‘Evaluate the view that the EU has become a superpower, comparable with the USA'

A superpower refers to a sovereign state that holds a dominant position in global politics, with the ability to act decisively and influence key economic, political, social and military conflicts. The EU has significant power in global politics by being part of global governance, having an increasingly strong economic role and involvement in peace and security. However, because of its makeup as a regional organisation, with member states retaining control over key issues such as foreign policy, and despite its impressive economic strength, it cannot yet be classed as a superpower comparable with the USA.

 One method of deciding whether a political organisation is a superpower is to look at its role in global structures and how much power it has. The EU is a member of important bodies such as the G20 alongside its member states and it is also part of the WTO, where the executive of the EU speaks on behalf of member states. It attends, but is not a formal member, of the G7. Being part of these key structures suggests that it is now a superpower, comparable with the USA. However, its inclusion in these bodies does not mean that it is a superpower because although it may attend or be part of some elements of global governance, it does not hold a powerful position in the UN. Since 2011, the EU has been deemed an observer member, but it has no place on the security council as a permanent or nonpermanent member. Because it has no role in enforcing global peace and security via the UN, it cannot be seen as a superpower with a crucial role in maintaining or developing global politics. 

Beyond the UN, the EU does not compare with the USA in terms of rights in other global bodies. The EU lacks voting rights at the IMF or the World Bank, where the USA has an effective veto in both institutions. Overall, despite its increasingly important role in global politics and governance, it is clear that the EU is not comparable to the USA in terms of influence across a range of organisations or for guaranteeing international peace and security and therefore, it should not be classed as a superpower comparable with the USA. 

The strongest argument for the EU being a superpower comparable with the USA is in relation to economics. The USA and the EU make up the two largest economies in the world in terms of GDP and the EU was also classed as the largest economy in the world during the last decade. The EU is the largest trader of manufactured goods and services and is the world’s largest trading bloc. Since the Maastricht Treaty (1993), economic and monetary union has become a key aim of the EU with a single market without tariffs between member states providing certainty and stability. Its unified currency across many different countries shows the economic power it has and the euro is second to the US dollar in the most traded currency list, showing its stability. Furthermore, the EU was able to negotiate with the USA as an equal partner in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). However, despite this power and strength, the 2008 economic crisis meant that Greece as member state suffered terrible economic consequences because it was tied to the euro. In terms of TTIP, the talks were halted when President Trump declared an ‘America First’ strategy, reinforcing the view that the USA did not consider the EU an equal partner. Overall, the EU can be seen as comparable to being a superpower in terms of economic power, yet it is not truly a superpower as member states can still suffer shocks that the US does not and can choose to leave EU institutions, thereby weakening any claim for superpower status comparable with the USA.

 Finally, a key trait of a superpower is the ability to have a coherent foreign policy backed up with military might and effective uses of hard and soft power. In the case of the EU, it has used soft power to achieve a number of objectives in terms of foreign policy as part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Common Security and Defence Policy. For example, tough sanctions against Iran led to limits on its nuclear programme. The EU has also played a key role in training security forces in Mali in 2014, building capacity for further reforms. However, despite the appearance of a unified policy on security, and the use of soft power, military forces are under the control of member states and each country can maintain its own foreign policy beyond the EU. 

This is clearly illustrated in the Russian invasion of Ukraine as EU member states were fragmented in their approach. France urged member states to ‘conduct their own dialogue’ with Russia, Germany sought to block the export of weapons to Ukraine from Estonia and was initially reluctant to supply defensive weaponry, undermining a coordinated EU approach. The USA was able to agree assistance quickly, including Howitzer artillery with around $3 billion of funding provided since the invasion as well as firm sanctions. The EU response is still being formulated and made even more complicated by NATO, a non-EU body, the primary coordinating military organisation in Europe is led by the USA. This shows that despite the successes of the EU, it does not have the same level of foreign policy cohesion, hard power or soft power as a superpower when confronted with an international crisis and as such cannot be considered a superpower that is comparable with the USA.

 To conclude, the EU has significant global power in a number of areas, especially in the economic sphere. However, arguing that it is a superpower now seems premature as it lacks influence in key bodies like the UNSC, it does not have the same economic strength or integrity of the USA and it does not speak with a unified voice when it comes to foreign policy or the use of military force. Whilst it is incredibly powerful and is likely to become a superpower in the future with political union, it is not a unified state, a key factor in being defined as a superpower. On this basis, the EU is better thought of as an emerging superpower rather than an existing one that is comparable to the USA.