European Union And The Paradox Of Sovereignty – OpEd


The unfolding of recent events has presented an intriguing paradox in European Union’sapproach to the concept of sovereignty. The concept of sovereignty has been central to the post-second world order, as embodied in the Charter of the United Nations. The Westphalia notion of sovereignty, based on mutual recognition of states’ territorial integrity and political independence, was adopted as the cornerstone of this order.

However, the European Union has often overlooked the value of sovereignty, whether due to its own colonial ambitions or alliance with the US. In these contexts, European powers have frequently intervened in the affairs of other states, directly undermining their sovereignty. There are a number of examples that show why ultimate sovereignty is problematic in the West. Bypassing the sovereignty of governments in the name of “responsibility to protect,” was used the NATO in the Balkans, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. Critics have charged that these interventions undermine the notion of state sovereignty, and particularly the intervention was selectively, strategic and without realizing the destabilizing consequence like civil war and refugee problems.

But in the face of Russia’s incursion into Ukraine, European Union has become a vocal proponent of respect for national sovereignty. The European Union nations are arming Ukrainian defensive forces, training at their home ground Ukrainian forces and voluntaries from European Union rope and North America has recruited “International Legion of Territorial Defense” by Ukraine. The European Union and the US has imposed stringent sanctions on Russia and expects compliance from the world.

Since February 2022, the European Union and the Council of the European Union have been meeting regularly condemning Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions. European Union leaders demanded on several occasions that Russia immediately cease its military actions, unconditionally withdraw all forces and military equipment from Ukraine and fully respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. European Union leaders demanded on several occasions that Russia immediately cease its military actions, unconditionally withdraw all forces and military equipment from Ukraine and fully respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Contrarily, the European Union’s stance on the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and the recurrent wars there has been markedly different language. After every Israel invasion of Gaza and maximum damage strategy, the European Union calls for the two-state solution, with two sovereign, democratic states living side by side in peace and guaranteed security, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states. These resolutions do not called for acting on realization of the two state solution, but demand condemnation of Palestinian violence.

Contrary to this structural violence, the leadership of China and military establishment was mentioned as being responsible for human rights violations in Uyghur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang.

Similarly, European Union countries have offered aid to Ukrainian refugees as a result of the situation in Ukraine. Some of these policies have included making it easier to apply for asylum, opening up the job market, and giving them money and food. Refugees from Ukraine have been welcomed with open arms throughout European Union with considerable support coming from Poland, Germany, and Sweden. This approach, however, contrasts sharply with how refugees have been treated in prior crises, especially those from countries where the majority of the population is not white or European Union.

For instance, in 2015, European Union’s reaction to the influx of Syrian refugees caused additional division. Some nations showed particularly strong resistance, like Hungary and Poland, by enforcing stringent immigration restrictions and rejecting refugee resettlement quotas.

The Ukrainian crisis represents a marked shift from European Union’s past actions and bears the imprint of an apparent rethinking of European Union foreign policy stance. It is a realization that in today’s global political landscape that military interventions have strong regional security complex and respect for national sovereignty is a cornerstone for peaceful international relations.

Despite championing this cause, European Union has been met with a lukewarm response from the Global South. The apparent inconsistency between European Union’s past actions and its present stance might seem hypocritical to these nations, causing them to approach European Union’s call with caution.

This is due to several factors:

Perception and Image: As powers with a long history of dominance, these nations have built institutions, policies, and diplomatic networks that are deeply entrenched in a Euro-centric worldview. Adjusting these systems to a reality that is less West-cantered requires not only acknowledging a shift in power but also challenging established norms, beliefs, and structures. European Union’s difficulty in accepting its relatively reduced power is a problem of its own making. The world, as it becomes more multipolar and diverse, cannot bear the burden of European Union’s struggle with this reality. Like last year the Indian Foreign Minister made a catchy statement that Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems.

Historical Path Dependency: Historical experiences and past successes can cause a lag in response to changing circumstances. The West, and in particular European Union rope, has long been accustomed to dictating terms on the global stage due to their past imperial and colonial powers. This historical precedence makes it difficult to adjust to a new, more equitable world order where formerly peripheral powers are becoming more influential.

Cognitive Bias: The leaders in declining powers might suffer from cognitive biases that make it hard for them to fully understand and accept the shift in power dynamics. They may be prone to confirmation bias (interpreting information in a way that confirms their pre-existing beliefs), resulting in a delayed recognition of their declining influence. Like, the metaphor used by Josep Borrell, the European Union’s foreign policy chief that European Union is a ‘garden’ and most rest of the world is ‘jungle’, implies an outdated, European Union centric worldview that fails to acknowledge the rise of Global South. Such perspective not only misrepresents the realities of global power distribution, but also perpetuates harmful stereotypes and inhibits effective international cooperation.

European Union’s Double Standards

European Union’s past and present inconsistencies in terms of its selective response to international issues, the handling of refugee crises, and the rise of far-right political movements have undermined its moral position. This historical facts have not gone unnoticed by the Global South. And European Union’s expectation for the Global South to criticize Russia’s intervention in Ukraine raises critical questions about the nature of international relations and the complexities of global geopolitics. The European Union’s expectation appears to stem from a worldview that continues to operate under the presumption of European Union centric norms and values. The reality is that the Global South, having grown in political, economic, and cultural influence, has its own perspectives, priorities, and prerogatives. These countries may view European Union’s calls for a unified stance against Russia’s actions in Ukraine with skepticism.


European Union’s struggle to adapt to the changing world order is not a problem for the world to resolve. The European Union must come to terms with its reduced role, confront its past and present inconsistencies, and align its domestic realities with its foreign policy. Only then can it play a meaningful role in the post-colonial, multipolar world. The European Union must reinvent its approach to its global role, a process that begins with aligning its domestic realities with its foreign policy behavior. This involves a serious commitment to human rights and democracy at home and abroad, an equitable response to refugee crises, and countering the rise of far-right and xenophobic tendencies within its societies.

Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad Shah

Dr. Mumtaz Ahmad Shah is an assistant professor in the Law Department at Presidency University, Bangalore, India

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