Multilateralism is defined in many ways, but common to all are the importance of rules, institutionalised cooperation and inclusiveness. Demand for multilateralism increases as new international challenges arise. Globalisation connects the world in ways both positive and negative. Trade, capital, ideas, people, technology, information, diseases and crime all flow more freely. Patterns of interaction between world regions are changing. New powers are rising. Alternative development paths and models of capitalism are being debated. International terrorists networks constitute a new and profound security challenge. New sources of conflict, over global warming, migration and resource scarcity, are emerging.
The EU itself has recognised the importance of multilateralism in (for example) the 2003 European Security Strategy and Lisbon Treaty. It claims actively to promote multilateralism in all of its policies, especially those with an external focus. MERCURY's primary research questions flow from the EU's commitment to multilateralism:
1. how should we understand multilateralism, both historically and in contemporary terms?
2. does the EU live up to its ambitions to contribute to effective multilateralism globally?
3. what lessons can be drawn from Europe's experience of promoting multilateralism?
MERCURY is emphatically interdisciplinary, drawing on expertise in law, politics, economics, and international relations. It advances a clear intellectual agenda to explore, explain, and evaluate different conceptions of multilateralism but also seeks maximum, practical policy relevance.
The research carried out in the framework of MERCURY focuses on the following central question: does the European Union deliver on its commitment to effective multilateralism?
To answer this question, the work of the consortium has been structured on the basis of four research and two horizontal work packages.
First, a theoretical work package ("Mapping Modes of Multilateralism") will establish a historically-based understanding of approaches to multilateralism. Second, building upon the insights generated within the theoretical work package, three empirical work packages will systematically analyze key aspects of EU multilateralism. These key aspects are:
(a) EU institutional and policy dynamics ("Architecture of EU External Relations"),
(b) interactions with external regions and strategic partners ("Multilateralism in Practice") and
(c) the EU's performance in a multilateral context, focusing both on major international organisations and informal groups of which it is part ("Organised Multilateralism").
The two horizontal work packages are responsible for the management of the project and the dissemination of research results, respectively.