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The Evolving Nature of EU External Relations Law

W. Douma, C. Eckes, P. Van Elsuwege, E. Kassoti, A. Ott and R.A Wessel (Eds.)

review by

Ewa Żelazna

Written over a decade since the last substantial reforms were implemented in the EU’s foreign policy, The Evolving Nature of EU External Relations Law provides a comprehensive assessment of contemporary legal developments in the area. The holistic approach adopted by the editors effectively captures how the ongoing legal evolution shapes the nature of the EU as a global actor. The authors scrupulously adhere to the central theme and examine current issues from a multitude of perspectives, making this book both a coherent account of the current state of the law as well as a stimulating read.

Chapters in this edited collection address some of the key problems of our times, such as climate change, migration and Brexit. The contributing experts frequently challenge the EU’s rhetoric and question its foreign policy decisions. Douma leads the way by arguing that trade and sustainability provisions in CETA, the current international gold standard, leave a lot to be desired. The chapters found in the part on the EU and Migration Policies, in particular those by Santos Vara and Pascual Matellán, as well as Dos Santos Soares and Beck-Mannagetta, criticise the EU’s collaboration with Libya, given reports of reprehensible violation of migrants’ human rights being committed in the country.

These and other contributions in the book aptly highlight that sometimes the EU’s actions on the international plane can be far removed from the ‘ethical vision’ found in the TEU, which is expertly evaluated in the opening chapter by Cannizzaro. Against this background, the subsequent chapters reveal the complex nature of the area by pointedly identifying its internal conflicts. Following this line of enquiry, Kassoti demonstrates how the overzealous attitude of the Court of Justice towards the protection of the autonomy of EU law could undermine the international rule of law. Wessel cautions, in another chapter, that while flexibility is sometimes required to manage heterogeneous interests of the Member States in the foreign policy, it may also lead to a fragmentation and hinder the EU in achieving its international aspirations, as outlined in Article 21 TEU.

The book does not devote a lot of attention to the endless competence battles between the EU and the Member States, which are an inherent feature of their interaction in the area. Instead Chamon evaluates the legal mechanism, which is available to the EU to ensure that the participation of the Member States does not undermine the effectiveness of the EU’s international treaty-making practice. Theisinger, Dero-Bugny and Motte-Baumvol outline a variety of legal instruments the EU uses to spread its standards and norms in the wider world. Ott takes the theme to a new level, by identifying the constraints on extending EU policies and rules to non-Member States, a topic which has gained particular prominence in the wake of Brexit. Regarding the UK’s departure from the EU, Gatti demonstrates how the two legal orders remain intricately connected. Larik finds a silver lining and proposes to use this unprecedented event to challenge some of the well-established paradigms in international law and politics, inviting scholars from other disciplines to join in the development of new approaches.

The different focus allows the book to make an original contribution to the contemporary debates and set new directions for future scholarly enquiries. Academics in the field will find it a compelling read that brings to light novel aspects of this dynamic field of EU law. At the same time, the book is accessible to a non-expert audience and I highly recommend it to those who would like to enrich their knowledge of international relations by looking at the area from the perspective of an EU lawyer. Finally, the book should find its way onto the bookshelves of the policymakers in the EU as it contains numerous suggestions for future reforms pertaining to both law and practice in the area of external relations.


Dr Ewa Żelazna is a Lecturer at the University of Leicester, where she teaches EU Law. She researches the field of EU external relations law, specifically on issues concerning the democratic legitimacy in the EU’s international treaty-making practice and its international investment policy.   


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