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3.2.1 Normative principles and values


Actors in the international system follow certain principles and values which constitute the basis of their goals as well as help to devise relevant means and actions for achieving the ends. As far as the EU is concerned, we deal with a specific type of actor who poses itself as a normative actor. So, first we should find out what type of normative principles and values the EU upholds and relies on. In this regard, the Lisbon Treaty affirms that the EU actions in international affairs are guided by and seek to promote the values and norms on which the Union is founded, including democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law (Article 2 of TEU). But then another question rises – what makes these principles normative and desirable to be followed by all others?

Neutral interpretation of what is “normative” presumes it to be just a “normal” in international relations. This mode of understanding neglects the ethical dimension of the term. Therefore, Sjursen rightfully argues that given such definition of normative, it tends to be associated with power, hence, implying that any other actor (US, China, India etc.) is normative as well. To illustrate peculiar normativity of the EU as an actor, however, we need to appeal to non-neutral and ethically sustainable interpretation of what is normative. This approach has been consistently used by many scholars studying EU foreign policy. Nevertheless, defining what is “good” in international relations has its own risks and disadvantages. If we assume under normativity of values a “good” or an “ethical” foreign policy, then obviously one can interpret such conclusion as an imperialistic dictation of what is subjectively acknowledged “good” by reason of its presupposed universality (Tocci 2008: 4). As a matter of fact, it becomes crucially important to find a balancing point between objectivity of our assumptions and universal nature of norms on the one hand, and the subjectivity from which they derive, on the other. On the contrary, when one strives to analyse international behaviour of actors based on the norms that they rely on, it is compulsory not to take the objectivity of those norms as granted, for a simple fact that the context and conditioning factors such as time and place also do have an impact on certain choices.9 Therefore, we have come up to a very strict definition of what principles can be regarded normative in foreign policy. Tocci (2008: 5) explains their nature to be non-neutral in ethical terms and simultaneously they have to be based on certain standards which are “as universally accepted and legitimate as possible”.

In fact, the necessity to have an “external reference point” in regard with NPE values has been consistently defended by Manners (Manners, 2006a: 170-22). Moreover, he considers a legitimate nature of promoted values as a crucial condition affirming the legitimacy of international actor as such. But then what defines the legitimacy of values and principles? Here, some scholars refer to a principle of universalization which Habermas (1990: 65), in short, explains as perceiving the things in the way that others do. A legitimate nature of universalizable norms is shaped by the extent to which these norms can be justified and explained in open and inclusive discourses. But even when the universability of norms is broadly accepted, in several contexts collision of certain universal norms is inevitable. Solving such dilemma, nevertheless brings us to another relative advantage that the EU possesses. According to Youngs (2004) the approach of the EU to normative issues is different in the way that it is more concerned with accommodating the context in which universal norms to be pursued and implemented.10

Above mentioned aspects deleanate a theoretical ground to identify what should be perceived as normative and which universal norms qualify as legitimate. However, one thing, that is still missing from our considerations and which has an important effect on the eventual outcomes, is the issue of consistency of principles. Consistency of principles comes from the extent to which various principles and practices are uniform – both within and without the promoting entity – and are applied uniformly (Manners 2009: 11). Putting this formulation into the European context we can conclude that consistency in the EU is upheld by harmony of its internal and external standards, thus reducing possible unconformities between words and actions. Bearing in mind the fact that constitutional norms of the EU incorporate the principles of rule of law, respect for human rights and democracy, it leaves very limited space for member states to deviate from them or resort to double standards due to the fact that any viewpoint or action should be justified in accordance with those principles. And by having such working internal mechanism EU can pose itself before the third countries as an uncompromising normative polity.

All in all, our analysis of normative principles and norms as such which constitute a basis of “normative power” concept displays that a principal definition here emphasizes the functions of regulating or “taming” power rather than the expression of pure power (Tocci, 2008: 5). Furthermore, interpretation of normative principles should be ethically sustainable. And here by referring to a principle of universalization we managed to solve the dilemma of subjectivity of norms by means of normative justification. And last but not least, legitimacy of normative principles presumes strong legal nature behind them. Legitimacy of principles in world politics may come from previously established international conventions, treaties or agreements, particularly if these are important within the UN system. In fact, principles in the EU and its relations with the rest of the world draw upon the principles of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN Covenants, as well as the Helsinki Final Act, the Paris Charter, and the Council of Europe/European Convention on Human Rights. Coherence of principles comes from the extent to which differing principles, and practices to promote them can be seen to sound and non-contradictory. Coherence and consistency in the international promotion of these principles is intended to come from the role of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. (Manners 2009: 12)

In conclusion, the literature review displays very strict framing of normative values narrowing the scope of our search to those which:



  1. Have the highest degree of objectivity. We cannot totally exclude the subjective context from values as it was argued above that the time, place and historical context shaping the norms are subjective variables.

  2. Have universal nature. This criteria helps to compensate a small proportion of subjectivity of values. Universal nature implies that particular values are normative due to their attractiveness for large masses regardless of time, place and historical contexts.

  3. Have legitimate character. Universal principles should have, as Manners said, external reference points” to be considered legitimate.

Taking into account abovementioned conditions we can claim that principles and values advocating human rights, fundamental freedoms, democracy and rule of law, owing to a solid documented legitimization and to a focus on non-power politics and relations, meet those requirements to be acknowledged normative. Correspondingly, it will be these particular norms that we will accentuate in our analytical part and case study.




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