Why Multilateralism Matters to ALL EU businesses

It seems like common sense, but many countries are going their own way - without cooperation. Global businesses cannot thrive in such an environment. Check out the actions the EU has taken to help EU businesses through multilateralism.

Our world is in a period of transition, marked by major geopolitical and economic power shifts. Emerging players are creating new dynamics. Relations between major powers are increasingly confrontational and unilateralist.

Competing visions and agendas on the global order are at play, which challenge established multilateral rules and organisations. Yet growing global challenges call for more multilateral governance and rules-based international cooperation. Current geopolitical rivalries have a negative impact on efforts to promote peace and prevent conflict: they hamper humanitarian responses, undermine trust and complicate the provision of global public goods.

Basic principles of international law, human rights, democracy and the rule of law are being challenged. Existing institutions upholding such values are all too often bypassed or misused for narrow national or ideological interests. Strong non-state actors, including digital platforms and multinationals, have become shapers of international norms outside established channels. Citizens feel increasingly disconnected from all levels of governance.

The result is a more unpredictable and unequal world. The COVID-19 crisis nevertheless exemplifies the need for multilateral solutions: a major global threat, it has created much-needed momentum for a coordinated, global crisis response.

Throughout 2020, international fora and organisations led the global response and delivered tangible results, such as the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) and its COVAX facility or the G20 Action Plan to respond to the pandemic1 . By its very nature, multilateralism is subject to continuous adaptation.

It is a complex system, but delivers tangible benefits for all. Important and lasting achievements include the international human rights and international humanitarian law instruments, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, and the rules that govern international trade and investment. The decision of the new US administration to rejoin the Paris Agreement and remain in the World Health Organisation are welcome steps that will provide positive momentum overall for the achievement of ambitious multilateral objectives over the next years. This multipolar world is a major and urgent challenge that the EU can face successfully, on two conditions. The EU needs to become more assertive in the light of the more transactional nature of the global system and build and reinforce coalitions of like-minded partners on key priorities.

Multilateralism has been and will remain the cardinal principle of the EU as the most effective means to govern global relations in a mutually beneficial way. But we cannot be multilateralists alone nor only for the sake of it. Multilateralism must be effective, fair and deliver results that serve both EU and global interests and values. This means the EU must be firm on its principles, and agile in its conduct.

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