Policy brief

Collective action in a fragmented world

International collective action is in search of a new paradigm. It cannot rely anymore on global binding rules supported by universal institutions. Ne

Publishing date
11 September 2019

The issue

There is a greater need than ever for international collective action. From climate preservation to financial stability and internet security, heightened interdependence calls for common responses to global threats. Obstacles to global collective action are no less formidable. Beyond President Trump’s stance and worldwide concerns over sovereignty, the China-US rivalry and the emergence of a multipolar world are impediments of a structural nature. The legal and institutional architecture of the rules-based global governance system looks increasingly incomplete and obsolete. A process of fragmentation has started to affect its core tenets. None of the main players is providing leadership. The US is increasingly questioning its post-war role; China is reluctant to invest in a system designed by others; Europe remains too weak and fragmented to offer sufficient leadership.

Policy challenge

International collective action is in search of a new paradigm. It cannot rely anymore on global binding rules supported by universal institutions. New forms of cooperation have emerged in a number of fields. These are soft pledge-and-review mechanisms, cooperation between independent agencies, regional groupings, coalitions of the willing and open partnerships involving non-state participants and knowledge networks. To maximise the effectiveness of such arrangements, they should rely on a limited set of universal principles and be served by nimble and legitimate institutions. Existing international institutions should be regarded as globalisation’s social capital. There are problems that will not be solved without having recourse to strong participation and enforcement mechanisms such as sanctions or pecuniary incentives. Europe should equip itself to be an effective player in this new global game. This calls for internal governance reforms.

About the authors

  • Jean Pisani-Ferry

    Jean Pisani-Ferry holds the Tommaso Padoa Schioppa chair of the European University Institute. He is a Senior Fellow at Bruegel, the European think tank, and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute (Washington DC). He is also a professor of economics with Sciences Po (Paris).

    He sits on the supervisory board of the French Caisse des Dépôts and serves as non-executive chair of I4CE, the French institute for climate economics.

    Pisani-Ferry served from 2013 to 2016 as Commissioner-General of France Stratégie, the ideas lab of the French government. In 2017, he contributed to Emmanuel Macron’s presidential bid as the Director of programme and ideas of his campaign. He was from 2005 to 2013 the Founding Director of Bruegel, the Brussels-based economic think tank that he had contributed to create. Beforehand, he was Executive President of the French PM’s Council of Economic Analysis (2001-2002), Senior Economic Adviser to the French Minister of Finance (1997-2000), and Director of CEPII, the French institute for international economics (1992-1997).

    Pisani-Ferry has taught at University Paris-Dauphine, École Polytechnique, École Centrale and the Free University of Brussels. His publications include numerous books and articles on economic policy and European policy issues. He has also been an active contributor to public debates with regular columns in Le Monde and for Project Syndicate.

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