Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
Panel 401: The EU in a Changing World - From China to the Middle East
Tuesday, 03/Sep/2019:
10:50am - 12:20pm

Session Chair: Emil Kirchner, University of Essex
Location: THD Institute Room

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Value Mainstreaming in EU-China Dialogues: Assessing the EU’s Normative Power in Practice

Max Roger Taylor

University of Bath, United Kingdom

Normative power Europe (NPE) reflects one of the most influential, yet controversial contributions to European Studies. However, literature to date has largely focused on an abstract discussion about the validity of the EU’s status as a normative power, concentrating on macro-level observations of policy outcomes, while neglecting to focus on the micro-level operationalisation of values by EU officials. This reflects an arena where the actual role of values in the EU’s external relations can be discerned and meaningful change can take place.

To tackle this gap, this paper concentrates on how individual EU officials are promoting or mainstreaming the EU’s values - particularly human rights and sustainable development - in the diverse bilateral dialogues making up the EU-China Strategic Partnership. EU-China relations represent arguably the hardest case for the EU’s normative power, reflecting unmatched tensions in the EU’s external relations between its economic interests and the realisation of its values. While scholars commonly conclude that the EU prioritises its economic interests with China, discourse analysis of 49 elite interviews with officials from the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the European Commission reveal that the weakness of the EU’s normative power is far more nuanced in practice.

It is impacted by contrasting perceptions of inter-institutional responsibilities, fears of antagonising the Chinese side, didactic approaches to value mainstreaming by EU officials and a lack of understanding of China amongst them. Nevertheless, this thesis also reveals that as EU-China dialogues are framed by EU values, they do sporadically enter exchanges. However, these partial mainstreaming activities are limited in scope and unable to fully realise the ideal-type of NPE.

Failing Successfully since 1970: Making Sense of EU Middle Eastern Policy

Philipp Hirsch

University of Cambridge, United Kingdom

The EU has been a marginal actor in Middle Eastern politics, yet for almost 50 years has attempted to carry out an active foreign policy in the region. This started 1970 with European Political Cooperation (EPC) and continues to this day as part of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). A lot of research has worked out reasons on why these attempts have not born much fruit. But if the EU is continuously unable to have an impact on the situation in the Middle East, why has it not simply ceased its efforts to formulate an active policy on it? In my paper, I will explain this puzzle through employing the concept of “successful failure”, which comes out of the study of public administration.

“Successful failure” shows why organisations that fail to achieve their stated objectives are not dismantled as a result: because of an organisation stakeholder’s interest in the failure of that organisation and those stakeholder’s interest in ignorance about these failures. In a diplomatic context, I will expand the concept by adding stakeholder’s inability to change the outcome of an event as an alternative for stakeholder’s interest in failure of a policy.

In the context of the Middle East, then, I will argue that despite European desires to engage in a more coordinated foreign policy the EPC never managed to come out of the shadow of US dominance on Middle Eastern topics (inability to change outcome). But despite the awareness that their approach was ineffective, problems emanating from the region persisted and thus the Europeans kept up the façade of a Middle Eastern policy through verbal declaration to demonstrate action (interest in in ignorance). Also, statements by EU policy makers suggest that the primary focus of EPC and CSFP in the context of the Middle East became internal coordination and policy integration, rather than foreign political problem solving. Thus, for more or less 50 years the EU has kept up a successfully failing Middle Eastern policy.

The paper will trace back the process of European Middle Eastern policy over the past few decades, partially by incorporating archival evidence. Its narrative will address nuances and complexities such as the Oslo Peace process. Apart from helping to explain EEC/EU foreign policy, the “successful failure” concept will also help to explain why in general states formulate policies on areas which they then remain largely inactive in.

Coping with Multipolarity: EU Power and Values in a Changing World Order

Lisa ten Brinke, Benjamin Martill

London School of Economics, United Kingdom

If present trends continue, we appear to be (re-)entering an era characterised by multipolar dynamics in the international system. For the EU this turn to multipolarity has been associated with danger and the inevitable decline of the Union’s normative power in the face of the impending return to great power rivalry. Yet multipolar politics may not be as antithetical to European interests as existing scholarship has made out. We argue the circumscribed conceptions of multipolarity and normative power used in the present debate obscure a number of important countervailing tendencies which will likely mitigate the deleterious effects of multipolar politics for Europe. Whilst multipolarity exhibits a number of well-established tendencies towards instability, it is also associated with stabilising mechanisms, including balancing dynamics, arbitrage potential, stabilised responsibilities, reduced opportunities for othering and greater propensity towards coordination. Moreover, whilst the EU’s ability to promote its substantive liberal values abroad will likely diminish under multipolarity, elements of the EU’s normative identity are well-suited to exploiting more diffuse orders, including the Union’s emphasis on diplomacy, pluralism and anti-interventionism, as well as its regional focus.

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