The Geopolitics of Multilateralism: What Role for the EU in the Indo-Pacific?


By Luis Simon

The European Union has traditionally identified the promotion of multilateralism as a core tenet of its external action, and of its engagement in the Indo-Pacific region more specifically. In his visit to Jakarta in June 2021, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice President of the European Commission Josep Borrell highlighted the EU’s commitment to “inclusive forms of multilateralism” in the Indo-Pacific. To be sure, the EU recognises that global geopolitical tensions and competing visions on the international order are likely to make multilateral fora less and less effective.


As the Indo-Pacific becomes the epicentre of great power competition, and China and the United States increasingly look at international institutions through a competitive prism, is the EU’s commitment to inclusive forms of multilateralism in the region sustainable? Relatedly, as the democracy versus autocracy cleavage gets bound up with the process of geopolitical competition, is inclusive multilateralism compatible with the EU’s own pledge to stand up for democratic rights and work with like-minded partners in the region? This brief aims to provide some context to these underlying tensions, and feed into the EU’s evolving strategic outlook towards the Indo-Pacific. 


The EU's Indo-Pacific strategy is timely, as the US-Australia-UK agreement demonstrates. This CSDS special edition policy brief resulted from working with the EU in the context of its Indo-Pacific strategy, issued on 16 September 2021, and is published in a series with four others, which shed light on underlying causes and look at future trends. This publication is financially supported by the European Union through the Indo-Pacific Futures Platform (INFORM) project, which ran from April 2021 to December 2022.