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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Relevant examples would include the US rejection of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) or its withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol.

  2. 2.

    The meaning of these three terms is more or less similar. A civilian power employs soft power tools, such as diplomacy and the building of interdependence, rather than military confrontation (hard power). A normative power is one that attempts to diffuse/export the values and ideas on which it is founded upon to its surroundings.

  3. 3.

    See, e.g. the Tuna-Dolphin case (Bretherton and Vogler 2006).

  4. 4.

    The India, Brazil and South Africa group.

  5. 5.

    The Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa group. Formerly BRIC, it is now the BRICS club, following the accession of South Africa in 2011.

  6. 6.

    EU-Brazil annual summits have so far been held in Lisbon (2007), Rio de Janeiro (2008), Stockholm (2009), Brasilia (2010), Brussels (2011) and Brasilia (2013).

  7. 7.

    The first JAP was adopted during the second EU-Brazil Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 2008, while the second one, to last until 2014, was adopted during the summit in Brussels in November 2011.

  8. 8.

    South America’s leading trading block, comprising Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and (since July 2012) Venezuela.

  9. 9.

    Interview with official in DG Trade, October 2013.

  10. 10.

    As of September 2013, the Energy Dialogue is only in its fourth session, while the Environment Dialogue in its fifth.

  11. 11.

    This group consists of Brazil, South Africa, India and China. It first emerged just before the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference.

  12. 12.

    Interview with Brazilian diplomat #1 in Brussels, October 2011.

  13. 13.

    Interview with Brazilian diplomat #1 in Brussels, October 2011.

  14. 14.

    Interview with Brazilian diplomat #2 in Brussels, October 2013.

  15. 15.

    It should be noted that the UN climate regime is one of several channels through which the EU tries to tackle deforestation. The United Nations Forum on Forests offers another such channel, even though deliberations in this forum are unlikely to result in a multilateral agreement on trade in forest products due to fears among countries like Brazil of potential adverse consequences for their forest industries (Gulbrandsen 2012). Brazil has also refused to back the EU’s FLEGT (Forest Law Enforcement Governance and Trade) initiative, which seeks to control exports of illegally logged wood (Overdevest and Zeitlin 2012).

  16. 16.

    In the run-up to Durban, the EU slightly modified its position by acknowledging that credits from forestry projects could potentially be integrated into international carbon markets, but only if ‘subject to strict quantitative limits’ and ‘in light of experience gained and after thorough review’ (UNFCCC n.d.).

  17. 17.

    SUNLIBB (Sustainable Liquid Biofuels from Biomass Biorefining) is an example of such a project, aiming inter alia at combining European and Brazilian research strengths in order to open the way for cost-competitive first and second generation biofuels production (see: www.sunlibb.eu).

  18. 18.

    To date, the project in Kenya has barely got off the ground due to disagreements between the EU and Brazil with respect to its sustainability. With regard to the project in Mozambique, the EU has again refrained from getting wholeheartedly involved due to food security concerns (Interviews with Brazilian diplomats in Brussels, October 2011 and October 2013, as well as with an EU official in the Delegation of the EU to Kenya in October 2013).

  19. 19.

    If a farmer grows biofuel feedstock on previously uncultivated land, this causes direct land use change. If the farmer uses existing agricultural land, the crop that was previously cultivated there will now be displaced and will have to be moved elsewhere, e.g. to forest land, thus causing iLUC in the process.

  20. 20.

    Besides greenhouse gas savings (currently 35 per cent, rising to 50 per cent in 2017), the EU’s sustainability criteria stipulate that biofuel feedstock is not to be derived from primary forests, lands with high biodiversity value, protected territories and carbon-rich areas.

  21. 21.

    See http://ec.europa.eu/energy/renewables/consultations/index_en.htm.

  22. 22.

    See http://www.endseurope.com/docs/120911a.pdf. Subsequent versions have been watered down, while the proposal is currently under discussion among the Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States. In September 2013, the European Parliament voted that the cap be raised to 6 per cent.

  23. 23.

     Interview with official from the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA), April 2013.

  24. 24.

    According to a personal communication with an EU Commission official, the definition was expected during 2012. As of October 2013, it remains unknown when an intra-EU agreement will be finally reached.

  25. 25.

    Interview with EU official from DG Energy, October 2013.

  26. 26.

    Personal communications with Brazilian policy-makers and lobbyists during the Second International Conference on Lignocellulosic Ethanol (2ICLE) in Verona, Italy, 11–13 October 2011.

  27. 27.

    Interview with official from the Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association (UNICA), April 2013.

  28. 28.

    In an interview with a diplomat in Brazil’s delegation to the EU in October 2013, it was noted that this still remains Brazil’s official stance, even though the EU has refused to enter into concrete negotiations.

  29. 29.

    We acknowledge here both the LUC impact of sugarcane ethanol and the diverse environmental externalities of monocrop plantations.

  30. 30.

    Interview with Brazilian diplomat #1 in Brussels, October 2011.

  31. 31.

    Personal communications with Brazilian policy-makers and lobbyists during the Second International Conference on Lignocellulosic Ethanol (2ICLE) in Verona, Italy, 11–13 October 2011.

Abbreviations

ACP:

African, Caribbean and Pacific

ACTO:

Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization

AFOLU:

Agriculture, forestry and land use

ASEM:

EU–Asia Meeting

BASIC:

Brazil, South Africa, India and China

BNDES:

Brazilian Development Bank

BP:

British Petroleum

BRICS:

Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa

CAP:

Common Agricultural Policy

CBD:

Convention on Biological Diversity

dLUC:

Direct land use change

EIB:

European Investment Bank

EU:

European Union

FTA:

Free trade agreement

FP:

Framework Programme (for Research and Technological Development)

G-20:

Group of 20

IBSA:

India, Brazil and South Africa

iLUC:

Indirect land use change

JAP:

Joint action plan

LUC:

Land use change

MEBF:

Mercosur–Europe Business Forum

Mercosur:

Mercado Común del Sur

NGO:

Non-governmental organization

REDD:

Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation

SUNLIBB:

Sustainable liquid biofuels from biomass biorefining

TPES:

Total primary energy supply

UNCED:

UN Conference on Environment and Development (1992)

UN:

United Nations

WSSD:

World Summit on Sustainable Development (2002)

WTO:

World Trade Organization

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Stavros Afionis.

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Afionis, S., Stringer, L.C. The environment as a strategic priority in the European Union–Brazil partnership: is the EU behaving as a normative power or soft imperialist?. Int Environ Agreements 14, 47–64 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10784-013-9232-3

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Keywords

  • Climate change
  • Deforestation
  • Biofuels
  • Mercosur
  • Latin America
  • Multilateralism