Lecture #6 – University of Copenhagen

Defending Multilateralism in the Age of Trump

By Postdoc Jed Odermatt

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Abstract of lecture:

The Trump administration has shown a reluctance to engage with international institutions and multilateral bodies. The decision to withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, its criticism of the Human Rights Council and the United Nations, as well as a lack of engagement with international economic bodies, demonstrate an ‘America First’ policy that views international bodies and multilateral institutions with distrust. The US has shown more interest in a policy involving unilateral measures and striking ‘deals’ between great powers rather than supporting multilateral institutions. This has attracted criticism for the US withdrawing from a rules-based system of institutions that the US helped to build and support.

The Trump administration’s approach to multilateral institutions is certainly not new in US foreign policy. Such an approach can be contrasted with that of the European Union, which has traditionally been supportive of multilateral institutions and international cooperation. The EU is itself a form of multilateral cooperation between states, and the EU Treaties commit the EU to respect international law and to seek solutions to international problems through multilateral means. The EU has sought to influence the development of international law via multilateral institutions, especially through the United Nations and UN bodies, and seeks to improve its effectiveness within these bodies. Yet in recent years, many of the EU’s policies have attracted criticism for being ‘unilateral’, ‘extra-territorial’, or even violating international law. The Court of Justice of the European Union has also shown a more guarded approach to international law. In areas such as climate change mitigation, financial market regulation, data protection, and human rights protection, the EU’s unilateral approach often stems, not from a disengagement with multilateralism, but from an inability to make progress through multilateral institutions. At a time when the Trump administration seeks the US to withdraw from global leadership, what should the EU do to strengthen further global institutions and the respect for international law? Although faced with numerous external and internal challenges, the EU should show a renewed commitment to multilateral institutions, especially at a time when these under strain. This lecture discusses the ways the EU can renew its commitment to multilateralism in the Age of Trump.

Introduction to Jed Odermat:

Jed is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law, Centre of Excellence for International Courts (iCourts). His research interests focus on public international law, the law of international organizations, and the interactions between the EU and the international legal order. His current research also examines the role of the EU as a global actor, and he is currently editing a Research Handbook on the European Union’s Engagement with International Organizations (with R.A. Wessel).