Are Europeans Better Negotiators?

Foreign Policy’s David Bosco suggests that their experience with multilateralism makes European bureaucrats better suited for international diplomacy.

Do Europeans make for better negotiators? Foreign Policy‘s David Bosco thinks so. “European diplomats, for the most part, love the process of multilateralism while many other major delegations find it cumbersome, frustrating, and even a little anxiety-inducing.”

Writing at his blog, The Multilateralist, Bosco cites a United States State Department official as raising the suggestion with him. “On its own, this is not surprising,” he believes. “Today’s European diplomats were born, raised and educated with the EU project all around them. The European preference for extended negotiation, comfort with supranationalism, and aversion to conflict has by now become part of the diplomatic conventional wisdom.” As Robert Kagan, cofounder of the Project for the New American Century, wrote almost a decade ago:

Europeans insist they approach problems with greater nuance and sophistication. They try to influence others through subtlety and indirection… They are quicker to appeal to international law, international conventions, and international opinion to adjudicate disputes. They try to use commercial and economic ties to bind nations together. They often emphasize process over result, believing that ultimately process can become substance.

With the more recent expansion of the union, the internal need for prolonged, sometimes procrastinated, negotiations has risen sharply. European civil servants are used to long consultation and bargaining rounds which gives them an advantage in an international order that is increasingly multilateral.

“But it’s not just that Europeans are dispositionally more inclined to complex, open-ended multilateral negotiations,” notes Bosco. “The geometry of many of today’s global negotiations works strongly in their favor.” In international platforms, Europe is usually overrepresented, with delegations from major European countries, as Britain, France and Germany, present along with European Union officials. “In some settings, Europe might have 28 voices saying the same thing, while China or the United States has one,” according to one State Department bureaucrat. “On top of that, you have the formal linkages with other parts of the world that several European states maintain, including the Commonwealth and France’s links with Francophone Africa.”

It raises the question, writes Bosco, whether “Europe’s amplified voice and its affection for and experience with multilateral processes give it a comparative advantage in global negotiations?” Does Europe get more of what it wants because its diplomats have the necessary patience with process that others lack?