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Theoretical Framework - Normative Power Europe

The ideas of the EU representing a unique form of international actorness stepping beyond military or traditionalist concepts of international power have been a topic under consideration since long ago. However, fundamental changes in the international arena on the edge of the past century provided a range of empirical cases as well as theoretical debates enriching and refining its components. Scholars attribute different characteristics to the EU, however, in substance they all share an opinion that Europe represents a distinct global relevance as long as the resources exploited, instruments used, policies conducted and goals pursued by the EU are fundamentally different from those of others.

3.1 Civilian Power Europe

Early initiatives prescribing the EU non-military nature and claiming this to be a distinctive element that, consequently, highlights its place and role in the international system emerged in 1970s. François Duchêne is recognized as a founder of this long existing theoretical debate, although, the term he introduced in order to describe EU, is not an equivocally accepted one among academics4. Duchêne described EU as a “civilian power” that relied on economic capacity and potential that was built on during past 20 years of integration, but fell short of sufficient military forces. However, he anticipated that “Europe would be the first major area of the Old World where the age-old process of war and indirect violence could be translated into something more in tune with the twentieth century citizen’s notion of civilized politics.” The weakness of Europe’s military capacity would not be an obstacle as Duchêne believed that “security policies today, even for the super-power, consist in shaping the international milieu often in areas which at first sight have little to do with security” (Dûchene, 1972). Therefore, Dûchene’s “civilian power” entrenched the concept of pursuing the domestication or “normalization” of international politics by the means of contractual politics reflecting global diffusion of civilian and democratic norms and promotion of shared values such as justice, tolerance and multilateralism, in other words, those congenital “inner characteristics” belonging to Europe (Dûchene, 1973).

In general, “civilian power” sketches broad outline of what to be understood by “civilian” or “civilizing” power, notwithstanding its limited and slightly descriptive account of Europe’s envisaged role in the global system. By the same token, the lack of comprehensive scheme framing his concept and the chaotic manner in which it was developed have been among the arguments voiced by critics (Zielonka, 1998; Whitman, 1998). In theoretical terms, “civilian power” of Duchêne embraced dominant theoretical streams of the time. On the one hand, adhering to structuralist tradition, “civilian power” challenged realist accounts of international relations. On the other hand, by emphasizing the role of low politics and increasing importance of economic interdependence Duchêne followed the pillars of pluralist school which was popular in 1970s. However, a major difference of “civilian power” from pluralist accounts is its dualist core which combines a power dimension – as stated above economic power – and a normative dimension that seeks to promote international values. Such two dimensional constitution of “civilian power” Europe, was developed on the analogous of ideal type called by Therborn (1997: 382) – “Scandinavian Europe”.

As a rule, new concepts emerge from the realities of current international context and “civilian power” was no exception. Therefore, several changes in the political life during 1980s and rise of conflictual rhetoric5 challenged Duchêne’s concept. But, in the very same way, the international context of post-Cold War time proved to be beneficial: partly due to internal transformations that EC underwent in 1990s6, and partly because of wide recognition of non-military approaches, such as Joseph Nye’s “soft power” concept. In other words, 1990s provided a ground for the revival of civilian/normative and suchlike approaches to the role and place of Europe in a changing world.

3.2 Normative Power Europe

Different approaches to find out the role of the EU in the international relations were based on the analysis of its “sui generis” nature. Putting it differently, how EU acts externally can be explained by the inner capacity or by what it is. And explanations vary. Some argue that it is the virtue of extensive institutional organization of EU that erects obstacles for carrying out uncompromising “realpolitik” (Smith 2002: 271). Others stress importance of internal governance in EU that filters member states’ foreign policies and transposes them externally in normative way (Lavenex, 2004). And Tocci (2008) adds that the external transposition of Europe’s institutional set-up occurs by the means of contractual relations that the EU establishes with neighbouring regions. However, some still believe that particular way of treating others in EU’s external relations illustrates the different manner in which it perceives the world. Explainable in terms of Kantian philosophy, this approach assumes the extension of peace and prosperity into the domain of EU’s foreign policy and sees it as the true strength and advantage in the favour of the latter (Leonard, 2005; Cooper, 2000).

In 2002 after a comprehensive analysis of transformational processes that surfaced on the edge of the century, particularly in Europe, and as a critical response to adherents of more military and defence oriented scholars, Ian Manners put forward his concept of “Normative Power Europe”. Manners’ concept received a flurry of critical assessments and yet it retains as one of the key topics in academic debates. What Manners argued in regard with civilian and military approaches to Europe, especially defended in the works of Duchêne (1972) and Bull (1982) respectively, was that they both valued and prioritized the physical power – be it an economic power and influence or military and nuclear forces. However, the collapse of soviet regimes in Europe, according to Manners, marked the significance of sustainability of ideas and norms in world politics. And henceforth, studies on the role of the EU should be based on the perspective of power of ideas – what he classified as “normative power” (Manners 2002).

Basing on normative theory, Manners points out to two meanings of normativity: normative as a form of power and as a feature of actor’s identity. Under the first meaning he implies the ideational nature of the power while the latter is the pursue of ideal type normative actor which not only promotes but also acts as a changer of norms in international system (Manners 2011). I will elaborate on these two understandings further in the subchapters.

A founding feature of “normative power”, as pointed out by Manners, is the capacity to “shape conceptions of the normal” in the international politics. (Manners 2002: 239, 2008b: 131–2). Adjusting this to “Normative Power Europe” he defines the EU norms as those “normals” that guide its actions and practices in relations with the rest of the world. Such normative difference of Europe and its emphasis on the promotion of international values, Manners connects to the historical context of EU and to an extensive treaty based legal order that EU stands on. Consequently, the EU‘s norm-driven activities lead to adoption of norms in the third parties or, in other words, normative impact takes place. (Manners 2002). In order to achieve these normative ends a variety of instruments are exploited. However, the diversity of tools remains one of the most disputable aspects of NPE, for Manners (2002) relies on the means of socialization, partnership and local or regional ownership, whereas others (Therborn, 1997) underline conditionality, which is ,in fact, an instrument backed by the use of economic power. Such an approach intending to integrate the instrumental way of applying force is rejected by Manners, as he believes that EU represents a specific form of political entity utterly contrasting to „pre-existing political forms and this particular difference predisposes it to act in a normative way“. (Manners, 2002: 242)

In order to explain the peculiarity of EU as an international actor Manners refers to the normative basis that was developed throughout the last five decades. Among five “core” norms comprising acqui communautaire, two – peace and liberty – generated from the historical context of the time – post-war politics. By the same token, the next three – democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights – expressed the values highlighting specific identity of Western Europe distinguishing it from the communist East. Along with founding norms, Manners identifies four additional norms which are yet under consideration. They include social solidarity, anti-discrimination, sustainable development and good governance. The latter is particularly worth noting, because of its importance during post-communist transition in the Central and Eastern Europe, where this norm has been a crucial one for successful accomplishment of various aid programs provided by EU (Manners 2002: 243).

Table 1. The EU’s normative basis

Founding Principles

Tasks and Objectives

Stable institutions

Fundamental Rights



Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms

Social solidarity


Sustainable development

Guarantee of democracy

Rule of law

Human rights

Protection of minorities







Treaty base – set out in the art. 6 of the TEU7

Treaty base – set out in the arts 2 of the TEC and TEU, arts 6 and 13 of TEC8

Copenhagen criteria – set out in the conclusions of the June 1993 European Council

Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union

Source: Manners 2002: p.243

Evolution of the norms over the time as shown in the Table 1 is another argument that Manners uses to support his perception of EU as an entity moving beyond the issues of economic management and legitimating itself in the international arena through norms reflected in the founding documents (Manners 2002: 244).

All in all, above mentioned points and excerpts from Manners’ principal works shed light on various aspects of this very ambitious concept and set the general framework for further theoretical and analytical considerations in this thesis. In the chapters below, I will focus on key elements of Normative Power Europe (NPE) as defined by Manners, however supplementing them with comments and thoughts of other scholars.

The structure of the next chapters is borrowed from Manners’ classification of basic characteristics that a “normative actor” should combine in itself – normative principles, actions and impact (Manners 2011). However, defining a normative actor, apart from three elements just mentioned, also requires other criteria to be met and addressed by the concept. Manners agreed that having only normative basis at disposal does not capacitate the actor’s normativity. Every actor in international arena has a set of goals and interests that determine key areas of actions. In the case, of NPE such goals and interests should be normative. Thus, clear formulation and understanding of NPE goals and interests in external relations also need to be observed in a separate chapter. And here we come to a point that Tocci (2008: 15) reasonably stresses. A foreign policy pursuing normative goals and interests by applying normative means and instruments yet cannot be qualified as normative unless it has a noticeable normative impact in third parties. Therefore, a complex of goals, principles, instruments and impacts constitutes the identity of normative actor. And in accordance with this conclusion I elaborate the theoretical part by observing these key elements.

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