The European Union and global justice

Globalisation continues to present challenges for global justice and the foreign policy of the European Union, argues blog editor Johanne D. Saltnes. In this blog post, she sums up some of the cases presented on the blog and reflect on what they can tell us about the EU's contribution to global justice. 

Over the last four years, the aim of the Global Justice Blog has been to spark debates and enhance the understanding of the EU's contributions to global justice, and to discuss the EU's global role. 

In the GLOBUS project, we start from the insight that global justice is contested. The GLOBUS project coordinator Helene Sjursen writes in the opening post: ‘Faced with intensified globalisation and economic integration, policy makers and theorists alike increasingly recognise that reflection on dilemmas of global justice is required. What is just cannot be settled theoretically, but a theory of justice can clarify the conditions under which justice claims beyond the state’s jurisdiction can be settled’. In the project, three conceptions of justice were developed and has served as a critical standard for our analyses of the European Union. The three conceptions highlight, respectively, justice between states, justice through universally biding norms and commitments, and difference as the key to obtaining justice at the global level. On the Global Justice Blog, these various 'solutions' have been discussed through different examples. In the following, I highlight some of the main arguments presented over the 4 years of the Global Justice Blog, and reflect on what they have taught us about global justice.  

Justice between states 

Justice is often linked to citizenship. Membership in a state, at least in democratic states, gives citizens access to a legal system that can hold their rulers to account. Justice between states is attainable through voluntary cooperation at the global level. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) is a case in point. The WTO regulates global trade between 164 members, including the European Union. According to Johanne Døhlie Saltnes and Kjartan Koch Mikalsen, the WTO conform to the basic principle of non-discrimination. In doing so the WTO ‘safeguards states against arbitrary treatment by other states’. However, the widespread critique of WTO illustrates that there are significant shortcomings to this institution when factoring in the challenges resulting from globalisation. For instance, the WTO lacks binding prohibitions against export subsidies, a practice that favours wealthy countries over developing states. Hence, it might not be enough to treat all states equally through non-discrimination. 

Another example is found in the negotiations of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)  where the EU argued that emerging economies should step up their finance pledges to fund the SDGs. In her blog entry, Sigrid Jerpestad argues that ‘For the EU, a just burden-sharing agreement required countries of similar capacities to have similar responsibilities. This led the EU to emphasise the responsibility of emerging economies, such as China and India  … The EU perceived it as unfair that developing countries demanded financing from developed countries to ensure their continued commitment whereas emerging economies were not asked to commit in the same manner’. In doing so the EU relied on forward-looking obligations rather than recognising that the Union could have a ‘special responsibility for sustainable development based on the historical inequalities it might have contributed to’. 

Justice between states might not provide solutions that go far enough to secure justice for individuals or marginalised groups. It might be necessary to secure equal treatment through universally binding norms and commitments at the global level. 

Justice through universally binding norms and commitments

In states with authoritarian traits, strong international institutions can enhance the freedom of individuals. While a common critique of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is that the ICC is unjust because it has been biased towards African leaders, William Gumede argues that the ICC can serve as a crucial institution for ‘for ordinary Africans, who have very few avenues to hold their leaders accountable’. Despite the injustices caused by some Western states’, e.g. the United States, refusal to become  member of the ICC, the strength of the ICC lies in its power to scrutinise and punish leaders that do not respect human rights and democratic principles. 

Universally binding norms and goals are also facing setbacks, such as  women’s rights. Cathrine Holst argues that the high point for universal women’s rights occurred in 1995 at the fourth world congress on Women taking place in Beijing, where a ‘range of concrete and comprehensive measures towards gender equality’ were adopted. 20 years later, in 2015, the Beijing+20 conference ended up in total collapse adopting a non-binding document which lacks direction. 

Permanent premises of the International Criminal Court (Photo: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)

Another example is the case of global climate justice. Franz von Lucke analyses the journey from legally binding emission reduction targets, made in the Kyoto protocol to a system of Nationally Determined Contributions in the 2015 Paris Agreement. He argues that whereas the approach taken in Paris recognises the voices of all affected parties, it lacks legally binding emission reduction targets and thereby makes the Paris agreement vulnerable to changes in domestic politics. Moreover, the system of Nationally Determined Contributions has come hand in hand with declining climate leadership in key states such as Brazil, argues Solveig Aamodt.  

While universally binding norms and commitments have strengthened individuals ability to claim their rights against dominating agents, such as their own governments or private companies, universal solutions run the risk of being unjust by treating all individuals equally. Some argue that a differentiated approach, taking into account the particular experiences and vulnerabilities of different groups, is necessary to find just solutions at the global level. 

A differentiated approach is necessary for justice 

In 2016, the EU adopted a new global strategy where the concept of resilience, the capacity to recover form crisis, featured prominently. It has been argued that this change represents a retreat in European foreign policy ambitions. Meanwhile, Ben Tonra argues that the EU’s commitment to resilience has real potential: ‘It is predicated first and foremost on partnership and on the heterogeneity of partners. Whether these are states, cities, local authorities, or even private entities (companies, foundations etc.), resilience implies EU foreign policy engagement at all levels of state and society since each level is assumed to have its own role and potential in contributing to strengthened capacities for resilience’. However, as Tonra argues, it might also be challenging for the EU to wield a foreign policy anchored in mutual recognition between different perspectives: ‘Resilience opens pathways to perhaps a very different kind of EU foreign policy, it certainly does not imply the absence – perhaps even heightens the risk – of very difficult choices having to be made’. 

Another case in point is the last decades’ recurrent calls for including women in international peace mediation. Such calls are normally based on an instrumentalist justification of equality and that including women in the negotiations statistically leads to longer lasting peace. However, in her blog contribution Dawn Walsh considers another justification for including women in peace mediation. Walsh argues that ‘positive action to encourage women’s involvement is necessary to overcome historical injustices where women were systematically excluded from decision-making and political power’. 

The EU has created a multistakeholder group in Georgia to discuss the provisions and implementation of the Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (Photo: Diana Potjomkina)

Finally, a third example of the need for differentiation, which is highlighted by Diana Potjomkina, is the involvement of stakeholders in decision-making processes. Proponents of multistakeholderism claim that inclusion can ‘reduce so-called "democratic deficit" and make governance more legitimate, effective, and just’. However, as Diana highlights, the question of who should be included and why may be an immeasurable challenge: ‘nominal inclusion does not always translate into meaningful inclusion, and as a result, the outcomes of any formally ‘just’ multistakeholder arrangement will not necessarily reflect everyone’s opinions in a fair way’.

While a differentiated approach based on mutual recognition between groups, individuals and states might be the most far-reaching solution to global justice, it might also prove to be the most challenging. 

What global justice entails is contested among scholars and practitioners. The examples discussed on the Global Justice Blog emphasises the strengths and weaknesses of different justice models. Meanwhile, globalisation continues to present challenges for global justice and the foreign policy of the European Union. The world is facing a severe economic and health crisis due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has put global governance to the test. The Corona-crisis risks being another hit to the liberal world order, writes Sonia Lucarelli. Moreover, the pandemic will exacerbate an already vulnerable situation for many individuals, Michela Ceccorulli reminds us. However, the EU can also take the opportunity to learn from the Corona-crisis and ‘find ways of securitising climate change more effectively, and giving future generations a presence in our current debates’, argues Thomas Diez.  Pundy Pillay emphasises that a fair and effective external response to the Covid-19 must seek to translate economic growth into sustainable development and at the same time it must be rooted in the requirements and priorities of its Southern partners, hold Niels Keijzer and David Black

About the author

Johanne Døhlie Saltnes 

Postdoctoral Fellow & Global Justice Blog editor, ARENA Centre for European Studies, University of Oslo


By Johanne Døhlie Saltnes
Published May 29, 2020 12:06 PM - Last modified May 29, 2020 1:23 PM
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