Learning from Lilliput: Small States and EU Expansion

By Ingebritsen, Christine | Scandinavian Studies, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Learning from Lilliput: Small States and EU Expansion


Ingebritsen, Christine, Scandinavian Studies


ALL EUROPEAN STATES, small and large, are responding to powerful changes in the international system. From the break-up of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the Warsaw Pact through the extensive revival and expansion of cooperation between European governments and societies to new challenges confronting state authorities--from global terrorism to countering regional security threats--the international system has been transformed with important consequences for the European Union and for the role of small European states.

The small European states provide an appropriate social laboratory to study these changes precisely because of their economic openness and long-held strategies of coping with the world around them (Katzenstein 1985; Thorhallsson 2000). Some European societies view themselves as members of the core responsible for creating the institutions of European cooperation (Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg). Others are latecomers: they are either less capable or willing to adapt their institutions and policies to meet the challenges associated with Europeanization (Denmark), are unable to forge a domestic consensus for membership (Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland), or are redefining their foreign policies in relation to both the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).

Just as in other critical moments in European history, small states provide an indicator of possibilities to other states and defy the expectations of classic theories of international relations. As recent studies have indicated, there is both more diversity in the strategies of small states as well as (in some circumstances) a greater capacity to influence the agenda in world politics and play a critical role in the evolution of European integration than commonly understood (see Ingebritsen 2002; Thorhallsson 2000).

As at the end of the Second World War, the transformation of the Cold War system led to the revival of the "idea of Europe" but with some small states demonstrating a preference for a looser partnership with other European governments than others. America's global influence remained strong as institutions were redefined to address new security threats. However, when the United States charted a new course in its foreign policy to counter global terrorism, small states round themselves on different sides of a major rift in transatlantic relations. At issue were the legitimacy of military intervention and the resilience of multilateral institutions with the strongest opposition from French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder representing the two most powerful EU member-states.

What are the defining structural conditions requiring a redefinition of small state strategies? Although American power remains unmatched in the military sphere, Europe has emerged as a more powerful actor in international politics. By abdicating authority over emerging agendas in global politics (from the environment to human rights), the United States has created new opportunities for Europe to act collectively. And new agendas in world politics put the small European states in position to play an enhanced role whereas other, more powerful states may lack moral authority in critical areas of international agenda-setting. In addition, "globalization"--defined as new forms of economic, political, and social embeddedness--encourages smaller states to reevaluate their relationship to the most powerful regional bloc in the world system, the European Union. As argued elsewhere, Europeanization enables governments to manage the complexities of global dependence through regional cooperation and requires governments to engage new forms of policy coordination that may be out of step with past institutional practices and policy legacies (see Ingebritsen 1998).

The EU has expanded its capacity to act collectively with implications for international governance, patterns of military intervention, and membership in multilateral institutions. …

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