The European Union at the Copenhagen Climate Negotiations: A Case of Contested EU Actorness and Effectiveness


This paper analyses the extent of European Union (EU) actorness and effectiveness at the fifteenth United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009. For over a decade the European Union has been characterised as a leader in international climate policy-making and as an important actor in international climate change negotiations. The COP15 meeting in Copenhagen has overall brought about disappointing outcomes, especially from the perspective of the European Union. This casts doubts on EU leadership and begs the question of what has happened to EU actorness and effectiveness in this field. In terms of actorness we take Jupille and Caporaso (1998) as a point of departure and then specify a more parsimonious actorness framework that consists of cohesion and autonomy. Effectiveness (i.e. goal attainment) is seen as conceptually separate from actorness. Effectiveness is conceptualised as the result of actorness conditioned by the ‘opportunity structure’, i.e. the external context (of other actors, events and ideas) that enables or constrains EU actions. We hold that the EU’s actorness has been only moderate, especially given somewhat limited preference cohesion. In terms of the opportunity structure in Copenhagen we argue that the high degree of politicisation constrained the EU’s ability to negotiate and thus to attain its goals. Another external factor that had a substantial adverse impact on the EU’s effectiveness at the Copenhagen negotiations was the strong involvement of other actors with rather different positions, namely the United States (US) and the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, and China).

© 2012 Lisanne Groen and Arne Niemann

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Lisanne Groen is PhD Candidate at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB)

Arne Niemann is Professor of International Politics at the University of Mainz