Is the expansion of the EU essential for a strong position on the world stage?

Fabian Amtenbrink

Ukraine and Moldova have been granted European Union (EU) candidate status. The EU has expanded considerably in recent decades and has long been one of the most important trading blocks in the global economy. However, to what extent is the EU's expansion also important to have a strong position on the world stage? In the BNR News podcast 'Breaks', Fabian Amtenbrink, Professor of European Union Law at Erasmus School of Law, debated this question with studio guests and responded to listeners’ contributions.

According to Amtenbrink, the question of the EU’s position in the world can be approached in several ways: "You can interpret it economically, but also in the sense of security and defence. If you look at it economically, it is mainly about the position of the European Union as a trading block in the world and the strength that the EU can derive from jointly negotiating and concluding international trade agreements with other countries or even with other trading blocks." The role of the EU is less prominent when it comes to the second aspect of security and defence. Amtenbrink continues, "It is important to realise that the EU is a trading power, but it is certainly not a military power in the world.” Amtenbrink stresses that while the EU has a common security and defence policy, that does not mean that member states have surrendered their sovereignty to the same extent as in other areas, such as trade relations. There is an [mutual] assistance clause, but the EU is a trading power and not a military power.”


The growth of the EU, according to proponents, benefits the strength of the Union. Amtenbrink, however, has his doubts: "The question is to what extent the European Union, with 29 countries or more, can still keep function properly in the way the member states once set out to”. According to Amtenbrink, European decision-making has, in recent years, become less and less dependent on reaching consensus among all member states. When it comes to the foundation of European integration, however, this is different: ” Changing the treaties to give more or fewer powers to the EU still requires unanimity. That means that with each country [that joins the Union], it becomes increasingly difficult and complicated to reach unanimity at all.”

According to Amtenbrink and many of his fellow international scientists, the system should be rethought: "It is a bit bold of me to mention, but I have advocated this during my inaugural lecture years ago. My colleagues all over Europe, legal scholars, but also political scientists are arguing for a different system of government.” Here again, though: to introduce this new system, you need unanimity from all EU countries. 


As a trading power, the EU is indispensable for its Member States to occupy a stronger position on the world stage. However, in terms of security and defence policy, Amtenbrink mainly points out the importance of NATO: “Even if the discussion has gained momentum again because of the war in Ukraine, the establishment of a European defence community is anything but a done deal. Therefore, a strong NATO with EU Member States is of great strategic importance.”

More information

Click here for the entire episode of the 'Breekt' podcast (in Dutch).

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