legally binding approach. By contrast, the Union’s influence was highest when key actors’ positions on the overarching aim of the negotiations (i.e. adopting legally binding QELROs) were closest (in 1997). Defending outlier positions renders the exercise of influence difficult.

If one focuses next on the EU-related variables summarized in Table 5, a distinction needs to be made between the Union’s actor capacity and foreign policy activities. Regarding actor capacity, several continuities stand out: the EU’s competence in primary law to act on climate change internally and externally was continuously high since the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993. At the same time, the interest and beliefs constellations among member states were consistently heterogeneous, rendering foreign policy-making especially complex. This did not prevent the Union from acting comparatively ambitiously on climate change and defending increasingly articulate objectives regarding the future shape of the UN climate regime, but only on the basis of delicate internal compromises. Such compromises, in turn, hampered flexibility and required greater coordination efforts to the detriment of foreign policy implementation. A major discontinuity in the whole picture is the institutional set-up of internal decision-making and representation, which evolved through the Commission’s participation in the Troika, and the ever-­increasing specialisation of the WPIEI-CC combined with the emergence of a system of lead negotiators and issue leaders. Although intended to improve the Union’s unity as a global player, these institutional changes – and with them, an assumed overall improvement in its actor capacity – did not coincide with greater EU influence in the global climate talks. The improved actor capacity did, however, come with a change in its foreign policy activities. The EU’s outreach activities grew in quantity and changed in quality (broader geographical scope, use of wider range of instruments) over time. While the overarching strategy since at least the Kyoto COP can best be described as “leading-by-example” and problem-solving, diplomatic instruments were supplemented by economic tools in the period after Kyoto. Moreover, legal instruments were used in both ← 282 | 283 →an incentivizing and (threatened) coercive form, evoking border adjustment mechanisms and aviation levies. Regarding actors, the EU’s focus on the US during the entire regime history represented a major continuity. Gradually, however, other actors became also significant targets of Union influence attempts, including Japan since 1995, the other industrialized countries since 1998, and the major developing countries, but also LDCs since the early to mid-2000s. These changed patterns arguably promised potential for improved EU influencing. It was thus unexpected to find that – while the overarching strategy bore some fruit between 1997 and 2008 and in 2011 – the Union’s regenerated foreign policy implementation did not contribute to influence at crucial talks such as COP 15 in 2009.

Generally, from this exercise of extracting cross-time patterns, several outliers and/or significant, unexpected findings need to be highlighted. Regarding the variation across time of EU influence, the latest analysed periods (2007–2009/2010–2012) – and here especially the months before COP 15 and the summit itself – mark the key outlier. At the same time, this phase constituted also an exception with regard to (i) relative scientific certainty about the issue of climate change, (ii) global trends regarding the power constellation, which led to the described proliferation of fora beyond the UN, the complex institutional set-up of the regime debates and a drop in relative power of the EU also within the UN climate regime, (iii) more developed EU actor capacity and (iv) wider EU foreign policy activities. Although patterns do not “prove” that these factors actually determined EU influence, they provide strong cues that the conditions for variations in EU influence on the climate regime across time need to be in the first placed searched for in these analytical categories and their interrelations. Rather than at the domestic level, which was complex (possibly in different ways, but with the same effect of complicating EU influence-wielding) for all major players during the entire history of the climate regime, the results of the study suggest that the crux for understanding and accounting for EU influence lies in fact in the interplay between the international and the EU levels of analysis. Especially the detected pattern indicating that the EU’s evolving actor capacity (EU level) did not yield the desired effects in the changed global regime context (international level) during the late 2000s calls for further exploration.

Comparing EU influence Attempts to its Actual influence: the “Goodness of fit” Puzzle

Central to exploring the crucial interplay between the evolving external context and the EU’s foreign policy capacity is focussed attention on the notion of EU foreign policy implementation. A further exploration and development of the concept of influence attempts constitutes ← 283 | 284 →therefore a key means of moving toward explanations of its influence across time. Such concept development becomes possible by assessing its influence attempts against their success, i.e. whether an instrument actually yielded influence or not, as far as such an evaluation is possible.5 This ultimately allows for detecting further patterns of EU activity in relation to its environment, which can facilitate explanation.

Table 6 compiles, rather than compares across time, all major (types of) EU influence attempts. Building on Table 2 developed in Chapter 1, it distinguishes between the main two types of influence attempts and key (categories of) actors in the climate regime: the US, other industrialized countries and the G-77/China, the latter split here – following the latest developments – into the BASIC countries and the LDCs/AOSIS. As a result of tabulating the EU’s influence attempts in this way, further patterns emerge on the crucial relationship between its acts and the external context in which it operates. Clearly, EU foreign policy implementation considerably expanded over time to cover almost all countries (with the exception of some LDCs) and instruments (coercive tools excepted). Yet, imbalances existed: vis-à-vis the US and major developed countries, influence attempts were mainly focused on persuasion-based tools during the entire history of the climate regime. With regard to the developing world by and large, the major tools were concrete economic policy instruments to engage those players in climate mitigation policies, paired to argumentation-based influence attempts. Despite these differences, the table illustrates first and foremost that the EU really did try out quite a range of tools vis-à-vis different actors. Yet, a large number of its attempts remained without tangible results.

← 284 | 285 →Table 6: EU influence Attempts and their Success in the Global Climate Regime (1991–2012) – a Compilation of Instruments1


← 285 | 286 →1 (+) indicates that an influence attempt contributed to EU influence; (–) indicates that an influence attempt did not result in influence; (+/–) signals a mixed outcome. (/) indicates that the effects of an influence attempt on EU influence were not clear.

This empirical finding calls even more for an investigation into the causes of the apparent ineffectiveness of much of EU foreign climate policy. Obviously, numerous reasons related to the external environment could account for this (e.g. the relative power of other actors). A closer inspection of the Union’s successful influence attempts suggests, however, that EU influence-wielding also has to do with the precise way in which it implements its foreign policy decisions and, more specifically, the extent to which it takes into account the external context. It is thus more often than not about the choice of the right instrument at the right time. The Union’s – comparatively – greatest successes, besides a somewhat more diffuse influence over agenda-setting, concerned the bargaining proposal of 15% emissions reductions in 1997 (a politically set, fairly arbitrary diplomatic proposal aimed at major industrialized countries), bargaining ← 286 | 287 →proposals made to Russia in 2004 (a combined diplomatic and economic tool targeted at one actor), arguing for the 2°C target since 1996 (a science-based, long-term diplomatic proposal aimed at everyone) and, to some extent, for a mitigation approach built around emissions trading since the mid-2000s (a proposal based on economic rationale and targeted at industrialized countries). Seen from the perspective of the influence-wielder, the influence attempts these successes were based on were quite different in nature. No clear pattern suggests itself, which implies that no one-size-fits-all foreign policy approach that will consistently yield influence in global climate negotiation processes appears to be at the EU’s disposal. If considered from the perspective of the outcome (i.e. exerted influence), these different attempts must have somehow matched the external parameters set by the global climate regime at the given points in time to trigger actual EU influence, however. In other words, at times the Union seems capable of designing foreign policies that fit well enough with the external conditions to result in influence, while at other moments there appears to be a mismatch. To better be able to articulate this finding, it can be beneficial to give it a name. The term “goodness of fit”, borrowed from the literature on Europeanization, may adequately capture the notion of match between EU activities and the external context (Börzel/Risse 2000). If this goodness of fit is high, the Union’s chances for exerting influence are apparently increased. Whenever the degree of “goodness of fit” seems low, EU influence appears to be less probable. As a – for this research context – new concept that emerged from the findings, the notion of goodness of fit requires further attention.

Determinants of EU influence over Time: Propositions on Causal Mechanisms and their Scope Conditions

Having re-considered each potential explanatory factor of EU influence as well as the main interactions between these factors from a longitudinal perspective, it is now time to move from descriptive inference to explanation and provide clearer answers, based on cross-time consideration, to research question 3: why did the European Union actually exert influence on the negotiations pertaining to the development of the global climate regime? Answering this question requires a combination of causal mechanism and conditional causal analysis, which acknowledges that “causal effects depend on the interaction of specific mechanisms with aspects of the context within which these mechanisms operate”, and that causes are conjunctural (Falleti/Lynch 2009: 1144). The two causal mechanisms arguing and bargaining indicate why an (EU) influence attempt led to an outcome: through agency involving either reason-giving or strategic behaviour. Yet, whether the one or other can operate in a given social context depends on certain scope conditions. For that reason, ← 287 | 288 →besides specifying this context – or, in the terms of conditional causal analysis, the “causal field” – to which the suggested causal statements apply, the multiple conditions under which EU acts of arguing or bargaining result in influence need to be exposed through a constant comparison of instances of EU influence (success) and non-influence (failure) across time by drawing on the empirical evidence gathered in the study (Mackie 1974: 34). Scope conditions will be assembled in the form of plausible propositions, formulated in the language of conditionality. Just like for the narrative process trace this study relied on, “the degree of belief in a causal hypothesis depends on the strength of the evidence available to support it” (Marini/Singer 1988: 348). The propositions account for the EU’s influence on the climate regime over time – and represent thus the key theoretical conclusions of this study – but could, slightly altered, also serve as hypotheses for future research on the EU’s activities in this regime. To situate the propositions into the broader context provided by the scientific community and detect possible inconsistencies and/or rival accounts, they are related to the literature on EU foreign policy and international regimes.

The Causal field and the Causal Mechanisms: EU influence in Different Phases of Climate Regime Negotiations

For any conditional causal analysis, the specification of the “causal field” to which statements apply is of central importance (Mackie 1974: 34). It is this field that provides the context in which conditions need to come together to allow for the generation of a particular result (e.g. EU influence through bargaining). In the present study, this causal field was specified as the global climate negotiations covering the UN climate regime and a limited number of clearly circumscribed external analytical units (context, science). In this imaginary field, many variables were identified that may serve as conditions enabling or constraining EU influence. These conditions do, however, in the reasoning adopted here, not directly account for EU influence, but only through the causal mechanisms arguing or bargaining. Causal mechanisms are patterns or ultimate causes that can be transferred from one causal field to the next. In function of the causal mechanism operating in a given field, the logic of agency and interaction in that field is altered for the given instance of influencing: arguing presupposes interaction based on reason-giving, while bargaining implies that players interact strategically.

Against this backdrop, it is interesting to observe that UN climate negotiations apparently function according to different logics at different stages. Although, as noted earlier, communicative acts based on arguing and bargaining can co-exist in negotiation contexts (Kleine/Risse 2005), ← 288 | 289 →the findings suggest a straightforward cross-time pattern: climate negotiations that operate with a predetermined deadline (e.g. COP 3 and COP 15 were designated as end dates of regime reform processes respectively with the Berlin Mandate and the Bali Roadmap) typically function predominantly according to an arguing mode during earlier stages, when key actors do not yet possess stable preferences on many issues or deliberately hold back positions, while shifting into a bargaining mode towards the end. This was strongly indicated by the technique of “backloading” frequently employed by the major actors, by proposals unambiguously aimed at horse-trading and by the regular last-minute compromise outcome embodied in the idea “that nothing is agreed until everything is”. The findings further point to a certain congruence between these phases and the causal mechanisms through which the EU exerts influence: the Union was consistently influential through arguing by proposing problem-solving solutions to the climate challenge when it came to agenda-setting during early stages in the negotiation processes, while it had influence on the final outcomes of negotiation episodes only if it was engaged in bargaining. This leads to a not so trivial observation: employing arguing-based tools in a context in which other actors look for give-and-take does not work, as the EU’s performance in the endgame of COP 15 demonstrated. Making bargaining proposals when others are still building their positions is equally dysfunctional.

This observation provides for a clear distinction between stages in – and thus types of – UN climate negotiations through two logics of action, which already indicates that EU influence through the one or other mechanism will depend on divergent conditions. It finds itself in congruence with the theoretical proposals of scholars applying communicative action theory in International Relations, e.g. through regime analysis (Hasenclever et al. 1996: 205–206; Müller 1994), or to multilateral (including climate) negotiations (Ulbert et al. 2004; Steffek 2005). In this literature, the finding that the importance of arguing per se decreases when negotiations have passed the agenda-setting, problem-definition and early positioning phases is largely confirmed (Ulbert et al. 2004: 7–8; Kleine/Risse 2005: 18). The window of opportunity for any actor to exert influence through arguing in a regime thus closes as talks move toward a concluding COP. In this context, Ulbert et al. (2005: 15) and Checkel (2005: 813) also stress, in the words of the former, that “the less certain actors are about the nature of the problem and about their own interests and preferences, the more they are likely to be open to persuasion and arguing”. In early stages of negotiation processes, this “uncertainty” provides an indispensable “prerequisite” of successful arguing (Kleine/Risse 2005: 19), which the EU – through a proactive problem-solving strategy – can (and has) exploit(ed) to its advantage.

← 289 | 290 →Necessary Conditions: Actor Capacity and Foreign Policy Implementation as Explanatory Factors of EU influence

Before exploring the differences regarding the scope conditions between a negotiation context governed by the rules of arguing and a bargaining situation, general observations can be made about any type of climate negotiation situation when it comes to the internal conditions for EU influence. They concern both actor capacity and foreign policy implementation. At the same time, the notion of goodness of fit between EU policies and external contexts is further specified.

Actor capacity, i.e. the legal and institutional framework for and practice of the EU’s internal decision-making, coordination and representation, constitutes a prerequisite for its influence because it provides the Union with the necessary abilities to act independently on the world stage. Without possessing a minimum degree of actor capacity, the EU could not define a position, let alone a strategy of foreign policy implementation. Yet, by itself, actor capacity does not account for variation in EU influence. The findings for the post-2012 period demonstrate that it was unable to convert power into influence despite a fairly developed actor capacity. Conversely, a low degree of actor capacity does not preclude the EU from exerting influence: during most of the UN climate regime history, the Union was relatively influential despite frequent internal incoherence, ad hoc coordination and cacophonic representation. Hence, no indicators were found to suggest a quantitative correlation between the Union’s degree of actor capacity and its chances of exerting influence. By contrast, greater actor capacity does seem to enable the EU to pay more attention to foreign policy implementation, thus indirectly heightening its chances of exerting influence. In the final analysis, a minimum degree of actor capacity appears therefore to be a threshold condition representing a necessary, but not sufficient prerequisite for the EU’s exercise of influence. This yields

PROPOSITION 1: In global climate regime negotiations of any type, the EU can only exert influence if it possesses a minimum degree of actor capacity, which represents thus a necessary, but by no means sufficient condition for successful influencing.

Indicators for the degree of EU actor capacity are the various components of this concept so that it would be necessary to test, inter alia, whether the Union disposes of sufficient legal bases and instruments to act or if and how well its internal coordination and representation arrangements function. As a minimum, one would expect that it disposes of legal competence and institutions capable of adopting and adapting positions and defining who is to represent these. As the concept of actor capacity captures many of the “usual suspects” identified as explanatory ← 290 | 291 →variables (internal decision-making, coordination) of the Union’s performance by actor-centric accounts of EU foreign policy analysis (Groen/Niemann 2012; Groenleer/van Schaik 2007), proposition 1 suggests that none of these seem to (independently) play such an important role in explaining the Union’s effectiveness in the climate regime after all. This is not to mean that the components of actor capacity are obsolete. Analysts of foreign policy implementation confirm that these elements still matter very much as internal preconditions when it comes to accounting for why the EU was (un)able to define a policy and/or adapt it and/or defend it (Brighi/Hill 2008: 125). Yet, just being a foreign policy player, i.e. having the capacity to act, is insufficient for exerting influence. An actor also needs to possess a strategy on how to use its resources, and carry it out to exploit its potential.

These observations inevitably raise the question to what extent foreign policy implementation – as a link between actor capacity and the external context – must be considered a condition for EU influence through arguing or bargaining. The concept of foreign policy implementation was originally conceived in a fairly narrow fashion as “the execution of influence attempts” based on certain tools at the moment in time when “actors confront their environment and (…) the environment confronts them” (Brighi/Hill 2008: 118). The importance of an overarching strategy – in terms of both political practice and an analytical unit in studies of foreign policy and influence – later emerged as a crucial sub-category of this concept to supplement the notions of “foreign policy instruments used” vis-à-vis specific (groups of) actors. Regarding this latter aspect, Table 6 provided an overview of the EU’s influence attempts by bringing instruments and actor groups together, exposing patterns of the Union’s actual outreach strategy. It was found that in some instances the EU’s overarching strategy that informed the choice for particular foreign policy instruments was adequate. In the Kyoto Protocol talks, the choice for formal, diplomatic instruments out of the available range of tools, the frequency (often) and timing (early) of influence attempts, their substance (highly political on the targets and PMs, rigid) and coherence (putting very much all eggs in one basket, i.e. on the target) had an important impact on the finally adopted target proposal because the external conditions were favourable. This front-running strategy also played out positively – via arguing – for the EU’s influence on many elements of agenda-setting and the 2°C target adopted with the Copenhagen Accord. By contrast, the same approach was interpreted as not appropriate for the exercise of influence on many other issues and at other crucial points in time when the EU could not benefit from positive external conditions. The most telling example of this was probably provided by the final stages of the post-2012 negotiations in 2009, during which key non-European players were more concerned ← 291 | 292 →with geopolitical power games and the protection of their economic self-interest than with solving the problems posed by climate change. This indicates that a strategy that may be fitting for one point in time in the climate regime might not be fitting for another period because important external parameters may have changed. From these observations, one can conclude that the EU’s chances for exerting influence in any type of climate regime situation depend on how well its foreign policy approach fits the negotiation context:

PROPOSITION 2: In global climate regime negotiations of any type, the EU can only exert influence if its foreign policy implementation effectively fits the evolving regime context.

The degree of goodness of fit between the EU’s foreign policy implementation and the regime context therefore qualifies as another necessary condition for its exercise of influence. To test this goodness of fit, strategy, instruments used and actors targeted can be employed as indicators of foreign policy implementation and assessed against the international environment dissected into various components: the logic of action (does the EU act in line with other players’ predominant mode of acting?), actors’ interests, beliefs and positions in individual and aggregate (are those understood and addressed by the EU?, is the EU in line with them, at least to some extent?), the power constellation (is the Union aware of its own capacities, their potential and limits?) and the institutional set-up of negotiations (is the EU institutionally prepared for and present in all fora?). Comparing proposition 2 to the literature on (EU) foreign policy, research on foreign policy implementation – even though its aim is to understand why an actor acted the way it did rather than with what effects – largely supports the findings of this study. first of all, this body of literature underscores the importance of the restraining effects of the external context, but acknowledges the importance of agency and “strategy” (Brighi/Hill 2008; Webber/Smith 2002). Yet, “neither strategy nor context taken in isolation can explain the success or failure of a certain foreign policy to deliver an intended outcome” (Brighi/Hill 2008: 119). Rather, in “order to be successful in achieving their objectives, actors need to pursue a foreign policy that is compatible with the context” (Brighi/Hill 2008: 125). Linked to this, the same analysts also clarify that implementation has to be considered as quite distinct from foreign policy decision-making: positions adopted by an actor “are not self-executing” (Brighi/Hill 2008: 127, 134). These observations have important theoretical and political-practical implications. On the one hand, there is a clear difference between “the capacity to act and the capacity to get results”, which implies that just focusing on actor capacity in academic research on EU foreign policy performance is indeed insufficient for explaining its influence, as already pointed out in the discussion of proposition 1 (Webber/Smith 2002: 80). ← 292 | 293 →On the other hand, just possessing a position is equally insufficient for exerting influence in practical terms. Yet, this is precisely what the EU oftentimes appeared to think when it employed its leading-by-example approach in the global climate negotiations: that possessing a proactive position would necessitate no further action besides its explanation. This lack of strategic thinking may account for many instances in which the EU did not exert influence despite an a priori conducive environment. As a matter of fact, analysts of foreign policy implementation report that foreign policies often fail not due to bad design, but precisely because they were not at all or insufficiently implemented, i.e. essentially not targeted to the context (Brighi/Hill 2008: 123; Webber/Smith 2002: 80).

To take the notion of “compatibility” a bit further, the concept of goodness of fit can be explored some more: scholars of Europeanization employ it as a top down concept to assess the impact the EU has internally, i.e. on its member states, in terms of compatibility between EU and national laws, institutions and policies (Börzel/Risse 2000). In their reasoning, a “misfit” leads to greater pressure on the member states to adapt to the EU: “the lower the compatibility between European and domestic processes, policies and institutions, the higher the adaptational pressure” (Börzel/Risse 2000: 5). By consequence, the goodness of fit is considered as high when a national policy “satisfies the expectations or requirements of European policy and law” (Caporaso/Jupille 2001: 23). Analogically, and turning this reasoning completely around, goodness of fit as a bottom up concept for assessing EU external impact here would be an indicator of how well the Union matches the conditions set by its evolving external environment in institutional and policy terms. A higher degree of fit improves the effectiveness of its foreign policy, yielding more favourable outcomes.

Conditions Triggering the Causal Mechanisms

Specific conditions are necessary for the EU to exert influence through bargaining or arguing.

First, from the rich data gathered and analysed so far, insights can be derived on the conditions under which EU influence on the climate regime becomes possible through bargaining. During all negotiation episodes before 2009, the EU was a fairly successful bargainer on one key pillar of the climate regime (targets) during the endgames of talks, but not on other issues, including the CBDR principle. Reconsidering these patterns, one can therefore ask which conditions were present for the EU to exert influence over the emission reduction targets that were not present for other issues. From the analysis of successful instances of EU bargaining (INC, COP 3, COP 7), several insights may be gleaned: the Union was more effective when it was (i) on an equal footing with other ← 293 | 294 →major players, (ii) when it did not defend an outlier position with regard to the overall outcome of a negotiation process, i.e. when the interest scope on this was more limited (e.g. COP 3: all players wanted legally binding QELROs; COP 7: all players desired the operationalization of the Kyoto Protocol) as opposed to wide (COP 15: EU argued long for a legally binding outcome, other major actors were in favour of a political agreement), and (iii) when it was lined up for bargaining and behaved coherently on the basis of its position. Counterfactual analysis shows that these conditions were not present when the EU overtly failed to exert influence: on the topic of differentiation, the Union was often unsure about its position (1995–1997, early 2000s) and was effectively sidelined by (relatively) more powerful actors (G-77/China, US) in a context of strongly polarized interests. Further, EU influence never occurred when it was not sufficiently prepared for bargaining and/or in line with what other players aimed for, as with its ineffective 30% conditional offer for emission reductions during the post-2012 negotiations. This latter example also underscores the second major internal condition: the EU’s unity as a strategic foreign policy actor. If the EU acts largely as one bloc, its chances for exerting influence are higher, as in Kyoto or in most of the post-Kyoto period until 2005. During the endgame in Copenhagen, by contrast, the EU was represented by many voices sending various messages (the Troika, the big member states), which further diminished its already (through the external context) low chances for successful bargaining. What these observations boil down to is then best captured through the following proposition:

PROPOSITION 3: In global climate regime negotiations functioning according to a bargaining logic – assuming minimum EU actor capacity – the EU can only exert influence through bargaining if

its relative power is at a comparable level to that of other major players AND IF

its position on the overarching aim of the negotiations and/or on specific items under discussion is close to that of those players AND IF

it is well-prepared for strategic interaction in the specific negotiation context AND IF

it behaves coherently as a foreign policy actor.

As the findings do not allow for qualifying any of the conditions as necessary, but suggest that all of them together are sufficient for EU influence in the climate regime, they can best be characterized as “INUS”, i.e. “Insufficient but Non-redundant parts of an Unnecessary but Sufficient condition”, conditions (Mackie 1974: 62). Indicators for the relative power are, as previously remarked, the relative share of global GHG emissions making a party central to mitigation, but also a player’s overall relevance to global politics, which can be based on material ← 294 | 295 →(e.g. size of the economy) or immaterial resources (diplomatic skills etc.). Its preparedness for bargaining in the specific regime negotiation context and the coherence as an actor can also be dissected into indicators. The former requires not only that the EU sufficiently understands other actors’ stances and preferences and possesses an adequate position – which signals elements for give and take and a certain degree of flexibility implying fall-back positions (actor capacity) – but also an appropriate defence of this position. This demands the use of suitable instruments which address other actors’ positions, preferences and underlying interests at the right time (foreign policy implementation). Coherence, in turn, implies a stringent external defence of its positions.

Proposition 3 engages literature at both levels of analysis, since it combines external with actor-related determinants of EU influence. Two strands of regime theory with regard to the external conditions need to be considered: the neo-liberal institutionalist interest-based and the power-based strand (Hasenclever et al. 1996). firstly, neo-institutionalist regime theorists point to the fact that the prospects for agreement in a regime context are highest if mutual interests among actors exist (Rowlands 2001: 54–60; Young 1989b: 366). As the EU was consistently among the actors that most urgently desired the climate regime negotiations to succeed, one can assume that its own influence would, to a certain extent, co-depend on the prospects for successful regime negotiations. In that case, regime theory can help to account for EU impact: bargaining for a compromise in which all key actors gain something necessitates positions that are close, with some overlapping interests, at least on the overarching aim of the negotiations (e.g. wanting to reach an agreement of a certain type). During the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol negotiations, all major players were interested in a meaningful agreement so that such a convergence of positions on the overarching aim of the negotiations existed. In counterfactual perspective, regime negotiations largely failed (and with them the EU) when key players had no overarching mutual interests, and certain actors were particularly unwilling to play by the rules of bargaining, following inflexible, incommensurable take-it-or-leave approaches on key issues in the talks (e.g. the G-77/China on the issue of differentiation throughout the entire regime history, the US in 1992, China, India and the US in 2009). As a result, from an institutionalist regime perspective – taking the EU’s desire to get to a multilateral agreement for granted – the second component of proposition 3 (positional proximity) is largely covered by the relevant theories. Secondly, as strategic interaction presupposes that all actors are willing to “play by the rules” of bargaining, the issue of relative power, engaging a different strand of regime theory, comes into play. Only those actors who are powerful enough can afford not to play by these rules. In this respect, the first part of the proposition that emerged ← 295 | 296 →from the empirical evidence is in line with hypotheses of the power-based strands of regime theory, which assume that greater symmetry in the distribution of power will heighten the prospects of regime formation or reform (Hasenclever et al. 1996; Krasner 1991). This, in turn, implies that the EU’s chances for exerting influence will be relatively higher if it is among the most powerful players. Conversely, under conditions of unanimity, if an asymmetry of power exists in regime negotiations and the EU is not among the powerful players, its chances for exerting influence (together with the chances that a regime negotiation process will be successful) will be considerably diminished. The evidence from the climate regime evolution suggests that the EU was regularly not powerful enough vis-à-vis other industrialized countries as a bloc and/or the US and/or the G-77/China, especially on the issue of differentiation. By contrast, when it was among the most powerful players, as during the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol negotiations, its influence was relatively pronounced. Moreover, the EU was also comparatively more influential on the broad lines of talks when the relatively more powerful US had effectively disengaged from the regime (between 2001 and late 2007). Neither on these occasions nor during the period after 2001 could it have exerted influence without the presence of the other INUS conditions, however. In the face of this multiple conditionality, the blunt realist hypothesis that “power is the central feature of regime formation and survival” and, by extension, of the influence of individual players in regime negotiations is not confirmed by the findings (Little 2008: 299). Altogether, and despite this discord between the findings expressed through proposition 3 and power-based regime theory, the congruencies between the two should not be understated. Both suggest that relative power is one central determinant of its influence. This is per se not new or surprising: obviously power is a crucial capacity an actor draws on to exert influence. Yet, and this is what the findings unambiguously demonstrate, there is no simple quantitative correlation between power and influence (“the bigger an actor’s power, the greater its influence”): an actor’s power as a resource is to be conceived in relative (vis-à-vis others in a given context) and never in absolute terms. And the use of this limited, relative power is then also further restricted or enabled through conditions related to the external context as well as to the actor wanting to employ it. This implies that even a less powerful actor can be influential, while a very powerful one can be an ineffective foreign policy player. In the final analysis, EU power per se cannot explain its influence, but its relative power in a given context represents one significant explanatory factor in a broader picture.

With regard to the actor-related conditions for EU influence through bargaining, their importance is partially confirmed when considering the literature on actors’ bargaining capacity in multilateral negotiations more ← 296 | 297 →widely and on the EU’s capacity more specifically. In general terms, this capacity is supposed to be highest when an actor not only has high relative power and acts coherently, but also operates proactively (“making offers, rather than responding to them”) and directly addresses others’ preferences (Muthoo 2000: 165; fisher et al. 1991). As a matter of fact, EU influence was at its highest when it proactively made its 15% emissions reduction bargaining proposal in 1997 and stuck with it in an otherwise favourable context. Yet, as seen from this research, the exercise of influence through proactive behaviour is only possible under certain enabling conditions and can therefore not be taken for granted. The fact that a lack of coherence and of preparedness for bargaining restrains influence is confirmed by the literature on EU bargaining power, which points to the recurrent problems of EU inflexibility and incapacity to define fall-back positions, rendering strategic behaviour impossible (unless used itself strategically, which does not usually seem to work) (Meunier 2000: 105–106; Rhinard/Kaeding 2006). Considering the fourth component of the proposition, the necessity to behave coherently as a foreign policy actor in bargaining contexts is more generally confirmed by a small sub-domain of the EU foreign policy analysis literature (Nutall 2005). This literature parts from the discussion of provisions in the Treaty on European Union on “coherence and consistency” in EU foreign policy (above all, Article 3 TEU). Although the two terms are regularly used interchangeably (Nuttall 2005: 92), a useful analytical distinction can actually be made between consistency referring to an “absence of contradiction” and coherence comprising notions of synergy and added value (de Jong/Schunz 2012). Once coherence has been determined this way, two different types can be identified: horizontal coherence between the EU’s (foreign) policies and vertical coherence between EU and member state activities (de Jong/Schunz 2012; Nuttall 2005: 92, 97). The underlying assumption is that both types of coherence ensure EU unity and heighten its chances for impact. Proposition 3 clearly uses coherence in the sense of vertical coherence by stating that a synergetic relationship between the EU and its member states’ foreign climate policies across time is an enabling condition of its influence.

In contrast to the conditions identified for EU influence through bargaining, whenever the Union defends, as during much of the global climate regime evolution, an outlier position, somewhere in between a resourceful group of non-European industrialized countries and the G-77/China, and when it possesses a low degree of relative power vis-à-vis other major players, arguing seems to be the only promising avenue through which to exert influence. As influence through persuasion implies a change of preferences or beliefs in the influenced, the analyst needs to enquire under which external and actor-related conditions the ← 297 | 298 →EU could actually shape those. Besides the uncertainty during early stages of negotiations identified above, a successful change of other actors’ preferences or beliefs apparently necessitates an elaborate position on key issues, based on consistent arguments, which are coherently advanced. These arguments seem to be most convincing if based on climate science and related economic models and/or on internal structures grounded in norms that can be accepted by other players and thus directly address their beliefs. Oftentimes, the Union invoked the IPCC and its science as indispensable sources of authority and knowledge. Especially on the 2°C target proposal, which had been a long-standing EU position, this strategy was successful: its proposal was accepted by others at a point (in 2009) when climate science had become more compelling, thus providing for a favourable external context. On other instances of EU influence through arguing, e.g. over the mitigation targets and the emissions trading approach in some countries (Australia), internal structures (climate and energy legislation, the ETS) created with reference to some generally accepted principles (e.g. cost-effectiveness) provided the ground for successful persuasion. The role of timing was essential during all periods, with the EU regularly acting far in advance of other major actors. In counterfactual analysis, when the EU was unclear about its arguing strategy (as during the immediate post-Kyoto period), came too late (ditto), had no compelling science or internal structures based on widely accepted norms that it could invoke (as during most of the regime until the mid-2000s), influence through arguing was impossible. This yields a proposition on the conditions triggering the causal mechanism “arguing”:

PROPOSITION 4: In global climate regime negotiations functioning according to an arguing logic – assuming EU actor capacity – the EU can only exert influence through arguing if

other actors are uncertain about their preferences, AND IF

the EU directly addresses other actors’ preferences or beliefs, AND IF

the EU can invoke external sources of knowledge/authority and/or internal structures based on widely accepted norms, AND IF

it behaves proactively, coherently and consistently as a foreign policy actor.

Once again, the conditions qualify as INUS. Indicators of uncertainty were provided above. To assess the EU’s proactivity and coherence, process-tracing seems to be in order so as to search for timing and contradictions in the Union’s position and its implementation or between these two. When comparing these findings to the relevant literature, certain overlaps can be found. For the first component of the proposition (uncertainty), it was already discussed above how studies on communicative action in IR corroborate the finding (Kleine/Risse 2005). In a similar vein, the notion of coherence and consistency (component 4) – as used in EU foreign policy analysis (Nuttall 2005) – was discussed in the context of ← 298 | 299 →bargaining, for which they were identified as equally central prerequisites. As seen, coherent foreign policy behaviour in bargaining contexts implies vertical coherence between the EU and its member states, which need to send out the same signals to all third parties and make concessions as a group. In arguing contexts, it implies also such vertical coherence, in the sense of a synergetic, repeated defence by all EU actors, including the member states, of a set of logically stringent arguments. Yet, the notion of consistency further underscores the absence of contradictions in this arguing process. In distinguishing between the two, proposition 4 is in line with the relevant EU foreign policy literature (de Jong/Schunz 2012). Regarding the remaining components of the proposition, scholars of communicative action in IR suggest that early and persistent reason-giving, appealing to beliefs, is central for successful arguing (when others are still uncertain about their positions), and that knowledge is key (here the IPCC science) to heightening the influence-wielder’s credibility (Ulbert et al. 2004: 17; Kleine/Risse 2005: 13). They also point to the fact that an actor who is considered as a legitimate and knowledgeable moral authority has higher chances of successfully persuading others (Ulbert et al. 2004: 16; Checkel 2005: 813). The EU’s influence through arguing regularly coincided with enhanced efforts at being perceived as more legitimate through internal preparation and/or legislation as well as the use of IPCC science or some other external source of legitimacy (such as widely respected norms like cost-effectiveness embodied in the flexible mechanisms). Yet, certain examples of incongruence between some of the findings and the theoretical propositions from this body of literature can also be detected. Checkel argues that an entity that wants to exert influence through persuasion does not “lecture or demand, but, instead, acts out principles of serious deliberative argument” (2005: 813). Clearly, in the EU case, this normative condition was rather unfulfilled and apparently unnecessary in many instances. Partially due to its active lobbying for the 2°C target, the EU was joined by others in its support for this aim in 2009, to name but the most evident example. Altogether, however, the fourth proposition is largely in concordance with broader theoretical considerations made in the literature on arguing in international relations.← 299 | 300 →


1Concept clusters (e.g. external context) consist of two or more sub-categories (in the cited case: fora, trends).

2A partial exception may have been the adoption of the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, the agreement to which the EU did also employ as a bargaining chip.

3Power is understood as relying on the material and immaterial resources of an actor, and it was found to be closely linked to its emission profile: countries with the highest emissions and/or mitigation possibilities dispose of enormous potential to exert influence in the climate regime.

4At the same time, the continuously unaltered opposition of the two major blocs – the G-77/China and the developed countries (OECD, later Umbrella Group and EU, whereby the EU would at times side with the developing countries) – was also marked by a power struggle.

5Not all of the Union’s manifold influence attempts have been assessed in detail for their success, but overall trends on how certain types of attempts contributed to EU influence can be derived from the study.