Normative Power Europe in Global Dialogue

At the inauguration of CEDI Jean Monnet Prof. Sharon Pardo from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev discussed the concept of the "Normative Power Europe" (NPE). He maintained that the split in the European global and regional approaches help explain both power and weakness of the NPE. We present a transcript of his keynote speech on “Normative Power Europe in Global Dialogue” below:



The coherency of the EU’s global and normative positions stem from the fact that normative stance almost never has an effect on the trade relations fostered by individual EU Member States. This is precisely the reason why all of the Member States are willing to subscribe to unified global and normative standpoints.


The divorce between the economic and normative enables the EU to speak with a single voice in the global arena and to uphold a clear message informed by principles of democracy and human rights. 


On the other hand, the dichotomy between the economic and the normative spheres also explains Normative Power Europe’s weakness. It enables the Member States to promote and cultivate trade relations with countries that violate basic human rights, and while this can, of course, benefit the economies of the Member States, it does little to enhance the diffusion of Ian Mannersʼ five core norms: the centrality of peace, the idea of liberty, democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.


So even as I agree that strategic interests and norms cannot be easily distinguished, I maintain that the EU espouses many kinds of norms, some of which better coincide with the economic interests of the Member States, and therefore are more readily diffused, while others are in conflict with the economic interests, and consequently their diffusion is hampered.


My claim that NPE’s strength and weakness is an outcome of its being cut off from the bilateral trade relations of the Unionʼs Member States is part of an ever growing scholarly debate involving the nature of the EU’s global dialogue and the Union’s role in international relations.


The effect of linking the EU’s normative beliefs to certain economic conditions would no doubt have an uneven impact on member states and could potentially create discord. Hence, in its global dialogue, the separation between the economic and normative is so important. It is the reason all of the EU members are willing to subscribe to the global normative standpoint and it enables the Union to speak with a single voice in the international arena and uphold a clear message informed by principles of democracy and human rights. So while it very well may be, as Ian Manners claims, that NPE is not ʻa contradiction in terms,’ it is based on an opposition. Indeed, the total separation between the economic arena and the normative political position is the condition of possibility of NPE, the engine that drives NPE, and that which enables it to operate unabated.


Moreover, this separation between the economic realm and the normative political stance raises questions about Ian Manners’ claim that ʻthe EU as a normative power has an ontological quality to it’. If it were indeed ontological, one would expect to witness its manifestation in the Union’s global trade relations. Just an example: The fact that the Union’s normative positions regarding Israel’s settlement project have had no perceptible influence on the ground and are divorced from EU-Israeli trade relations, and that, nonetheless, the EU is insistent upon incessantly reiterating its normative standpoint about Israel’s violation of international law while knowing full well that these declarations will have little if any influence on the ground leads me to conclude that NPE is a discursive practice whose primary role is to help construct European identity, so as to overcome the fundamental ambivalence, which Gerard Delanty (1995) has identified, in Europe’s relation to the normative horizons of its own collective identity.


I, accordingly, agree with Ian Manners that the concept of normative power denotes the EU’s attempt to be constructed in its global dialogue on a normative basis, but disagree with his claim that ʻthis predisposes it to act in a normative way in world politics’; not because norms are cut off from interests – they are not – but because the EU has diverse interests and espouses different norms, some related to the five core norms and others not.

The normative stance associated with NPE does not necessarily predispose the EU to act in a normative way because often the normative stance will conflict with other EU norms and interests, often economic ones. This suggests that NPE’s major function in the Union’s global dialogue is not to shape the practices of non-EU countries, but is primarily an inward operating power deployed to consolidate the Union into one single entity. ʻThe self/other articulations of the “normative power Europeˮ concept do not come from nowhere’, as Thomas Diez points out; ʻInstead, they stand in a tradition (but also transform) the notion of a peace community whose primary other is its own, war-torn past’.


Drawing upon the literature discussing the constitution of a European identity, I maintain that the normative positions of the Union’s global dialogue must be cut-off from trade to sustain NPE so that it can help solidify the identity of the populations of the 28 EU Member States. This is the reason why the EU’s normative position in the Union’s global dialogue must be center staged, reiterated, and recited despite the gap between the normative stance and foreign trade and even though the Unionʼs actual impact on the rights-abusive practices of non-EU countries is arguably close to nil.

So to conclude I agree with Ian Manners that in its global dialogue the EU is committed to placing universal norms and principles at the center of its relations with its own member states, but find no evidence that this attests to an ontological quality and believe that the impact of these norms within the EU needs to be further investigated.


For more information on the topic, especially Pardos discussion of the case study of Israel, see Sharon Pardo, Normative Power Europe meets Israel. Perceptions and Realities, 2015, Lexington Books, Lanham 

Sharon Pardo, Ph.D. – Ben-Gurion University of the Negev


Prof. Sharon Pardo is a Jean Monnet Chair ad personam in European studies in the Department of Politics and Government at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the Chair of the National Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence – the Centre for the Study of European Politics and Society (CSEPS) at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. His research interests focus on the legal and political dimensions of European Union foreign and security policy. Prof. Pardo also has significant interest in the development of the Euro-Mediterranean region and in Israeli-European Union relations.