ECPR General Conference 2009

Potsdam, 10 September 2009


Panel: The EU as an International Actor

The European Union: A Distinct Kind of International Actor?  

By Amelie Kutter, Freie Universität Berlin

During the last decade a new international actor has emerged: the European Union (EU). Yet, the EU differs from other international actors in many respects – it is neither a classical international organisation nor a state, and it continues to shift its geographical borders. How does the multi-national, multi-level make-up of the EU influence decision-making processes, coherence of action, role conceptions, and public perceptions of the EU? How do the possibility of Turkey’s accession and the related widening of the European Foreign and Security Policies affect the working of the EU as an international actor? These questions were raised by the participants of the panel ‘The EU as an international actor’, initiated by Cathleen Kantner and Helene Sjursen as part of the section ‘The EU and International Institutions’ at the 5th ECPR General Conference in Potsdam in September 2009. It presentedt he work of several research projects dealing with the European Foreign and Security policies, most of which are organised within the research network ‘RECON – reconstituting democracy in Europe’ and supported by the European Commission’s Sixth Framework Programme for Research. The issue of the distinct kind of actorness the EU possibly embodies met wide-spread interest: Although located at the very end of the campus in Potsdam-Griebnitzsee, the panel attracted more conference participants than the allotted room could accommodate.
All five papers presented chose novel, constructivist approaches to reflect upon the distinct character of the EU’s international actorness, examining practices of foreign policy coordination, debate infunctional-political and general media publics, and role construction in coordinated interaction with non-EU-members. The panellists offered new insights into the following three questions: did the EU develop a distinct type of foreign policy coordination? Does the EU represent a distinct type of international power? Are these developments reflected by the emergence of a distinct security community including the broader public?
A distinct type of foreign policy coordination?
Uwe Puetter (Central European University) and Antje Wiener (University of Hamburg) focused on the practice of coordination of Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) within the current intergovernmental setting. Their paper adopted a dual perspective to assess the set-up of CFSP coordination. Seen from the perspective of research on EU norms, CFSP coordination appears to be deeply embedded in a dense normative structure developed in the course of European integration. Contrary to coordination in other regional or global regimes, such as NAFTA or Mercosur, CFSP coordination draws on fundamental norms like human rights, rule of law, democracy and sovereignty, on organising principles like multilateralism and UN integration, and developed standardised procedures e.g. for the adoption of common strategies and joint actions. Yet, depending on the degree of vagueness (with fundamental norms leaving much room for interpretation), norms remain contested and induce struggles for definition rather than readily furnishing a common position. Moreover, seen from the perspective of deliberative intergovernmentalism, CFSP coordination is continuously moulded by its intergovernmental setting, a setting characterised by the formal independence of the involved actors and their simultaneous entanglement in routinised coordination procedures that include dialogue and debate as means of multilateral policy-formulation. The authors show that the deliberative-intergovernmental character of CFSP decision-making allows for effective technical dealing with complex and event-driven policymatters. At the same time, substantive policy dialogue on norm application is sidelined. This perpetuates conflicts over norm interpretation and reduces transparency of policy-making. The authors suggest institutionalising ‘scenario-based policy reviews’ as a technique that would open venues for norm contestation in relation to concrete situations of problem-solving. Such policy review debates would enable more substantive long-term agreement and ensure that participants conceive CFSP decision-making as a truly collective process that accommodates diverging interpretations of fundamental norms and organising principles.
Marianne Riddervold’s (ARENA, University of Oslo) paper shed light on processes of policy coordination among EU members outside the EU institutions. Drawing on the example of the negotiations on maritime conventions within the International Labour Organisation (ILO), she showed that even in absence of agreed upon standardised procedures and despite fundamental disagreement about the contents of the convention, representatives of EU member states managed to formulate a common position. This was due to long-term consultation initiated by the EU commission that engaged EU members in a learning process based on reason-giving. Riddervold argues that rapprochement was possible because the actors involved in the consultations anticipated the necessity of conforming to the EU’s legal framework and accepted expert knowledge on ILO provisions or human rights as valid reasons that justified shifts in initially declared national positions. Thus, the consultation on the ILO maritime convention among EU members seemed to involve exactly the type of issue-related policy review open for contestation of substantive issues that Puetter and Wiener diagnosed as being absent from the consultative processes in established EU bodies dealing with foreign policy coordination.
Hence, both papers suggest that the distinct normative environment created by European integration enables forms of deliberative governance that allow negotiators to shift priorities towards a common position, whether this is supported by already institutionalised procedures of consultation or not. They also showed that, by empowering policy elites at the working level, this form of multilateral coordination reduces the democratic accountability of foreign policy-making within the EU.
A distinct type of international power?
Two papers engaged with the question what type of international power the EU exerts. Rikard Bengtsson and Ole Elgström presented their work on the projection of the EU as a civilian normative power, while Meltem Müftüler-Baç and Yaprak Gürsoy (Sabanci University) showed how elements of this vision entered Turkish foreign and security policy in the course of the accession process. Bengtsson and Elgström draw on role theory to grasp the EU’s distinct profile as a ‘normative great power’, in particular on the differentiation between role conceptions (the actor’s own considerations on its role), role prescriptions (other actors’ expectations), and role performance (the actor’s actual policy behaviour) as facets of the social construction of an international actor. The authors explicate that the self-conception of the EU as ‘normative great power’ encompasses both emphasis on a civilising mission with regard to a normative agenda (spread of peace, democracy, and rule of law), which it shares with the US, and emphasis on civilian rather than military measures to implement this agenda, which differentiates it’s position from the more comprehensive approach of the US. This power-conception relies upon definition rather than control, with the EU proclaiming leadership by advocating a particular application of the normative agenda and by making it an accepted point of reference in international politics. Yet, while the EU possesses various power resources that enhance such ‘productive’ power (rhetorical means, institutional and technical capacity, membership prospects), the tendency of militarisation and territorialisation of the EU brought about by the Maastricht Treaty and the Schengen arrangement potentially undermines the self-conception as a normative power and moves the EU closer towards a conventional great power. Moreover, context-specific roles taken by the EU in particular geographic settings and policy realms (e.g. protectionism in agricultural trade, hypocrisy in environmental policy) often contradict the meta-role of the normative great power. This incoherence is mirrored in the role prescriptions of EU outsiders. While the states involved in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) as a rule view the EU as a normative leader and anchor of domestic security and development, Russia and Belarus, for instance, perceive the normative agenda as the hostile aspirations of a rival great power. The group of African, Asian and Pacific countries (ACP) sees the EU as both a benign and a patronising great power in developmental politics.
The paper presented by Müftüler-Baç and Gürsoy provided a precise picture of EU power relations not only in perceptions, but in concrete policy-making instances in which the EU disposes of the resource ‘membership prospects’, as in the case of Turkey. The authors reveal a considerable degree of Europeanisation of Turkish security policy, despite the fact that European foreign and security policies are not condensed in supranational rules that candidate states need to adopt as part of the acquis communitaire. After Turkey was attributed the status of an accession candidate (1999) and after accession negotiations were opened (2005), Turkey increasingly refrained from its realist and military-dominated approaches and started echoing the EU’s emphasis on soft power, non-military responses and multilateralism in conflict resolution. Müftüler-Baç and Gürsoy relate this development to institutional and policy-changes that took hold with EU accession preparation and with Turkey’s increasing involvement in EU-led operations that made use of NATO assets (including Turkish assets) on the basis of the Berlin-plus arrangement (which granted Turkey a veto upon NATO employment within EU missions). In order to demonstrate compliance with EU accession criteria, the Turkish government changed the composition of the Turkish National Security Council to lessen the military’s leverage on foreign and security policy-making. To maintain Turkey’s participation in EU missions and in disregard of the military’s appraisal, the Turkish government chose not to veto the use of NATO facilities in the EUlex mission in Kosovo in 2007, although it violated the Berlin-plus agreement from the Turkish perspective. This gradual emancipation of foreign policy-making from the traditional prerogatives of the military coincided with increasing emphasis on non-military means. Even in unlikely cases where material power interests are at stake, such as in Turkey’s relations with Syria and Iraq, economic cooperation, administrative contacts also involving civil society groups, as well as joint military operations have supplanted previous hostility. Thus, anticipating the necessity to conform to ESDP, Turkey echoed EU approaches and thereby reaffirmed the EU’s self-projection as a civilian normative power.

A distinct security community?
The last paper, presented by Cathleen Kantner, Amelie Kutter and Swantje Renfordt (Freie Universität Berlin), asked to what extent the developments observed by the other panellists are reflected in public debate. The authors posit that public awareness of and critical reflection on the EU’s security problems and its capability to act internationally is the litmus test for the intersubjective approval of the EU as an international actor. They thus add an investigation of public perceptions of the EU to accounts of its official self-conception and partners’ role prescriptions. They further argued that a similar degree of acknowledgement of the EU as an international actor in the different European media publics might indicate that a ‘European security community,’ characterised by shared problem awareness and by a shared reference object (the EU), is emerging. To test these assumptions, the authors conducted a quantitative and qualitative analysis of news coverage on military interventions in six Western European countries and the US from January 1990 to March 2006. They assessed whether either EU institutions or other EU member states were referred to and whether they were portrayed as an agenda-setting or driving actor. The results show that, in relation to concrete international conflicts (e.g. the Iraq wars and the Kosovo war), EU actors received remarkable media attention and were seen as acting upon the crisis. While European and US media seemed to share estimations about the importance of EU actors in different conflicts, they differed considerably in the quantity and quality of attention given to EU actors. The fact that all EU-based media took EU actors into account more often than US-based media when discussing military interventions, suggests that Europeans have identified the EU as a major reference object in the solution of international crises.
Summing up the insights provided by the panel ‘the EU as an international actor’, we can conclude that, in the course of the last decade, the EU has become an intersubjectively acknowledged international actor. It is distinguished by multilateral-deliberative procedures of foreign policy coordination and ambiguous aspirations to become an influential civilian normative power. Moreover, the EU’s ambitions are mirrored in EU-wide public perceptions which see the EU as an actor who ought to act upon shared international problems.