ABSTRACT

Bilateral strategic partnerships between the European Union (EU) and major global actors are an emerging feature of EU foreign policy. This chapter reviews the ongoing academic and policy debates on the concept and practice of strategic partnerships, highlighting the considerable scepticism surrounding their development. It goes on to argue that, despite their flaws, strategic partnerships are an important and multi-purpose tool in the EU foreign policy arsenal, potentially fulfilling reflexive, relational and structural goals at once. Based on this original analytical perspective, the chapter suggests that strategic partnerships are those that help pave the way from bilateral transactions to cooperation in broader minilateral and multilateral formats. After reviewing the performance of EU strategic partnerships at these three levels of analysis, and delivering a sobering but not dismissive picture of their output to date, the chapter addresses the connection between the EU discourse on strategic partnerships and policy-making in the postLisbon institutional context. It detects piecemeal progress in agenda-setting and representation but exposes a serious deficit of coordination among EU bodies and with member states, which as yet prevents the EU from devising an integrated approach to its strategic partnerships.