Research Network

MERCURY: Multilateralism and the EU in the Contemporary Global Order

MERCURY (Multilateralism and the EU in the Contemporary Global Order) was a consortium of academic partners formed to critically examine the European Union's contribution to multilateralism. It explored multilateralism as a concept, an aspiration and a form of international order. The initiative was funded through the EU's 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7), with a total budget of €1.963 million. It included nine institutional partners in Europe and beyond and ran from February 2009 to April 2012. The University of Edinburgh was the coordinating institution.

Institutional Partners

University of Edinburgh (UK)

University of Cologne (Germany)

Charles University in Prague (Czech Republic)

Istituto Affari Internazionali (Italy)

Fondation Nationale de Sciences Politiques (France)

University of Pretoria (South Africa)

Fudan University (China)

Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sweden)

University of Cambridge (UK)


Multilateralism is defined in many ways, but common to all are the importance of rules, institutionalised cooperation and inclusiveness. Demand for multilateralism increases as new international challenges arise. Globalisation connects the world in ways both positive and negative. Trade, capital, ideas, people, technology, information, diseases and crime all flow more freely. Patterns of interaction between world regions are changing. New powers are rising. Alternative development paths and models of capitalism are being debated. International terrorist networks constitute a new and profound security challenge. New sources of conflict - over global warming, migration and resource scarcity - are emerging.

The EU itself has recognised the importance of multilateralism in, for example, the 2003 European Security Strategy and the Lisbon Treaty. It claims to actively promote multilateralism in all of its policies, especially those with an external focus. MERCURY's primary research questions flowed from the EU's commitment to multilateralism:

     1. How should we understand multilateralism, both historically and in contemporary terms?

     2. Does the EU live up to its ambitions to contribute to effective multilateralism globally?

     3. What lessons can be drawn from Europe's experience of promoting multilateralism?

MERCURY was emphatically interdisciplinary, drawing on expertise in politics, law, economics and international relations. It advanced a clear intellectual agenda to explore, explain and evaluate different conceptions of multilateralism while seeking maximum practical policy relevance.


MERCURY’s impact was widely felt. It produced a wide range of academic outputs, including e-papers, a glossary of multilateralism terms and a database of legal texts in external relations. It also generated a number of tools and events for policymakers, students, the media, and other stakeholders, including stakeholder briefings and workshops, as well as a summer school with a G20 simulation exercise. Programme events were held across Europe and beyond. The aim was to discuss our work with wider audiences (and connect to them), and also to begin a conversation about how to understand the role of the EU in the world. Although MERCURY has ended, the conversation continues.


An ePapers Series of academic papers was published as part of the programme.

A Glossary of Multilateralism was also produced. The glossary incorporates understandings of multilateralism over time from different academic disciplines, political backgrounds and places in the world. It includes an alphabetical listing of all glossary terms and related authors.

A Database on EU Legal Instruments in External Policy fields (DATEX) was also established. DATEX includes data on the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Common Commercial Policy and EU environment policy. Its objectives were to provide quantitative data on legal output in EU external policy fields; categorisation of legal acts according to the degree to which they bind parties legally and politically, in order to identify trends in EU external relations; to define and apply indicators in order to measure the degree of multilateralisation of EU external policy fields.

Policy Briefs

Policy Brief No 1
The EU and Multilateralism (February 2010)

Policy Brief No 2
Towards A New Architecture of EU External Relations (December 2010)

Policy Brief No 3
Multilateralism in Practice: Key Regions and Partners (January 2012)

Policy Brief No 4
Organised Multilateralism: The EU in Multilateral Fora (January 2012)

Joint MERCURY, EU-GRASP and EU4Seas Policy Brief
The EU and Multilateralism: Nine Recommendations (November 2011)

Socio-Economic and Humanities Research for Policy (SCOOP) Special Issue Newsletter
The EU and Multilateralism (January 2012)


30 January 2009 | The University of Edinburgh
Lecture: 'Political Islam' (Dr Nathalie Tocci)

12-13 March 2009 | The University of Edinburgh
Conference: 'Multilateralism and the EU in the Contemporary Global Order'

12 March 2009 | The University of Edinburgh
Lecture: 'Understanding the Rise of China' (Prof Chen Zhimin)

30 March 2009 | Fudan University
Lecture: 'Understanding the EU's Approach to Multilateralism' (Dr Mark Aspinwall)

15 May 2009 | Fudan University
Lecture: 'Interregionalism, a Critique: The Case of EU-ASEAN Relations' (Prof David Camroux)

9 July 2009 | University of Cologne
Lecture: 'Obama and Multilateralism - Hell No More?' (Prof John Peterson)

3 March 2010 | Brussels
Conference: 'The European Union and the Challenges of the Global Order'

3 September 2010 | Brussels
Conference: 'Challenges for Global Europe'

6 September 2010 | University of Pretoria
Roundtable Discussion: 'Green Regions? Comparing Civil Society Activism in NAFTA and the European Union' (feat. Dr Mark Aspinwall)

24 March 2011 | Charles University in Prague
Conference: 'The EU in the World: Conflict Resolution, Development, and Cooperation'

25 May 2011 | Penang, Malaysia
Lecture: 'European Multilateralism: The Enigma of European Power' (Prof David Camroux)

9 September 2011 | Istituto Affari Internazionali (Rome)
Keynote Address: 'The EU as a Global Actor' (Prof Christopher Hill)

7 October 2011 | Brussels
Conference: 'Global Europe' (jointly with EU4SEAS and EU-GRASP)

17-18 April 2012 | University of Pretoria
Conference: 'Multilateralism in the 21st Century: Perspectives from Africa, Europe and Asia'

Project Newsletters

Issue No 1 (July 2009)

Issue No 2 (December 2009)

Issue No 3 (June 2010)

Issue No 4 (December 2010)

Issue No 5 (June 2011)

Issue No 6 (December 2011)