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Session Overview
Panel 602: The EU Struggling towards Power in a Contested International Order
Tuesday, 03/Sep/2019:
2:55pm - 4:25pm

Session Chair: Heidi Maurer, University of Oxford
Location: Anfiteatro 9

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The EU Struggling towards Power in a Contested International Order

Chair(s): Heidi Maurer (University of Oxford)

Discussant(s): Nicholas Wright (University College London)

This panel aims to assess the role and relevance of the EU in a challenged liberal world order, in particular in its relations with China and Russia. The panel contributes to our understanding of EU foreign policy by focusing on the interrelationship of the EU and other actors and changing multilateral and bilateral relationships. This panel has been organised by NORTIA: the JM-Network on Research & Teaching in EU Foreign Affairs (


Presentations of the Symposium


Rules, Institutions and Power in the Global Political Economy: China, the EU and the US as 'Conditional Multilateralists'

Michael Smith
University of Warwick

This paper explores the engagement of China, the European Union and the United States with the institutions of global economic governance, within the context of the global multilateral system. The first part of the paper identifies and explores key components of global economic governance - rules and norms, institutions and regimes, and negotiation – as they are embodied in or reflected by existing multilateral institutions, particularly the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). The second part of the paper discusses current challenges to multilateral institutions The third part of the paper contrasts images of China as an ‘experimental multilateralist’, the EU as a ‘compulsive multilateralist’ and the USA as a ‘selective multilateralist’, but argues that in fact each of them has become a ‘conditional multilateralist’. The Conclusion identifies some implications of this situation in terms of Chinese, European and American engagements with global economic governance.


The I in Team: EU Foreign Policy Responses to the Rise of China in a post-Western World

Claudia Rives
Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona

Today’s European Union exists in a sort of international order interregnum. With the old western-led order slowly giving way to a more multipolar system, emerging powers pose a challenge to the established Bretton Woods institutions. More specifically, the creation of alternative global governance institutions such as China’s Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) seems to be forcing the EU to reassess its role in a contested world order. This reassessment takes place at a time when the EU’s role in the world is not only challenged by external forces but it also faces contestation from within. From Brexit, to a return to the nationalist ghosts of the past and the current democratic crisis, the EU finds itself in the midst of an internal legitimacy crisis which often translates into a hindered capacity to act and deliver cohesively when it comes to its foreign policy objectives.

Against this backdrop and the recent ‘de-globalizing’ turn in US politics, China has become an unlikely ally for an EU which has long envisioned multilateralism as the structuring dynamic of global governance. This paper focuses on the case of EU foreign policy towards China, and looks at EU narratives and foreign policy strategies towards China to analyze the EU’s response to the new non-western multilateralism and to shed some light on the effects of the EU’s own internal crisis on its foreign policy towards China. Drawing from the International Practice Theory toolbox this paper outlines a set of practices understood as interactions among practitioners and institutions within the EU-China relations - operationalized in terms of agenda, processes, and outcomes - this paper aims at articulating a picture of how EU foreign policy is adapting to the rise of China in the framework of its longstanding pursue of multilateralism as the envisioned dynamic of global governance.


Framing and Contesting External Policy Coherence: The European Union’s Response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Julian Bergmann, Christine Hackenesch
German Development Institute

The European Union (EU) attaches great importance to external policy coherence, i.e. the ability to ‘speak with a single voice’ and act in a coordinated and consistent manner in its external relations. In fact, coherence is a fundamental norm of European integration that has often been applied as a benchmark to EU external action both by policy-makers and researchers. Coherence is deeply enshrined in the EU’s “DNA”, with the Lisbon Treaty’s Articles 21 and 24 formally codifying the quest for coherence in external action into primary law. Studies that analyse the relationship between EU external policy coherence and effectiveness abound. Less attention is paid to the ‘politics’ of coherence, i.e. how and under what conditions EU external policy coherence is produced and contested. This paper challenges the implicit assumption in the literature that coherence is a universal aim shared by EU policy-makers across institutions. Moreover, it also argues that coherence can be contested ‘from the outside’, i.e. external international actors may influence and potentially exploit EU (in)coherence. Building on constructivist thinking and a frame analysis approach, the paper conceptualizes coherence as a core norm of EU external policy that is constantly (re-) produced and framed, but also contested through actions and discourse. We use the EU’s response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative to demonstrate the utility of a constructivist perspective on EU external policy coherence. Building on interviews with policy-makers in Brussels and EU member states, our analysis shows how EU member states and specific actors within the member states contest a unified EU response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Moreover, our findings point to China actively responding to these contestation processes, demonstrating that the EU’s external environment is not neutral to framing processes within the Union.


Navigating the Russian Sonderweg away from the EU – the Use of Civilizational Discourse as a Tool of Geopolitical Othering in the Case of Ukraine

Eva Claessen, Lien Verpoest
KU Leuven

Russia’s actions during Euromaidan and the Ukraine crisis are considered as a significant break in the EU-Russia relations. This finds its basis that the crisis was permeated with the sense that Ukraine had to choose either a European path of development by signing an Association Agreement or a Russian path of development by becoming a member of the Eurasian Economic Union. (Cadier, D. 2015) The discourse and narratives that were further developed by Russia in regards to Ukraine, but also the European Union and the West in general, became infused with civilizational discourse, framing it as a civilizational choice instead of a political or socio-economic one. The pervasiveness of these types of narratives begs the question to further explore their roots. We argue that the way that Russia forms this stance in the international arena is based on increased importance put on the domestic construct of a Russian civilizational model. This civilizational model is composed working on the logic of the Sonderweg (Osobyj Put’) philosophy that propagates that Russia follows a separate path of development due to its historical and cultural specificities (Linde 2013; Pain & Verkhovskyj 2015; Dubin 2014).

The article takes a look at the roots of Russian civilizational discourse in the case of the Ukraine crisis both on a domestic level and an international level. To do this we take the approach of Emil Pain and Alexander Verkhovskyj (2015), who posit that this type of discourse finds its basis in a choice by Russia for civilizational nationalism that aims to consolidate society around a Russian civilizational model that rests on concepts invoking a shared history and culture in comparison to the Western civilizational model. To explore the international dimension of the use of this type of discourse we add to the theoretical framework our thinking of the use of geopolitical othering (Verpoest, L. & Claessen, E., 2017) as used by Russia in the case of Ukraine. We argue that this type of othering is used by Russia to put forward the idea of alternative civilizational models, contrasting to that of the Western one.

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