The environment as a strategic priority in the European Union–Brazil partnership: is the EU behaving as a normative power or soft imperialist?

Original Paper


In 2007, Brazil entered the European Union’s (EU) list of strategic partners; a token of recognition of the place Brazil occupies in current global affairs. Although promoting bilateral environmental convergence is a stated priority, cooperation between the EU and Brazil in this policy field is largely under-researched, raising interesting questions as to whether the current state of play could support EU claims for the normative orientation of its external environmental policy. Through an analysis of partnership activities in the fields of deforestation and biofuels, we suggest that while normative intentions may be regarded as a motivating force, critically viewing EU foreign environmental policy through a ‘soft imperialism’ lens could offer a more holistic understanding of the current state of bilateral cooperation. While the normative power thesis can be substantiated with regard to deforestation, we argue that by erecting barriers to shield its domestic biofuels production, the EU is placing trade competitiveness and economic growth above its normative aspirations. Subsequently, the partial adoption of sustainable development as an EU norm leads to policy incoherence and contradictory actions.


Climate change Deforestation Biofuels Mercosur Latin America Multilateralism 



African, Caribbean and Pacific


Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization


Agriculture, forestry and land use


EU–Asia Meeting


Brazil, South Africa, India and China


Brazilian Development Bank


British Petroleum


Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa


Common Agricultural Policy


Convention on Biological Diversity


Direct land use change


European Investment Bank


European Union


Free trade agreement


Framework Programme (for Research and Technological Development)


Group of 20


India, Brazil and South Africa


Indirect land use change


Joint action plan


Land use change


Mercosur–Europe Business Forum


Mercado Común del Sur


Non-governmental organization


Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation


Sustainable liquid biofuels from biomass biorefining


Total primary energy supply


UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992)


United Nations


World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002)


World Trade Organization



The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007–2013) under the Grant Agreement No. 251132. We also thank Jouni Paavola, Julia Leventon, Vivek Mathur, James Porter and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments.


  1. Afionis, S. (2011). The European Union as a negotiator in the international climate change regime. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 11(4), 341–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Afionis, S., & Bailey, I. (2012). Ever Closer Partnerships? European Union Relations with Rapidly Industrializing Countries on Climate Change. In I. Bailey & H. Compston (Eds.), Feeling the heat: The politics of climate policy in rapidly industrializing countries. Palgrave: Houndmills.Google Scholar
  3. Afionis, S., & Stringer, L. C. (2012). European Union leadership in biofuels regulation: Europe as a normative power? Journal of Cleaner Production, 32, 114–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Armijo, L. E., & Burges, S. W. (2010). Brazil, the entrepreneurial and democratic BRIC. Polity, 42(1), 14–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Biofuels Digest (2011). BP aims to be world’s leader in biofuels, ups ante in Brazil. Accessed December 22, 2011.
  6. Björkdahl, A. (2008). Norm advocacy: A small state strategy to influence the EU. Journal of European Public Policy, 15(1), 135–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Boyd, E., Corbera, E., & Estrada, M. (2008). UNFCCC negotiations (pre-Kyoto to COP-9): What the process says about the politics of CDM-sinks. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 8(2), 95–112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brazilian Mission to the European Union (2010a). Draft Consultation paper—definition highly biodiverse grasslands—Comments from Brazil. Accessed December 12, 2011.
  9. Brazilian Mission to the European Union (2010b). EC’s consultation on indirect land use change—Brazil’s comments. Accessed December 12, 2011.
  10. Bretherton, C., & Vogler, J. (2006). The European Union as a global actor. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Chilosi, A. (2007). The European Union and its neighbours: “Everything but Institutions”? The European Journal of Comparative Economics, 4(1), 25–38.Google Scholar
  12. Da Conceição-Heldt, E. (2011). Variation in EU member states’ preferences and the Commission’s discretion in the Doha round. Journal of European Public Policy, 18(3), 403–419.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. De Zutter, E. (2010). Normative power spotting: An ontological and methodological appraisal. Journal of European Public Policy, 17(8), 1106–1127.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dimitrov, R. S. (2010). Inside UN climate change negotiations: The Copenhagen conference. Review of Policy Research, 27(6), 795–821.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dimitrovova, B. (2012). Imperial re-bordering of Europe: The case of the European Neighbourhood Policy. Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 25(2), 249–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Doctor, M. (2007). Why bother with inter-regionalism? Negotiations for a European Union-Mercosur agreement. Journal of Common Market Studies, 45(2), 281–314.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. EIB (European Investment Bank) (2011). Brazil: EUR 500 million loan for climate change mitigation projects. Accessed October 13, 2011.
  18. ENDS Europe (2010). Climate negotiators close to deal on REDD, 7 December. Accessed January 13, 2012.
  19. European Commission (2001). Communication from the Commission on alternative fuels for road transport and on a set of measures to promote the use of biofuels, COM (2001) 547 final.Google Scholar
  20. European Commission (2007a). Brazil—Country Strategy Paper 2007–2013. Brussels, 14 May.Google Scholar
  21. European Commission (2007b). Communication from the Commission—Biofuels Progress Report, COM(2006) 845 final.Google Scholar
  22. European Commission (2009). Draft Consultation paper definition highly biodiverse grasslands. Accessed March 12, 2012.
  23. European Commission (2010). Report from the Commission on indirect land-use change related to biofuels and bioliquids, COM (2010) 811 final.Google Scholar
  24. European Council (2003). A European Security Strategy—A secure Europe in a better world. Brussels, 12 December.Google Scholar
  25. European Council (2011a). Nota Verbal. Brasilia, 9 November. DELBRA/DEV(2011)D/870-JEP.Google Scholar
  26. European Council (2011b). V European Union—Brazil Summit—Joint Statement. Brussels, 4 October.Google Scholar
  27. Falkner, R. (2005). American hegemony and the global environment. International Studies Review, 7(4), 585–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Falkner, R. (2007). The political economy of ‘normative power’ Europe: EU environmental leadership in international biotechnology regulation. Journal of European Public Policy, 14(4), 507–526.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Farrell, M. (2005). A triumph of realism over idealism? Cooperation between the European Union and Africa. Journal of European Integration, 27(3), 263–283.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. García, M. The European Union and Latin America: ‘Transformative power Europe’ versus the realities of economic interests. Cambridge Review of International Affairs. doi: 10.1080/09557571.2011.647762.
  31. Giddens, A. (2009). The politics of climate change. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  32. Goldemberg, J., & Guardabassi, P. (2009). Are biofuels a feasible option? Energy Policy, 37, 10–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Gulbrandsen, L. H. (2012). International forest politics: Intergovernmental failure, non-governmental success? In S. Andresen, E. Lerum, & G. Hønneland (Eds.), International environmental agreements: An introduction. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. Haastrup, T. EU as Mentor? Promoting regionalism as external relations practice in EU–Africa Relations. Journal of European Integration. doi: 10.1080/07036337.2012.744754.
  35. Hallding, K., Olsson, M., Atteridge, A., Vihma, A., Carson, M., & Román, M. (2011). Together alone: BASIC countries and the climate change conundrum. Copenhagen: Nordic Council of Ministers.Google Scholar
  36. Hardacre, A. (2010). The rise and fall of interregionalism in EU external relations. Dordrecht: Republic of Letters Publishing.Google Scholar
  37. Hardacre, A., & Smith, M. (2009). The EU and the diplomacy of complex interregionalism. The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 4(2), 167–188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Hettne, B., & Söderbaum, F. (2005). Civilian power or soft imperialism? The EU as a global actor and the role of interregionalism. European Foreign Affairs Review, 10(4), 535–552.Google Scholar
  39. Hochstetler, K., & Viola, E. (2012). Brazil and the politics of climate change: Beyond the global commons. Environmental Politics, 21(5), 753–771.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Holzer, C., & Zhang, H. (2008). The potentials and limits of China—EU cooperation on climate change and energy security. Asia Europe Journal, 6(2), 217–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Hopewell, K. (2013). New protagonists in global economic governance: Brazilian agribusiness at the WTO. New Political Economy, 18(4), 603–623.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hyde-Price, A. (2008). A ‘tragic actor’? A realist perspective on ‘ethical power Europe’. International Affairs, 84(1), 29–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. ICTSD (International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development) (2011). Mercosur-EU trade talks need to move forward: Official. Accessed November 1, 2011.
  44. IEA (International Energy Agency). (2011). CO2 emissions from fuel combustion—Highlights. Paris: IEA Publications.Google Scholar
  45. Kelemen, D. R. (2010). Globalizing European Union environmental policy. Journal of European Public Policy, 17(3), 335–349.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Kieffer, G. (2011). An abundance of opportunities in Brazil. The Journal of the International Energy Agency, 1(1), 42–43.Google Scholar
  47. Lightfoot, S., & Burchell, J. (2004). Green hope or greenwash? The actions of the European Union at the world summit on sustainable development. Global Environmental Change, 14(4), 337–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Luff, P. & Whitfield, R. (2009). Enhancing cooperation, Report of the High-Level India-EU Dialogue. Action for a Global Climate Community, London, July. Accessed April 12, 2012.
  49. Manners, I. (2002). Normative power Europe: A contradiction in terms? Journal of Common Market Studies, 40(2), 235–258.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Manners, I. (2008). The normative ethics of the European Union. International Affairs, 84(1), 45–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Michaelowa, A. (1998). Climate policy and interest groups—a public choice analysis. Intereconomics, 33(6), 251–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Motaal, D. A. (2008). The biofuels landscape: Is there a role for the WTO? Journal of World Trade, 42(1), 61–86.Google Scholar
  53. Nitoiu, C. (2013). The narrative construction of the European Union in external relations. Perspectives on European Politics and Society, 14(2), 240–255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Noutcheva, G. (2009). Fake, partial and imposed compliance: The limits of the EU’s normative power in the Western Balkans. Journal of European Public Policy, 16(7), 1065–1084.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Nye, J. S. (2004). Soft Power: The means to success in world politics. New York: PublicAffairs.Google Scholar
  56. Oberthür, S. (2009). The role of the EU in global environmental and climate governance. In M. Telò (Ed.), The European Union and global governance. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  57. Okereke, C., & Dooley, K. (2010). Principles of justice in proposals and policy approaches to avoided deforestation: Towards a post-Kyoto climate agreement. Global Environmental Change, 20(1), 82–95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Overdevest, C., & Zeitlin, J. (2012). Assembling an experimentalist regime: Transnational governance interactions in the forest sector. Regulation & Governance,. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-5991.2012.01133.x.Google Scholar
  59. Paterson, M. (1996). Global warming and global politics. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  60. Poletti, A. (2010). Drowning protection in the multilateral bath: WTO judicialisation and European Agriculture in the Doha round. British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 12(4), 615–633.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Potvin, C., & Bovarnick, A. (2008). Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries: Key actors, negotiations and actions. Carbon & Climate Law Review, 3, 264–272.Google Scholar
  62. Sbragia, A. (2010). The EU, the US, and trade policy: Competitive interdependence in the management of globalization. Journal of European Public Policy, 17(3), 368–382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Scott, D. (2009). Environmental issues as a ‘strategic’ key in EU–China relations. Asia Europe Journal, 7(2), 211–224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Shell (2011). Shell and Cosan: Fuelling a lower-carbon future with biofuels. Accessed December 9, 2011.
  65. Söderbaum, F. (2007). African Regionalism and EU-African Interregionalism. In M. Telò (Ed.), European Union and new regionalism. Surrey: Ashgate.Google Scholar
  66. Souza, R. R., Schaeffer, R., & Meira, I. (2011). Can new legislation in importing countries represent new barriers to the development of an international ethanol market? Energy Policy, 39, 3154–3162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Taylor, P. (2008). The End of European integration: Anti-Europeanism examined. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  68. Tollefson, J. (2013). A light in the forest: Brazil’s fight to save the amazon and climate-change diplomacy. Foreign Affairs, 92(2), 141–151.Google Scholar
  69. Trade, D. G. (2009). What is Europe’s trade policy?. Brussels: European Communities.Google Scholar
  70. UNFCCC (2005). Report of the conference of the parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol on its first session, held at Montreal from 28 November to 10 December 2005. FCCC/KP/CMP/2005/8/Add.3.Google Scholar
  71. UNFCCC (n.d). Previous submissions from Parties to the AWG-LCA (2008–2011). Accessed October 17, 2012.
  72. Van Alstine, J., Afionis, S., & Doran, P. (2013). The UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio + 20): A sign of the times or ‘ecology as spectacle’? Environmental Politics, 22(2), 333–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Vasconcelos, À. (2010). A strategy for EU foreign policy. Paris: European Union Institute for Security Studies.Google Scholar
  74. Viola, E., & Franchini, M. (2012). Climate politics in Brazil: Public awareness, social transformations and emissions reduction. In I. Bailey & H. Compston (Eds.), Feeling the heat: The politics of climate policy in rapidly industrializing countries. Palgrave: Houndmills.Google Scholar
  75. Vogler, J. (2000). The global commons: Environmental and technological governance. Chichester: Wiley.Google Scholar
  76. Vogler, J. (2005). The European contribution to global environmental governance. International Affairs, 81(4), 835–850.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Vogler, J., & Stephan, H. R. (2007). The European Union in global environmental governance: Leadership in the making? International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics, 7(4), 389–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Warkotsch, A. (2010). Realpolitik and international reaction to non-compliance with liberal democratic norms: Comparing EU and US response patterns. Cooperation and Conflict, 45(1), 80–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wood, S. (2009). The European Union: A normative or normal power? European Foreign Affairs Review, 14(1), 113–128.Google Scholar
  80. Wood, S. (2011). Pragmatic power Europe? Cooperation and Conflict, 46(2), 242–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Young, A. R., & Peterson, J. (2013). ‘We care about you, but…’: The politics of EU trade policy and development. Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 26(3), 497–518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Zielonka, J. (2013). Europe’s new civilizing missions: The EU’s normative power discourse. Journal of Political Ideologies, 18(1), 35–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Earth and Environment, Sustainability Research InstituteUniversity of LeedsLeedsUK

Personalised recommendations