THE WISHFUL THINKING OF NORMATIVE POWER EUROPEwhen beautiful ideas meet EU institutional processesQuestion answered: What is the interplay between interests and values in EU’s efforts to promote human rights and democracy?IntroductionProgressive integration proves that the European Union (EU) cannot be denied a role in international politics (Bicchi, 2006: p.286). However, what motivates the external action of such a distinct actor is contestable. Its hybrid polity, the historical context driving its emergence and its legal order have induced some to argue that EU external actions prioritise the promotion of universalist norms over the pursuit of material interests. The term coined to conceptualise this exceptional behaviour is “Normative” Power Europe (NPE) (Manners, 2002: pp.242-3).
This work challenges this view by considering EU promotion of democracy and human rights. Indeed, both are principled policies contested in the international arena and areas in which the EU has struggled to behave in a completely normative way. Rather than focusing on the EU level (i.
e. whether X policy is driven by EU interests/norms), this work approaches the issue from the perspective of EU institutional processes. This framing is logical: the EU is not a unitarian actor. Therefore, it is at the EU policy-making level where one can seek for the interplay between interests and norms.
The argument advanced is that the interests of certain EU actors influence negatively norm diffusion, therefore undermining EU leadership in promoting human rights and democratic rule. This is possible because EU institutional dynamics favour interests over norms. The argument runs as follows. First, the notion of NPE is presented. Second, two cases are discussed to illustrate NPE institutional limitations: 1) EU relations with North Africa, in which security challenges the promotion of democratic rule; and 2) EU Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Vietnam and Singapore, in which economic imperatives water down a coherent promotion of human rights. The former reveals that member states prefer a realist EU external action when their interests are threatened. The latter shows that principle-agent dynamics and issue salience undermine EU’s truly normative voice: the European Parliament (EP).
The EU, a force for good?The lack of EU militarization has encouraged the notion of the EU as an exceptional actor. In the context of the Cold War, Duchêne (1973: p.9) noticed that European institutions relied on “civilian power”, i.
e. the favouring of economic, cultural and diplomatic instruments over military ones (Smith, 2004: p.1). NPE builds on this idea of exceptionality while incorporating constructivist elements. The starting point is that international actors possess socially constructed identities which influence their behaviour (Manners & Whitman, 2011: p.395).
In this regard, Manner (2002: p.239) argues that certain characteristics provide the EU with an identity from which derives the power to “shape conceptions of what is normal in international relations” (Idem: p.40). These sources of “normative difference” are its hybrid polity, its historical context, and its legal-based order (Idem: p.240). Indeed, the EU emerges as a rejection of the use of force after WWII. Furthermore, it works as a “network polity”, and therefore promote the cooperation of different political units (Diez, 1997: p.296).
Besides, EU integration is based on the accumulation of acquis communautaire. For Manners (2006: pp.23-31), all these elements promote the socialisation of certain principles of which peace; liberty; democracy; supranational rule of law; and human rights are central (Manners, 2006: pp.23-31). The crucial belief is that the EU successfully acts at diffusing these principles through the replication of EU norms abroad. Moreover, EU identity compels the EU to prioritise the promotion of these norms over self-interest calculations (Manners 2002: pp.252-3).
Unsurprisingly, this benign normative portrait fits the self-characterisations of the EU. Therefore, even if the EU speaks of interests, it does so referring to long-term goals of universal aspiration and achievable through the diffusion of EU norms (see Young 2004: p.422-6) For instance, human rights norms can encourage structural progress in developing economies and help to eradicate violence. Similarly, the diffusion of democratic norms is often justified on liberal peace premises, such as that democratic states are more open to international cooperation (see McFaul, 2014). The tittle of the current European Security Strategy (ESS) summarises this well: “A secure Europe in a better world” (EU Council, 2003:16). In fact, the document states that “the best protection for our security is a world of well-governed democratic states” (Idem: p.
10), in which human rights are fully respected. In this regard, the EU portrays itself as a “force for good” in the word (p.13). The problem with this appealing narrative is, however, that EU external policies often fail to rise to the challenge.
In short: material interests seem to negatively condition the diffusion of norms in human rights and democracy. This leads to one question: whose material interests? Indeed, the key failure of NPE is to believe that EU identity is unitarian, and that it is a mechanical factor leading to norm diffusion (Balducci, 2010: p.40).
Yet, from a liberal-constructivist perspective, the EU does not exist per se but is the outcome of political processes involving different actors with different identities and interests (Idem: p.40). In the case of EU external policies, these are the member states, the European Commission and sometimes the European Parliament (EP). Their analysis reveals that they have different predispositions to defend normative actions over material interests. EU’s institutional dynamics set the limits for these interactions. Therefore, an EU institutional analysis is needed to describe the interplay between interest and values in EU external actions. In this regard, the EU policy-making process seems to favour interests over norm diffusion.
In short: the EU fails to be fully normative when interests are at risk. Two studies justify this claim: 1) EU policies in North Africa and 2) FTAs with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), concretely Singapore and Vietnam. They represent an obstacle to EU’s leadership in the promotion of human rights and democracy. Security in North Africa and realist member statesEU external action regarding North Africa must be understood in the framework of European Neighbour Policy (ENP), 2004, and in the wider context of the European Mediterranean Partnership (EMP), 1995. Normative power defenders considered the EMP an opportunity for confidence building and the socialisation of core EU values (Adler & Crawford: pp.39-44). Indeed, the EMP political and security basket stated the compromise to “protect human rights” and “develop the rule of law and democracy” to guarantee “external and internal stability” (Declaration B, 199: 2-3). However, EU Mediterranean policies show that state interests can upset norm diffusion, and therefore successful democratic transitions (Costalli 2009: 325-6).
To explain EU’s non-normative behaviour, realism and the role of member states in the definition of external policies must enter the picture. Neoclassical realism accepts the existence of identities, but contrary to NPE emphasises their construction in a context of conflict associated with the permanent insecurity of the anarchical international system (Costalli, 2009, p.327). This does not mean that actors are just security-maximisers. In fact, they often promote value-based policies. However, these are renounced when principles clash with self-preservation (Mearsheimer, 2011: p.46-47). The end of the Cold War removed the threat of invasion for EU members.
Still, globalisation brought to the front “soft security issues” such as migration, political Islam or economic security (Cavatorta et al. 2008: p.10). Regarding North Africa, these issues are urging for some member states.
France, Spain and Italy have increasing migration pressures from the Maghreb (Farges and Frandich, 2012: p.6). Similarly, southern countries are extremely dependent on oil and gas from North African partners (Zajack, 2015: p.70). Besides, the UK, France, Spain and Italy present colonial legacies, and therefore more economic ties. Furthermore, most of North African countries cooperate bilaterally with these EU countries in intelligence and counterterrorism (see Wolff, 2009: p.
150-151). Therefore, certain member states perceive regime change as a source of insecurity, as well as the probable replacement of loyal allies for Islamist anti-western political elites. Realism predicts that when core interests are threatened, pragmatism prevails over ideational inclinations. This does not imply that norm diffusion elements are not present in EU institutions. Indeed, EU supranational bodies such as the EP and the Commission are often the repository of “second-order” value-based concerns (Hyde-Price, 2006: p.223).
However, EU institutional procedures give member states the upper hand in defining external policies. In fact, most fall within the CFSP framework, which is intergovernmental and requires member states’ unanimity. In this regard, intergovernmentalism informs us that discrepancies of member states often lead to the adoption of policies that represent the “lowest common denominator” (Moravcsik: 1993: p.
501). This is problematic for NPE, as not all states have the same compromise with the promotion of certain norms, and therefore successful democratisation might fail. The fact that member states with especial interests in North Africa are major European actors (France, UK, Italy, and Spain) and therefore in a good bargaining position further complicates the picture. EU external (in)action in North Africa prior to the Arab Spring reveals these constraints. The framework for Euro-Med relations are bilateral Association Agreements (AA), which are of a “mixed” legal nature, i.
e. concluded by the Commission and the Council. They are the reference for later specific Action Plans (AP), which define the concrete cooperation goals. An ENP theoretical expectation would be these APs to present a consistent and effective promotion of democratic norms, regardless of the resistance of North African countries during the negotiations. Yet, APs are negotiated with the participation of member states and require their approval.
Therefore, the pressure of member states with special interests in the region often allows the watering down of democratic commitments while market liberalisation is promoted. For instance, regarding Morocco-EU 2004 AP, Kausch (2009: p.171) indicates the poor specification of timeframes, actors, implementation and evaluation mechanisms. Similarly, Del Sarto and Schumacher (2011: p.946) point out the lack of a definition of democracy in the case of Tunisia-EU 2005 AP.
This makes harder the establishment of benchmarks for positive conditionality and deviates Commission-managed ENP funds to more clearly stated objectives such as infrastructure development (Idem: p.940). Besides, North African APs are also less demanding compared to Eastern countries APs (Idem: p.935).
These double standards compromise future agreements. These issues have been criticised in EP resolutions (e.g. EU Parliament, 2007). Yet, EU institutional architecture excludes the EP from the decision-making process.
Similarly, hard measures regarding compliance with democratic norms fall within CFSP and therefore are in full control of member states. Indeed, AAs with Mediterranean countries present clauses on democracy, enabling the EU to act in case of severe violation of democratic norms. However, the unanimity of CFSP implies that even when states prone to norm diffusion (e.g. Nordic countries) are willing to impose sanctions, actors with interests in the region can oppose them. This has favoured the continuation of anti-democratic practises. Prior to the Arab Spring, for instance, Morocco and Egypt were able to exclude parties (mostly Islamist) from electoral processes and increase the centralisation of central power without EU opposition (Costalli, 2009: p. 335).
The same problem makes impossible coherent condemnations of anti-democratic events in the region, as well as makes ineffective EU’s High Representative and Vice President (HRVP) diplomatic role, who without a clear mandate cannot engage in active promotion of EU democratic norms in the region. Examples are the inaction of EU’s HRVP Ashton when the Arab Spring erupted, and her silence after the coup d’état in Egypt in 2013, which removed an Islamist elected government. Furthermore, although theoretically the mixed nature of the AA allows the Commission to cancel economic assistance in countries that do not show progress in implementing democratic norms, the technocratic nature of the Commission makes this unfeasible without the political support of member states (see Noutcheva, 2015). This reflects again the asymmetry of EU institutional dynamics, which prioritises short-term interest of member states over the promotion of norms.
The result is the undermining of EU’s effort to lead as a democracy promoterFTAs whit ASEAN countries and the silence of the EPThe promotion of human right through trade agreements is often portrayed as an example of the ambitious stand of the EU towards norm diffusion. Indeed, the launching of bilateral FTAs as part of the 2006 Global Europe Strategy indicated for the DG trade an opportunity of “step change” in trade policies, including what referred as “deep integration” through the promotion of labour and human right standards across all trade deals (DG Trade/Mandelson, 2005). To be fair, all FTAs concluded so far include clauses on human rights.
However, an NPE theoretical framework cannot explain the occasional failure of the EU to stick to normative commitments in some FTAs and the discrepancy of some clauses between different trade deals, as it fails to acknowledge the existence of different preferences among different EU actors. Principal-agent theory can shed light on these dynamics. The analysis indicates the risk of watering down human rights aspirations when the EP has less possibility of imposing his voice.
In the conclusion of FTAs, three actors are involved. The states act as principals, delegating the negotiations to DG trade. However, states keep control mechanisms. Indeed, member states assist the negotiations through regular meetings of the Trade Policy Committee (TPC), therefore being able to input their preferences. As these are shaped by key branches of their national economies (Leeg, 2014: p.
334), the defence of economic interests becomes a priority. Furthermore, even if some states present value-based claims, unanimity tends to water down them (Adriensen and Gonzalez-Garibay, 2013: p.551).
The Commission acts as the agent, and perhaps it could use her privileged position to shape member states preference in favour of human rights standards. However, the Commission is apolitical in nature (Leeg, 2014: p.344). Indeed, the financial autonomy and distance from the public make the institution immune to interest groups (Idem). Furthermore, her raison d’être is to conclude trade deals, and therefore has the pressure to perform. The EP acts also a principal but as an “incomplete” one. (Lee, 2005: p.
344). Contrary to the TPC, the Committee on International Trade (INTA) cannot assist the negotiations and it is only informed time to time by the Commission. Its only way of influencing negotiations is through resolutions indicating their position and through the mobilisation of public pressure. However, when the public salience of FTAs is low, EP threats to not ratifying the agreement diminish (McKenzie and Meissner, 2017: pp.843-844), as the political costs increase without public massive legitimisation.
This is crucial, as the EP is the most normative actor within the EU institutional dynamics (Leeg, 2014: p.343). This is so because MPEs are influenced by a broader range of interest groups, and their lack of trade expertise make them work closely with NGOs and to approach issues more ideologically (Idem: p.344).
Furthermore, their success (re-election) depend on voters and not on the conclusion of the deal, so material interests are absent.The FTAs with Singapore and Vietnam are a clear example of these institutional constraints, as both show deficiencies in human rights’ norm promotion compared to other FTAs. For instance, the FTA with Singapore was accompanied by a side-letter stating that at the time of signing neither party was aware of any of each other’s law that could lead to the suspension of the agreement (McKenzie and Meissner, 2017: p.840). However, Singapore applies the death penalty, which is considered by the EU as a “serious violation of human rights” (Council of the EU, 2013: p.5).
Similarly, the FTA with Vietnam states that it will follow International Labor Organisations (ILO) conventions considering, but domestic circumstances (Hoang and Sicurelli, 2017: p.378). This is not surprising. Indeed, economic interests were very high for member states, especially with Singapore, in which more than 9000 European companies are based (Hoang and Sicurelli, 2017: p.
376). Furthermore, these agreements opened the ASEAN market. This resulted in strong pressures from member states to conclude the agreement at all cost. The Commission had a strong pressure to perform as well, as these negotiations emerged out of the failed inter-regional FTA ASEAN-EU negotiations. On the other hand, however, the issue salience of both agreements was very low. Although the EP issued some resolutions regarding the Vietnam case (e.g. EU Parliament, 2014), the political cost of starting an intra-EU institutional turf battle was too high for such low public support.
Therefore, institutional dynamics influence negatively the diffusion of human rights’ norms through FTAs when issue silence is low and economic interests are high. The result is inconsistencies between FTAs, which justify the claims of the EU not acting in a normative way. This in turn undermines the efforts of the EU to be the global promoter of human rights. ConclusionThe EU as a normative power, i.e. an international actor whose external action is based on the promotion of universalist norms, is a beautiful narrative. Unsurprisingly, the EU often conceptualise itself in this manner, emphasising its altruistic role in international relations.
Yet, the EU has struggled to behave in a normative fashion in the promotion of human rights and democracy.NPE is unable to explain the deviation of EU external policies from EU norms because it conceives the EU as a unitarian actor. However, when delving into EU institutional processes, the cases of EU external action in North Africa and FTAs negotiations with ASEAN countries demonstrate that some EU actors prefer interest-driven policies and often succeed in imposing their view. This is the case of EU member states in the framework of CFSP, which accept a trade-off of stability for authoritarianism: and the case of DG trade and the member states during the negotiations of trade agreements, especially when FTAs present low public interest and therefore the EP has less political leverage.These examples pose a threat to EU’s leading role in the promotion of human rights and democracy in the world. Indeed, the fact that material interests have a negative impact in the diffusion of EU norms make the European community look inconsistent, incoherent and unable to act externally according to internal standards. Therefore, the EU needs to resolve the institutional constraints that favours interests over the coherent promotion of norms when articulating its external actions. Otherwise, the EU will never become the authentic force for good it aspires to be.