A review of the available literature suggests that the performance of the European Union (EU) in the international cooperation on climate change has varied a great deal since the early 1990s. The EU’s self-proclaimed international leadership in the 1990s was subject to severe criticism (e.g. Gupta and Grubb 2000; Oberthu¨r and Ott 1999). In the 2000s, an
acknowledgement of EU leadership efforts increasingly replaced this criticism (e.g. Damro 2006; Groenleer and van Schaik 2007; Oberthu¨r and Roche Kelly 2008; Wurzel and Connelly 2010). However, commentators reverted to a more critical assessment of EU performance in the wake of the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Summit of December 2009 to agree on a firm international framework for future climate policy (e.g. Spencer, Tangen, and Korppoo 2010; van Schaik and Schunz forthcoming). These at first sight somewhat erratic, decadal variations raise the question of how we can and should account for them. To approach this question, the following section first provides a more
detailed assessment of the EU’s performance in the international climate change regime since the 1990s. It submits that the EU’s performance record in international climate policy improved significantly over much of the 1990s and 2000s with respect to the two central dimensions focused upon here: goal achievement (effectiveness) and relevance (Jørgensen, Oberthu¨r, and Shahin in this collection). However, the failure of Copenhagen represented a major backlash for the EU and provided additional fuel for Commission requests, after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, to take over the external representation of the EU in the climate change regime. Sections 3 and 4 then explore the explanatory value of several EU-inter-
nal and external factors, respectively. Section 3 suggests that internal factors – including in particular the development of internal climate policy as a main indicator of the EU’s credibility, commitment and unity – have mostly enhanced the EU’s performance conditions, but can hardly account for the Copenhagen backlash. In contrast, situational and structural changes in the international configuration of climate politics, as discussed in section 4, first reinforced and then significantly undermined the conditions of a good EU performance in the 2000s. Overall, the analysis highlights the added value of systematically distinguishing between EU-internal factors that are under the direct control of the EU itself and external conditions on which EU influence is more limited and to which the EU has to adapt. Such a framework allows us to identify the evolution of the external political ‘environment’ of international EU leadership on climate change, and the failure of the EU to adapt its strategy timely to this evolving environment, as major forces underlying the Copenhagen backlash. A reorganisation of EU climate diplomacy may not be able to counter the externally induced loss of EU influence in international climate politics.