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Spinning Brexit as a success story: Three temporal regimes of Brexit legitimation by Boris Johnson’s government

Wed, 05/06/2024 - 15:54

by Monika Brusenbauch Meislová (Masaryk University)

My article, recently published in JCMS, looks into how ongoing policy processes are discursively legitimated. It argues that that in order to satisfy complex demands on their legitimacy, policy makers tend to legitimate them not only by referring to the status quo (the current – new – state of affairs), but also by legitimating the status ad que (the future state) and delegitimating the status quo ante (the previous state). The article applies this original typology to the empirical case of Brexit, not least because the question of how Brexit is being legitimized is of immense European-wide relevance. Indeed, Brexit acts as a benchmark for citizens’ evaluations of EU membership in other member states, with the literature showing that positive information about the Brexit outcome leads to substantial increases in optimism about leaving the EU.

I specifically focused on the official communications of the UK Conservative government under Boris Johnson published on its website. The findings demonstrate that the government did seek legitimacy of Brexit through its current performance but also legitimated Brexit heavily through an anticipatory future promise and delegitimation of its previous EU membership and the EU as a result. While doing so, it (re)produced particular pasts, presents and futures (and the relations between them) and constructed a distinct sense of place and (non)belonging between self and the EU as the ex-community. Let’s now have a look at how exactly the Johnson’s government did that.

Legitimating the presence

The UK government strongly claimed the output legitimacy of Brexit through its current performance, framing it as a highly effective policy that had achieved all its goals.

There were two dominant narratives within this temporal regime: the narrative of success and the narrative of emancipation. The narrative of success functioned to construct the image of Brexit as a sheer triumph. The main topic here was that of gain. Appealing to people’s collective feelings of national pride, this narrative conveniently served the function of highlighting the great many advantages that Brexit had already brought to the UK and that ‘everyone’ in the country could now reap. With Brexit having already proved a ‘great success’, arguments here were built on a very simple cause and effect logic: the end of EU membership was the direct cause of the UK’s current successes.

The narrative of emancipation served to cast Brexit as having empowered the UK, almost in all every way imaginable, with the topic of control restoration being central to this construction. The main discursive thrust here was the representation of the control which the government had now managed to take back from Brussels (on a plethora of issues, including democracy, borders, waters, money, the economy etc.). Brexit was explicitly marketed as a tool by means of which the UK had restored its national pride. It was only now, with the country ‘finally out of the EU single market and customs union’, that the UK had become a ‘sovereign country’, able to make ‘sovereign choices across a range of different areas of national life’.

Legitimating the future

Despite having become a reality, Brexit (still) functioned heavily as a future imaginary. Representing it as a future benefit, the government foregrounded various aspects of its numerous upcoming (solely positive) implications.

Two dominant narratives here were those of a bright future and that of opportunity. The narrative of a bright future served to convey the vision of UK’s post-Brexit amazing future. A prominent topic was that of better prospects. Replete with pledges for a better future and a bold new future Britain, this promissory discursive construction was characterized by offering up a vision of the expected future of the UK, unhampered by EU membership, which was full of possibilities. Relying on the symbolism of hopeful future-oriented performance and values, the Johnson’s government routinely exploited this topic to send the message that Brexit would increase prosperity in all parts of the UK, across all levels of society.

The narrative of opportunity, built around the topic of potential, functioned to depict Brexit as a source of huge opportunities. The government was eager to cast the end of EU membership as a key precondition for creating a forward-looking, entrepreneurial, and globally ambitious country. Constantly evaluating Brexit’s potential as ‘enormous’, it was only due to Brexit that the UK would ‘thrive as a modern, dynamic and independent country’ and ‘seize new opportunities available to a fully independent global trading United Kingdom’.

Delegitimating the past

Even though the government highlighted its efforts to create a ‘new relationship’ with the EU ‘as friendly trading partners and sovereign equals’, it very much deplored the country’s former EU membership (and the EU as such) in its pursuit of Brexit legitimation.

Two central narratives were those of the oppressive EU and freedom (re)gain, both driven by the exclusionary rhetoric of othering. The former narrative, built around the topic of subjugation, functioned to delegitimate the EU as an outside force which used to prevent the UK from seizing the worldwide economic (and other) opportunities that it was rightfully entitled to. EU membership was invariably construed as a constraint, restricting member states’ actions and unacceptably interfering in domestic affairs.  The government repeatedly refereed to the need of rebuilding the country from the ‘distortions created by EU membership’ and ‘EU restrictions.’ Accordingly, the delegitimation acts are dotted with targeted allusions to the previous EU-imposed burdens, realized mainly via the ‘burdensome’ and ‘excessive red tape’ expressions.

Intimately related to the previous narrative was the narrative of freedom (re)gain. The main topic here was that of independence, conjuring up the idea that the UK was imprisoned and unsovereign as an EU member. The metaphor of imprisonment played a key role here. Typically, Brexit was characterized by the UK government as ‘freeing’ Britain from the EU, its policies, and various EU restrictions. The ‘newfound freedoms’ were inseparably connected to Brexit, as they were called ‘Brexit freedoms’. As such, Brexit was habitually presented as the sine qua non of the country’s ability to control its own domestic affairs. It is only now, after leaving the EU, that the UK had become ‘an independent nation’.

Problematic practical implications

Johnson’s government’s legitimation discourse of Brexit was problematic for many reasons, but two in particular. Firstly, according to the UK government’s discursive logic, Brexit had produced only winners and no losers. Obvious here was the strategic silence on adverse effects of the EU withdrawal. The government deliberately deployed a discursive strategy of omitting the inconvenient costs that are inherent in (any) disentanglement from the 47-year-old relationship. In doing so, it did not pass on the information necessary to facilitate the (British but also wider European) public’s understanding of the implications of the EU withdrawal.

The second problem pertains to the highly contradictory nature of the official legitimation discourse, with the UK government willingly demonizing the very actor with whom it proclaimed the desire to build a new friendly relationship. The official governmental communication was exceedingly radical in its explicitly exclusionary construction of the EU, promulgating anti-EU sentiment and countenancing mutual polarization. Such discursive handling of relations undermined the trust between the two actors and hampered the advancement of mutual talks.

Dr Monika Brusenbauch Meislová is an Associate Professor at the Department of International Relations and European Studies, Masaryk University, Czech Republic. She is also a Visiting Professor at Aston University in Birmingham, United Kingdom, and one of the coordinators of the UACES research network ‘The limits of EUrope’. Her research work covers issues of British EU policy, Brexit and political discourse. Her most recent research has been published in various journals, including The Journal of Common Market Studies, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, European Security, British Politics, Europe-Asia Studies, and The Political Quarterly. She can be followed on X here.

The post Spinning Brexit as a success story: Three temporal regimes of Brexit legitimation by Boris Johnson’s government appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

The Post-Pandemic Parliament

Tue, 04/06/2024 - 15:31
Every Monday, a member of the international academic association ‘UACES’ will address a current topic linked to their research on euradio.


Listen to the podcast on eu!radio.



Mechthild Roos, you are Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the University of Augsburg, in Germany. As an expert on the European Parliament, what are your expectations towards the forthcoming elections?

Well, the forecasts largely point to two major trends. First, a relatively high voter turnout, in comparison to previous European elections. And, second, a shift of votes and seats to the right. For me, as someone who looks at longer trends in the European Parliament’s institutional development, the perhaps most intriguing question is: will these shifts affect the Parliament’s established working routines and, maybe even more importantly, its self-understanding?


Can you explain in more detail?

Until now, the European Parliament has always understood itself as the voice of the people, as the main provider of democratic legitimacy in EU politics, but also as driver of ever-closer integration.

This is the main point I wonder about: will the shifting of seats and perhaps majorities to the right change this self-understanding? Will the Parliament adopt more of a member-state centred course – which, in effect, would imply a weakening of the Parliament itself, but which corresponds to the political aims declared by the bulk of the parties in the most right-wing groups? Or will these new MEPs – or at least some of them – be socialized into the institution’s raison d’être and find themselves defending a stronger European Parliament and the need for parliamentary involvement in EU politics at the EU (rather than national) level?


Do you think this is likely?

It is far from impossible! It is actually a typical pattern within the Parliament. Over its history, and throughout many changes of composition, the Parliament has seen MEPs entering with a rather Eurosceptic view, and then gradually coming to appreciate the Parliament’s strengthened involvement in EU politics, not least of course because that gives the MEPs themselves more political power.

In addition, those who are generally sceptical about European integration tend not to be very active in the Parliament. Those who are active, on the other hand, those who lead debates and negotiations with other EU institutions, who draft reports and carry the bulk of parliamentary work – are largely in favour of closer integration, and of a strong mandate for the Parliament.


And in what shape, if you look back at the last five years, do you think the European Parliament is going into its next term? Which of the numerous crises it had to handle, from Brexit to Ukraine and beyond, had the biggest impact on the institution itself?

In my point of view, the most influential crisis of all clearly was the COVID-19 pandemic. Because regardless of all the other crises’ broader implications, COVID-19 had by far the most profound impact on the Parliament’s own work. The combination of a dramatic urgency to act, a complete inexperience with a pandemic of this scale, and the institutional consequences of the lockdown, all of this put into question the established policy-making procedures at the EU level, and also within the European Parliament itself. The situation was further aggravated by the fact that the 2019 elections had brought a significant turnover among MEPs: 58% of them were new to the job, and consequently had hardly any networks or knowledge of formal, but also informal working routines, which are particularly important in the European Parliament as an institution that has always been fighting for more power than it formally holds.

In the pandemic, Parliament managed to uphold a remarkable level of legislative activity. It has also pushed intensely for better and more democratically legitimised crisis governance mechanisms. Nevertheless, this period of extraordinary strain has left its marks on the European Parliament and its role in EU politics.


Do you think the pandemic has weakened the Parliament’s position?

Time will tell. We will most likely not exit this period of polycrisis anytime soon, so for me, the question is whether Parliament will manage to formalize its involvement in EU crisis governance, which we may safely expect to become something of a new normal, or whether it will have to fight continuously to keep its foot in the door.

Overall, I choose to be optimistic: if crises are indeed the new normal, then we will get normalized crisis governance routines sooner rather than later, if only for the sake of efficiency. And I hope that these new routines will include a strong dimension of parliamentary involvement and democratic oversight.


Thank you very much, Mechthild Roos, for sharing your expectations with us! I recall you are Lecturer in Comparative Politics at the University of Augsburg, in Germany.

The post The Post-Pandemic Parliament appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

Is there an anti-green backlash?

Tue, 04/06/2024 - 15:01

© Sam Forson sur Pexels

Every Monday, a member of the international academic association ‘UACES’ will address a current topic linked to their research on euradio.


Listen to the podcast on eu!radio.



Jannik Jansen, you are Policy Fellow at the Jacques Delors Centre in Berlin, and together with your colleagues, you express serious doubts about the famous anti-green backlash among European voters. Tell us where this narrative comes from in the first place.

When Commission President Ursula von der Leyen took office in 2019, the European Parliament had just been elected amidst a wave of climate strikes, led by young people demanding more ambitious climate policies to secure their future. Five years and an ambitious European Green Deal later, climate policy debates are again central in the run-up to the European elections in June. However, the tone has shifted: instead of young people, it is farmers taking to the streets with their tractors to voice their frustration about environmental regulations.

Far-right parties have been quick in capitalizing on these protests, portraying climate policies as unfair and overly burdensome for citizens and farmers. Their narrative of a widespread backlash against green policies has gained traction. As a result, liberal and centre-right politicians have become increasingly hesitant to endorse Green Deal initiatives, calling for a pause or even a rollback of climate legislation.


But does this political U-turn truly reflect a general shift in public sentiment?

Good question. To explore this, we conducted a survey with 15,000 citizens in Germany, France, and Poland at the end of last year. Our findings challenge the notion of general climate fatigue.

Citizens in all three countries remain concerned about the negative effects of climate change on themselves and their families. For instance, 4 out of 5 respondents in France indicated that they were already negatively impacted by climate change or expect to be so in the next five to ten years.

These concerns translate into continued support for more ambitious climate action, with a majority of citizens in each country expressing this sentiment. Notably, this support spans beyond green and left-leaning party supporters, among liberal and conservative voters as well.


How much climate scepticism did you find in your survey?

There is a sizeable minority skeptical of more ambitious climate policies: roughly 30% of the population in Germany and Poland, slightly less in France. But despite the politicized debate, this group has not grown significantly compared to previous studies. Moreover, this group of “climate sceptics” is largely dominated by supporters of far-right parties, which increasingly treat climate debates as an ideological battleground.

Therefore, democratic parties should refrain from rushing into a “race to the bottom” in scaling back their climate ambitions. The tale of a broad anti-green backlash appears largely overstated; however, mainstream voters do have clear preferences for how the EU’s climate-policy mix should be shaped going forward.


What are these mainstream preferences?

Green industrial policies and public investments into infrastructure, such as electricity grids and railways, are amongst the most popular policies. Similarly, targeted regulatory measures such as green standards for the industry and the power sector enjoy broad support. In contrast, broad bans and CO2 pricing mechanisms are relatively unpopular, especially in areas such as transport and heating, where households would be directly affected by higher prices. This is particularly relevant, as the European Emissions Trading System is set to be extended to these areas in 2027.

Our findings underscore that to garner voter support for these necessary but unpopular policies, it will be essential to combine them with a more substantial redistribution of carbon-price revenues, providing some sort of compensation to all citizens while privileging those who are hit hardest. In general, it should be a key priority to reassure citizens that the costs and benefits of the green transition are equitably distributed.


What are your recommendations to the political parties?

It is clear that ideology and partisanship have a significant impact on people’s climate policy positions. If parties compete over the best recipes on how to fight climate change, explain trade-offs, and try to convince voters of necessary but unpopular steps, voters will take notice. However, if parties outbid each other over who scales back climate ambitions the most, they would not only misread where most voters stand on the issue but could inadvertently create the very climate fatigue they aim to address.


Thank you very much, Jannik Jansen, Policy Fellow at the Jacques Delors Centre in Berlin, for sharing your research on the perception of green policies by European voters.

The post Is there an anti-green backlash? appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

Debunking the Myth: Exploring the Role of Border Regions in European Identity Formation

Mon, 03/06/2024 - 16:15

by Dr Moritz Rehm, Prof. Dr. Martin Schröder, and Prof. Dr. Georg Wenzelburger (Saarland University)

The enduring romanticized notion that border regions serve as the quintessential embodiment of European identity has long captured our collective imagination. However, recent scholarly inquiry challenges this assumption, suggesting that the emotional attachment to Europe among individuals residing in border regions is not significantly different from those living inland.

Led by Professor Georg Wenzelburger, Martin Schröder, and post-doctoral researcher Moritz Rehm, our study recently published in JCMS delves into the prevalent belief that proximity to borders inherently fosters a stronger sense of European belonging. Contrary to popular belief and political claims, our findings, drawn from comprehensive data collected from over 25,000 individuals via Germany’s Socio-Economic Panel, reveal a surprising lack of disparity in attachment to Europe between residents of border and inland regions.

In scrutinizing potential explanations for this unexpected revelation, we explored various factors including education, income, duration of residency in border regions, and actual cross-border experiences such as commuting. While our study confirms the commonly held view that individuals with higher education, income levels, and international experience tend to exhibit greater attachment to Europe, it also shows that neither the educated nor the affluent, nor those with cross-border experiences, display heightened European attachment simply by residing in border regions compared to their counterparts in inland areas.

Rather than perpetuating an overly optimistic portrayal of border regions as natural hubs of European identity, our study urges a reevaluation of prevailing assumptions. While we do not outright dismiss the potential influence of border regions on European attachment, we propose a nuanced understanding. Border regions may indeed serve as focal points for European integration, intensifying the “experience of Europe” compared to inland regions. However, they may also be arenas of heightened conflict where national differences manifest more acutely, potentially leading to detachment from Europe among residents who directly witness the challenges of cross-national connections. Thus, border regions may simultaneously foster cooperation and conflict across borders, resulting in a net neutral effect on European attachment overall.

As policymakers continue to invest substantial resources in promoting cross-border cooperation, our study underscores the importance of adopting evidence-based approaches. Our data unequivocally indicates that border regions are not inherently foster greater European attachment. This insight is crucial for shaping informed policies that accurately reflect the dynamics of European identity formation.

Dr. Moritz Rehm is a postdoc at the Department of European Social Research at Saarland University. His research is focused on the political economy of European integration as well as on financial assistance in the European Union. He studied at the College of Europe in Bruges and holds a doctorate in political science from the University of Luxembourg.


Prof. Dr. Martin Schröder is professor of sociology at Saarland University, Germany. He did his doctorate at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne and studied at Sciences Po Paris. He was a postdoc at Harvard University and a Visiting Professor at Sciences Po Paris. He is currently in what explains a European identity.



Georg Wenzelburger is a political scientist and holds the Chair of Comparative European Politics at Saarland University. His research is centred on the comparative study of public policies with a focus on Western Europe. Recent work has focussed on the politics of law and order, welfare state reforms, digital politics and insecurity and has been published in academic journals such as the British Journal of Political Science, the European Journal of Political Research, the Journal of European Public Policy or West European Politics.

The post Debunking the Myth: Exploring the Role of Border Regions in European Identity Formation appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

Frictionless trade is different to free trade

Sat, 01/06/2024 - 21:15

Many people, including politicians and journalists, don’t understand the difference between ‘free trade’ and ‘frictionless trade’. This has caused a huge misunderstanding across the country, leading to the mess we are now in.

In summary, ‘free trade’ means that goods (sometimes only some goods) can be exported and imported between countries without tariffs – hence the phrase, ‘free trade’ or ‘tariff free’.

But those goods, even though tariff free, must still go through customs and are subject to checks, often causing many delays.

And even though it’s called ‘free trade’ there are other barriers as well as customs – such as regulations, restrictions, strict compliances and complicated documentation, which hold things up. (See the graphic for some examples).

‘Frictionless trade’ means that goods, as well as being tariff free, go through customs without any checks. In fact, it means that for trade between those countries, there aren’t any customs or borders.

Furthermore, with ‘frictionless trade’ there is a ‘level playing field’ between countries for the movement of goods – removing many of the barriers that exist with ‘free trade’ only.

That makes exports and imports between those countries super-efficient, leading to streamlined delivery of products, and of course, increased profits and more successful national economies.

But frictionless trade, although making international trade simpler and easier, is more difficult to establish than just free trade.

Frictionless trade can’t just be based on trust. If countries agree to flatten their borders, then those countries need to agree rules, terms and conditions. And they need to agree on a mutually acceptable court to intervene if those rules are breached.

That’s so the process of sending goods between each other is not abused, for example, to export substandard or dangerous goods, or exporting goods that are banned, to another country within the customs union.

Agreeing those rules is fiendishly complicated. But there’s more.

For frictionless trade to function most fully and most successfully, it needs what are called the ‘four freedoms’ – free movement of goods, services, capital and people.

These ‘four freedoms’ represent the cornerstones of the EU’s Single Market, helping the EU to become the world’s largest and most successful frictionless trading bloc.

Studies show that the EU’s gross domestic product (GDP) has grown by several percentage points thanks to the Single Market and its four freedoms. This is hardly surprising, when one considers that two-thirds of all goods produced in the EU are exported to another EU country.

To try and understand how the EU couldn’t fully function without all four freedoms, imagine how our own union of the United Kingdom also couldn’t fully function without these four freedoms.

Free movement of people, goods, services and capital between the three nations of England, Scotland, Wales and the province of Northern Ireland form the basis of our union of the United Kingdom.

It’s our single market. Just like the EU’s Single Market, it’s the glue that keeps us together.

Free movement of people, goods, services and capital work together. They cannot be separated without causing discord and disorder across our nation.

It’s the same with the EU. The EU functions as a cohesive single market of 27 countries – 31 if you include non-EU members Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein that are also in the Single Market – just as the UK functions as a cohesive single market of four ‘nations’.

The EU Single Market is the glue that keeps European nations together. It has helped to maintain Europe as one of the world’s richest and most successful continents, with common standards, values and history.

The UK’s Single Market, and the EU’s Single Market, both represent significant achievements. They work.

But here’s one vital difference.

Frictionless trade between the four members of the UK is vital to our smooth functioning as a nation. But doing business with each other doesn’t make the UK significantly richer.

To do that, we need the UK to export our goods and services (and we export far more services than goods).

Doing frictionless trade with other EU countries made Britain richer. Easy exports and imports with the EU brought us prosperity.

Losing borderless, lowest-cost trade with our most important customers and suppliers right on our doorstop, makes Britain – and Britons – poorer.

Our frictionless exports to the rest of Europe brought us wealth. Yes, exports to countries outside the EU also bring us wealth. But we need BOTH. And ONLY in the EU did we have both.































  • Watch this 1-minute video – What the UK has lost:

  • Watch 1-minute video: Rishi Sunak supports the Single Market – but only for Northern Ireland

  • Watch this 3-minute video: 1988 When Britain LOVED the Single Market


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Categories: European Union

Artificial Intelligence and Intersectionality

Thu, 30/05/2024 - 16:32
Inga Ulnicane

Behind the Artificial Intelligence (AI) hype about its numerous benefits, uncomfortable questions concerning the problematic social impacts of AI on issues such as justice, fairness and equality are intensifying. While it has been argued that AI has a potential to eliminate human bias, growing evidence suggests quite the opposite – that AI is amplifying and exacerbating gender, racial, ethnic and other stereotypes. Some widely discussed biased AI applications include hiring algorithms that discriminate against female candidates, facial recognition that performs poorly on black and female faces as well as obedient and subservient digital female voice assistants. At the same time, it is very difficult to find examples where AI has helped to detect, reduce or eliminate human bias.

In two recent articles (Ulnicane 2024; Ulnicane and Aden 2023), I analyse how AI documents frame concerns about bias and inequality in AI and recommendations for tackling it. For this analysis, I use an intersectional lens to highlight the interaction between multiple identities – gender, race, class and others – leading to the marginalization, exclusion and discrimination of certain social groups.


Social vs technical framing of bias in AI

Bias is one of the key concerns in policy, media and public discussions about AI. While bias in AI can be presented as a technical issue, it is a multifaceted phenomenon that includes social, technical, political, cultural and historical dimensions. To make sense of discussions about bias in AI, in our recent article (Ulnicane & Aden 2023) we distinguish two competing frames: technical framing and social (socio-technical) one.

According to a technical frame, AI is objective and neutral and can help to detect and eliminate bias. If bias in AI occurs, then it is just a glitch that can be addressed with technical measures. AI is offered as a technical fix to solve human bias. While this technical frame has been quite popular, it has been challenged by an alternative social framing. According to the social frame, AI amplifies and exacerbates human biases and reflects deep rooted historical and systemic inequalities and power asymmetries. It cannot be just fixed with AI but requires a systemic and holistic approach. We suggest approaching bias in AI as a complex and uncertain ‘wicked problem’. To tackle such a problem, a broader strategy is needed that combines technical and social actions based on wide-ranging collaborations including affected communities.


Intersectionality and AI: concerns and agenda for tackling them

In my recent article on intersectionality and AI (Ulnicane 2024), I examine four high profile reports on AI and gender focusing on how they frame concerns and recommendations for action. The reports highlight the systemic nature of equality issues in AI, where the diversity crisis among AI developers and founders leads to the building of biased AI systems creating a negative feedback loop and vicious cycle. Concerns that AI might offset progress made towards equality during previous decades are growing.

Lack of women and minorities in computing is not a new problem. There have been a lot of diversity initiatives in computing during the past decades, but they have not led to positive changes. Sometimes these initiatives have even resulted in decline of diversity because they have not sufficiently addressed underlining culture and structural issues in the tech sector that includes harassment, discrimination, stereotypes, unfair pay and lack of promotion opportunities. Despite the acceptance of diversity rhetoric by tech companies, it is often poorly understood and has even experienced pushback.

The reports highlight the urgency of diversity problem in AI. They argue for a broad approach that goes beyond just increasing numbers of women and minorities. Instead, focus should be on shaping culture, power and opportunities to exert influence. Furthermore, it is necessary to involve perspectives from multiple disciplines, sectors and groups. At the same time, it is important to avoid ‘participation washing’ when the participation of a minority representative is supposed to legitimize the project.

While intersectionality provides an illuminating perspective on some of the key concerns in AI, in the existing AI landscape dominated by economic issues it can be perceived as a niche perspective mainly concerning women and minorities. It could be enriching to use intersectionality to reimagine AI in more inclusive and participatory ways.



Ulnicane, I. (2024) Intersectionality in Artificial Intelligence: Framing Concerns and Recommendations for Action. Social Inclusion, 12: 7543

Ulnicane, I. & Aden, A. (2023) Power and politics in framing bias in artificial intelligence policy. Review of Policy Research, 40(5): 665–687

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Categories: European Union

Why does the EU not learn how to improve its democracy support practices?

Mon, 27/05/2024 - 17:08

by Christian Achrainer & Michelle Pace, Roskilde University (RUC)

The EU has aimed to support democratization in Arab countries for decades, yet the region is still one of the most authoritarian in the world. What is most striking is that the EU has apparently not learnt from its past ineffective democracy support (DS) attempts but continuously reproduces DS malpractices. To help us understand non-learning in that context, and in policy-making more generally, in our recent JCMS article, we conceptualize EU DS as practices performed by a community of insiders who act within a complex constellation on communities of practice (CoPs). The article provides an explanation for why the EU is not able to improve its DS practices, and it allows us to critically reflect on the way how the industry works and constantly (re)produces malpractices. This can help us rethink EU DS and identify ways to overcome this gridlock, and it brings practice-theoretical debates on (non)learning forward.

Learning and the CoP Approach

The article primarily draws from the CoP approach and is thus situated within the practice turn in International Relations (IR). The CoP approach offers a practice-theoretical perspective on learning and non-learning in groups, assuming that learning is rather a communal social endeavour instead of an individual mental process. CoPs are learning communities, which, as Adler defines them, consist of “like-minded groups of practitioners who are informally as well as contextually bound by a shared interest in learning and applying a common practice.”

We argue that only a very restricted form of learning takes place within CoPs: members learn the CoP’s (non-reflexive) background knowledge and learn how to perform practices accordingly. They do not, however, critically reflect on background knowledge, and once this knowledge becomes internalized, CoP members perform practices as a matter of routine and largely unconsciously. Thus, they do not learn reflexivity nor introspection: that is, how to be open to reconsider and revise background knowledge and how to improve the practices they perform. Instead, they constantly reproduce the same practices, no matter whether these are suitable to reach a desired goal or not.

EU DS and the Constellation of CoPs

In our article, we build on this theoretical approach and conceptualize EU DS as practices performed by a community of insiders within a complex and multi-layered constellation of CoPs.

As shown in Figure 1 above, the insiders (CoP 1) stand at the centre of this constellation, and they comprise three sub-CoPs: deciders (CoP 1.1), supporters in the EU (CoP 1.2), and local supporters (CoP 1.3). All individuals who have ultimate decision-making power regarding EU DS within EU institutions are members of CoP 1.1, deciding on the overall strategy, budgetary issues, instruments and measures, and so on. The deciders closely work together with supporters in Europe (CoP 1.2) and in Arab states (CoP 1.3), such as large and well-connected implementation agencies and NGOs, or influential Think Tanks and other experts. These supporters provide the deciders with information, and they implement DS projects financed by the deciders. Members of CoP 1 constantly engage with each other, and the background knowledge on which they base their practices largely converges. They are entangled and co-dependent, because they can only jointly run the industry of DS, from which they all benefit.

Yet, the insiders do not perform their practices in a vacuum but within a complex environment. At least three groupings of outsiders perform practices which also impact democratization in the Arab World as well as (non-)learning amongst the insiders and the subsequent reproduction of their malpractices. Outsiders contesting DS malpractices (grouping 2) are all those actors in Europe (CoP 2.1) or in Arab states (CoP 2.2) who call for an alternative, more inclusive, bottom-up EU DS approach which empowers local democratization practitioners. They could help to turn malpractices into good practices by bringing in fresh ideas and insights, and by contesting the dominant background knowledge and established practices of CoP 1. Yet, they lack influence and are kept out of CoP 1 by powerful gatekeepers.

Outsiders contesting EU DS as such (grouping 3) are all those actors who are, in general, against democratization in the Arab World and contest EU DS practices on this basis. The grouping comprises actors in Europe, such as right-wing populists or anti-feminist movements (CoP 3.1), at the local level, such as the military, the monarchy, fundamentalist religious actors, or a corrupt business elite (CoP 3.2), and international actors, such as leaders of other autocratic states (CoP 3.3). These CoPs can, for example, produce counter-narratives or support non-democratic forces, contest the legitimacy of EU DS practices, and they complicate good practices and learning.

Finally, grouping (4) comprises actors involved in cooperation between the EU and Arab countries in fields such as energy (CoP 4.1), migration (CoP 4.2), security (CoP 4.3), and trade (CoP 4.4). While EU practices in these fields often significantly influence DS, the EU largely treats them as disentangled policy areas. CoPs of grouping 4 and CoP 1 hardly coordinate their practices, which they each perform based on different background knowledge. In consequence, CoPs of grouping 4 frequently perform practices contradicting EU DS efforts, and the EU’s cooperation with Arab countries often rather entrenches authoritarian structures by propping up repressive regimes.

Application of the Constellation Model and the Way Forward

In our JCMS article, we illustrate this – admittedly complex – constellation model by explaining non-learning in the context of EU DS in Egypt in the period 2011 until 2017. This is an interesting case, because EU deciders had enthusiastically declared to critically reflect on their cooperation practices with Egypt after the 2011 Revolution, but have then, after the military coup in 2013, gradually returned to the pre-2011 practices, indicating the incapability to truly reflect on the insiders’ background knowledge to improve practices.

The case study provided in the article also exemplifies that the constellation model can serve as a general conceptual framework for empirical research, including categories of actors conceptualized as CoPs and groupings of CoPs, and, importantly, that it must be regarded as a flexible framework. Which CoPs exist in the EU’s DS in a specific country is an empirical question, and the framework can be adjusted to study particular aspects of EU DS. When studying EU DS and EU practices performed in other policy areas, especially CoP 1 and the CoPs of grouping 4 will be relevant. To investigate the impact of actors who prefer maintaining authoritarian structures, a focus on CoP 1 and grouping 3 seems more appropriate. And so on. Empirical studies will not necessarily have to apply the entire constellation, but it can and should be adjusted.

Therefore, we hope that our article inspires others to apply the model in in-depth empirical case studies (which do not need to be restricted to the Arab world!), developing it further. Moreover, we hope to kick-start increased conceptual thinking on how to use practice approaches and especially the CoP approach when studying EU DS and (non-)learning in policy-making groups, because this in essence is our main objective: to provide a sound conceptual framework to better understand (non-)learning in EU DS.

Christian Achrainer is a PostDoc researcher at Roskilde University, where he is involved in the Horizon Europe project SHAPEDEM-EU. His research focuses on democracy, authoritarianism and human rights in the Arab world (esp. in Egypt) as well as on German and EU foreign affairs.



Michelle Pace is Professor in Global Studies at Roskilde University, Denmark. A political scientist by training, her research focuses on the intersection between European/Middle East/Critical Migration/Democratization and Conflict Studies.

The post Why does the EU not learn how to improve its democracy support practices? appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

A UACES-supported research trip delving into Slovenia’s history

Thu, 23/05/2024 - 13:56

I am thrilled to have been awarded the UACES scholarship to support my research trip to Slovenia. As a PhD candidate in war studies, I focus on reconciliation in Slovenia following post-Second World War mass killings. Reconciliation remains a contentious, disputed and polarised topic, experiencing revisionism, contestation and political manipulation. My research aims at developing an understanding of this historical case that still continues to impact the country and its politics today. It was a great privilege to conduct my research trip with the support of the UACES scholarship.


The UACES scholarship supported five weeks of fieldwork in Slovenia by contributing to my expenses for the trip, including travel, accommodation, and food expenses. I was in Ljubljana between 14 April and 17 May. The trip has provided me with the opportunity to spend time in Ljubljana to conduct interviews, which are an integral part of my research, as well as archives and the National and University Library of Ljubljana, to collect data and access books that are not available in London.


Interviews, networking and access to resources

The interviews were an invaluable source of information which the UACES scholarship enabled me to collect. I was able to get insights on my research topic from key experts working on the post-war atrocities and Slovene reconciliation, including historians, politicians and government actors, journalists, investigators, novelists, and philosophers. They provided me with fascinating insights into my research on reconciliation in Slovenia, the narratives explaining the post-Second World War mass atrocities, political polarisation and the interpretation of history. The discussions were informative and engaging, providing me with significant knowledge to develop my arguments. They contribute to fulfilling my research objectives, which are to understand what reconciliation in Slovenia means, what the obstacles for reconciliation are, the role of historical re-interpretation and revisionism in reconciliation, and finally, what solutions have been attempted to address the obstacles.


In addition, the interviews provided me with the opportunity to network and receive guidance from the experts I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing. This has been an exceptional opportunity for professional development alongside the development of my research.


Besides the interviews, visits to the National and University Library of Ljubljana provided me access to books and sources such as newspapers and archival material that are not available in London. These resources offer a wealth of information to support my research. Additionally, I visited the government archives, which gave an insight into the gaps in the archives since many documents are missing. However, it was fascinating to access certain documents, and it was exciting to delve into a country’s past through governmental archives. Archives, and the lack thereof, are an integral aspect of my research, looking at a country that has been independent since the early 1990s but was previously part of communist Yugoslavia. During the decades under Yugoslavia, the post-war atrocities were silenced, and their knowledge was hidden. Therefore, the silence in archives and the few documents available are an interesting insight into the role of silence in reconciliation and establishing the facts about the past.


Therefore, the UACES scholarship allowed me to focus on my research and develop my professional skills and network.


The importance of understanding the context behind the research

Finally, the UACES scholarship enabled me to spend a longer time in Slovenia and visit the museums, including the Museum of Contemporary History and the City Museum of Ljubljana. Museums provide insights into how history is presented to the public and remembered in collective memory. Since my research focuses on a polarised topic, visiting museums and being confronted with how history is publicly explained is insightful to understand my research’s social and political context. Understanding the context is central to this research topic. Indeed, since the focus is on contemporary reconciliation, revisionism and polarisation, context is key to understanding how the problem developed and why events that took place over 70 years ago continue to divide. This context explains how people think and why they argue certain positions, the impact of decades of silence, and the deeply rooted re-interpretations of history.


Concluding remarks

The trip supported by UACES was also an opportunity to spend more time in my native country, where I have lived for only a very limited time. I was able to reconnect with the language and culture and delve into a dark chapter of history. Spending these five weeks in Ljubljana allowed me to immerse myself in my research topic and better grasp the context of my research.


I am grateful for the recognition provided by the awarded UACES scholarship to conduct my fieldwork because it supported my research and data collection, which I hope will contribute to the academic field of reconciliation and mass atrocities but also to a practical understanding of obstacles to reconciliation, and solutions addressing these obstacles.

The post A UACES-supported research trip delving into Slovenia’s history appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

The Radical Right and the European Elections

Tue, 21/05/2024 - 16:46

© European Union 2024- Source EP – Alain ROLLAND

Every Monday, a member of the international academic association ‘UACES’ will address a current topic linked to their research on euradio.


Listen to the podcast on eu!radio.



Very pleased to have you back with us, Nick. You have studied the European far right parties over decades now and you shared your findings several times in our programme, most recently on how these parties respond to the climate crisis. With the European elections less than one month away, let me ask you what you think of all the media speculation about the rise in support for Radical Right Parties.

Before turning to next month, the first thing I would flag up is that the Radical Right already did very well in the 2019 European elections. A leading scholar in the field, Cas Mudde, estimated back then that ‘Right-wing Euroskeptics took between a quarter and a third of the seats in the European Parliament, with populist radical-right parties making the biggest gains’.

That said there is little doubt that the number of Radical Right MEPs looks set to increase further at the elections next month, although not uniformly across the member states.

In a Policy Brief conducted for the European Council on Foreign Relations in January, Kevin Cunnigham and his co-authors predicted that ‘anti-European populists’ are likely to come first in nine member states and that the two transnational groups where Radical Right parties currently sit are likely to win a quarter of the European Parliament’s 720 seats.


Is that confirmed in the current opinion polls?

If we look at the three largest Western European states, FranceItaly and Germany (all three founding members!), the Radical Right, as represented by the Rassemblement National, the Fratelli D’Italia and the Alternative für Deutschland, could obtain up to 75 seats.

This would represent over 10% of the seats in the Strasbourg Parliament. And that’s before you add the 12 seats predicted for the rival radical right parties in Italy and France, Matteo Salvini’s Lega (with a prediction of 7 seats) and Éric Zemmour’s Reconquête (possibly 5 seats). On the face of it, this is a very significant rump of like-minded Radical Right MEPs emanating from the three big founding member states!


Why do you say “on the face of it”?

Because historically, the Radical Right has struggled to work together in the European Parliament, and this has limited its overall influence and impact. Back in 2007 Michael Minkenberg and Pascal Perrineau stated that ‘there is nothing more difficult to establish than an international group of nationalists.’

Since then, we have witnessed more cooperation among radical right parties, but even today, despite the strategic and financial advantages of transnational group cooperation, the Radical Right remains fractured across two groups: the ‘soft eurosceptic’ European Conservative and Reformists group (ECR), and the ‘hard’ Eurosceptic Identity and Democracy group (ID). To illustrate the point, if we go back to our discussion about France, Italy and Germany, currently the Fratelli d’Italia are in the ECR group and the Rassemblement National are in the ID group.

And even within the groups there are tensions between certain parties; for instance, most recently within the ID group between the RN and the AfD over the latter’s controversial meeting on ‘remigration’.

In other words, as Cas Mudde extrapolates, ‘a far-right “super group” remains an unlikely scenario – at least for the next legislature.’


So, what will be the significance of their potential increase over the next 5 years?

The significance in the broader sense is that it appears to confirm the ongoing mainstreaming of the Radical Right, which is much debated by political scientists.

What this means in terms of its impact on EU policy is that flagship policies such as the European Green deal may be up for further discussion and potentially watered down. There will also be moves to prioritize a stricter immigration policy, with pressure on the Schengen Agreement and the principle of open internal borders.

In short, the next President of the European Commission, whoever that is, will face significant challenges emanating from the Radical Right in terms of the future trajectory of the European Union.


Many thanks, Nick Startin, for sharing your observations and expectations with us. 
I recall you are Associate Professor of international relations at John Cabot University, in Rome.

The post The Radical Right and the European Elections appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

20 years of Slovenia in the EU – Ana Bojinović Fenko

Tue, 21/05/2024 - 16:27

Photo de Luka E sur Unsplash

Every Monday, a member of the international academic association ‘UACES’ will address a current topic linked to their research on euradio.


Listen to the podcast on eu!radio.



Ana Bojinović Fenko, you are professor of international relations at the University of Ljubljana. Tell us what you were doing when Slovenia joined the European Union on the 1st of May 2004?

I was already at the University of Ljubljana, 23 years old and just graduated in Political Science with a major in International Relations at the Faculty of Social Sciences. Only fourteen days before the 1st of May 2004 I defended my Bachelor Thesis with the title: “Western Balkans as an opportunity for Slovenia as a member of the EU”. I was quite enthusiastic to be finishing my studies in this field, which was much focused on the EU accession process of Slovenia at this time when it was successfully finalised and when the accession Treaty came into force.


So what were your expectations for the future at that moment in your life?

My expectations as a future Master student were mostly focused on how to seize the new opportunities offered by the EU market and other EU integration instruments. I remember I applied for a master’s in European integration in Nice, in a programme ran by the Centre International de Formation Européenne, and I almost moved to France!

But finally, despite being accepted to the programme, I decided to stay in Ljubljana, where I was offered an employment in scientific research. In October 2004 I started a job as a Junior Researcher, which led directly from the Master to PhD studies in International Relations.

And I could feel the expected opportunities brought by EU membership very quickly, as the Centre of International Relations where I was employed got engaged in concrete international projects, especially those funded by the European Union. We were mostly analysing economic and political effects of EU enlargement for the EU but also for small states such as Slovenia. One specific feature, for example, was the effect of transition periods that were negotiated by some of the new Member States – for Slovenia this was a period imposed by Austria and Germany for opening their job market. In these research projects, the most important feature for Slovenian foreign policy was focusing on the future EU enlargement towards the Western Balkan countries.


So you were seizing the opportunities right from the beginning.
How do you look back today at these two decades?

Both personally and professionally I am very satisfied with Slovenian membership. It should be noted though that Slovenia as a society, economy and state did not only profit from EU membership. There were also hard times, for instance the specific period of the economic and financial crisis, when the state was on the very verge of bailout, but then the government managed to avoid international intervention into domestic finance.

Still, I consider the EU political community brings much more positive effects to Slovenia compared to if the state had not become an EU member. In my assessment, the ultimate positive effect for Slovenia – a former communist state – is the internalisation of European values into Slovenian society. This effect was very visible in 2020–2022 period, a moment when the government started several political manoeuvres of de-democratisation, disrespect of human rights and rule of law. Not only political opposition and organized civil society but also the Slovenian people in general opposed en masse such a move away from EU values and in the election managed to change the leading party and the government.


So there’s definitely more than economic benefits to EU membership.

Yes, I think so. All of the challenges Slovenia is facing – economic, political, security, social or cultural effects of globalisation – would of course have been present regardless of its EU membership. But for a small state of only 2 million people in the centre of Europe, at the crossroads of four different cultures, I assess that these challenges are met much more effectively in a multilateral setting within the European institutions.

As the biggest opportunity for Slovenia, I see the possibility for our country to contribute to EU policies that respond to specific interests and expertise of Slovenian companies, civil society and state: a fair green transition on a global scale, safeguarding international peace and security, protection of human rights and application of humanitarian law in armed conflicts, and more particularly the integration of Western Balkan countries into the European Union.


The last issue may be one of the most pressing ones today. Thank you very much, Ana Bojinović Fenko, for your personal testimony. I recall you are professor of international relations at the University of Ljubljana. All the best for the next twenty years!

The post 20 years of Slovenia in the EU – Ana Bojinović Fenko appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

20 years of Czechia in the EU

Wed, 03/04/2024 - 16:56

©European Union

Every Monday, a member of the international academic association ‘UACES’ will address a current topic linked to their research on euradio.


Listen to the podcast on eu!radio.



Petr Kaniok, you are professor of political science at the Masaryk University of Brno, beautiful city in the South-East of the Czech Republic. And you recall the moment when your country became a member of the European Union, twenty years ago, on the 1st of May 2004.

May 2004 – that is a long time ago! Twenty years is a small step for mankind, but it is a remarkable period for one person. Anyway, I still remember what I did and what the atmosphere was in the society. Why? Because this time was very special, vibrant and unique.


What were you doing at that time?

I was about to complete my first year of doctoral studies in the political science programme at Masaryk University. The exact location is important – the faculty was new, established in the late 1990s – there were no real “social sciences” in Czechia before the 1989 Velvet Revolution. Everything had to be built up from scratch – political science and subsequently European studies. So, I remember that even that being admitted to the political science branch, already during the first year I moved – surprise, surprise! – to the newly founded Department of International Relations and European Studies. And started my first research and PhD project there.


Had you always been interested in the European Union?

Yes, my move was not an accident. Even though I graduated from political science, I was interested in the EU politics already there. My master thesis had been about the EU Council presidency – a detail no one cared about at that time – apart from me!

To be honest – there was no great knowledge on the EU prior to accession. Both the people and the politicians perceived membership as a goal, a potential gate to heaven. Once I read the biblical metaphor of the “EU as the land of milk and honey” – and this is, I think, a very accurate description of the atmosphere in Czech society at the time. The EU was first and foremost perceived as a way to modernize the country. Particularly in economic terms – the EU was seen as a river of quick and easy money that would change everything and would make people richer. There was a dream of having the same salaries as people in Germany, the same living standards. But no one talked about or even mentioned the duties, possible problems or challenges that such a membership inevitably is associated with. Because no one knew, or no one believed this was important.


So how was the awakening?

The years after the accession was a kind of adapting to normality. Seeking for membership in a club is a different thing than being a member. This transformation happened both to Czech society and me personally.

People, as well as the politicians, had to absorb the first shocks. In particular, responsibility and activity – for example, the famous 2009 Czech EU Council Presidency, which the Czech government framed as “giving lectures and lessons to the EU”, but ended with the domestic collapse of the government and the change of prime minister in the middle of the presidency.

Or the famous EU funds which, as they were used in Czechia, quite quickly transformed into “toxic money” associated with corruption, scandals, and frauds. Both the people and the politicians started to realize – very slowly, sometimes without success – that the EU will not etake care of us”. We have to take care of the EU, as we are, more or less, the EU.

For me personally, the process was less dramatic but sometimes painful as well. Being a student and subsequently a young researcher operating mostly in a domestic context is something different than facing the EU context, EU-wide cooperation and EU-wide competition.


What conclusion do you draw at the end of these twenty years?

In a nutshell: “no pain, no gain!” I think that despite the bumpy road during the 20 years of the Czech EU membership, we are on today on a good track and the country – and I personally – benefit from the membership. It is not just about the new highways or hospitals built across the country. What I see is more cooperation, more communication, more openness and more willingness to take our own responsibilities.


Thank you very much, Petr Kaniok, for sharing both your personal testimony and your analysis as professor of political science at Masaryk University, in the beautiful city of Brno.

The post 20 years of Czechia in the EU appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

The ideational power of strategic autonomy in EU security and external economic policies

Mon, 01/04/2024 - 13:47

by Ana E. Juncos, Bristol University and Sophie Vanhoonacker, Maastricht University

EU Strategic autonomy: different trajectories in security and external economic relations

Global shifts in power distribution and successive international crises have challenged key ideas and policies underpinning European Union (EU) external action and led to the formulation of a new narrative in which geopolitical considerations have come back to centre stage. One of the main ideas put forward to deal with the increasingly unstable international environment is strategic autonomy (SA), understood as the capacity of the EU to act independently in realizing its strategic objectives and defending its interests and values. Although the SA concept was born in the security domain, it has gathered pace in the field of EU external economic relations. Puzzled by these different trajectories, our recent JCMS contribution  seeks to get a better understanding of why an idea originally born in the area of security and defence has become more embedded in the field of trade and external economic relations. We aim to solve this puzzle by researching the role and power of ideas and how they enable actors to push for policy change in a context of geopolitical uncertainty.

Using the analytical lenses of discursive institutionalism, we examine how policy entrepreneurs took advantage of international developments such as the Presidency of Donald Trump, the Covid-19 pandemic or the war in Ukraine to transform both the cognitive and normative beliefs of actors, and to what extent they have been translated into new EU policies. In a comparative analysis in the domains of EU security and external economic relations, we focus on three dimensions of ideational power: power in, power through and power over to understand the different trajectories of SA in these two policy areas. We argue that the ability of ideational entrepreneurs such as the Commission to push for this idea, supported by the coercive power derived from its exclusive trade competences, facilitated the adoption of this concept in the form of ‘open strategic autonomy’. By contrast, French President Emmanuel Macron was unable to persuade others to move towards a more sovereigntist conception of SA in the area of security and defence. Only in the case of defence capability development, where the Commission enjoys budgetary power and competences in industrial policy, has SA been able to take hold.

Hegemonic discourses – Power in Ideas

As a first step, we look into how the SA concept relates to prevalent hegemonic ideas at the EU level. While our analysis of EU strategic documents shows that the SA discourse indeed has challenged the predominant philosophies on how to best guarantee the Union’s prosperity in a rapidly changing geopolitical and geoeconomic context, it is still too early to speak of a paradigmatic change. The deeply ingrained neoliberal paradigm and the continuing controversies between Atlanticists and Europeanists have proven to be quite resilient. For instance, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been perceived by Atlanticists as clear example of the continued need to rely on NATO for defence and to maintain the close political and security ties with the US. By contrasts, the Europeanist camp has argued that the war in Ukraine has drawn attention to the weaknesses and dependencies of EU member states in matters of defence and the need to address those by strengthening SA. Hence, the ambiguity surrounding the concept remains.

Discursive Entrepreneurs – Power through ideas
The launching of new ideas is always accompanied with discursive interactions and struggles about the definition of problems and their possible solutions. In security and defence, we argue that the French President Macron, who has been the key discursive entrepreneur, did not manage to persuade others to follow a more sovereigntist understanding of SA. In line with French strategic thinking, President Macron has repeatedly emphasized the need for the EU to strengthen its capacity to defend itself and to act independently from others. Yet, other member states, particularly Central and Eastern European countries, have rejected this notion. This is well illustrated in the 2022 Strategic Compass with its emphasis on partnerships, but also explicitly noting that NATO ‘remains the foundation of collective defence for its members’. By contrast, in the area of trade, the European Commission has been more successful. Although the member states were also divided in the field of external economic relations, DG Trade cleverly coined the term Open Strategic Autonomy (OSA). This helped to build a bridge between those favouring a more protective EU approach and the so-called ‘friends of the internal market’.

Authority and Competences – Power over Ideas

As a third step, we examine the coercive capacity of policy entrepreneurs, i.e. the resources and/or competences that those actors have within a particular institutional context. Here our comparative analysis shows that in security and defence, where supranational institutions are relatively weak and every member state is a potential veto player, it has been more difficult to impose new ideas than in external economic relations, where national capitals have delegated competences to the EU. Despite several discussions at the highest political level, the member states did not manage to reach consensus on what to understand under SA in the security field. In the area of external economic relations on the contrary, a well-resourced  DG Trade did not only develop a new Trade Policy Review (2021) but also managed to move ahead with developing a whole range of new trade instruments aimed at promoting sustainable value chains, supporting the EU’s regulatory impact, enforcing trade agreements and ensuring a level playing field.

What have we learned?
Our comparative analysis shows that to understand the different success rates of the SA concept in the area of security and external economic relations, it does not suffice to merely study the external drivers of the EU’s geopolitical turn. We demonstrate that it is also important to pay attention to internal factors, such as the role of ideas. The study of discursive struggles about dominant paradigms, the role of policy entrepreneurs and their authority and competences is indispensable to better understand the EU response to the rapidly changing international context.

We conclude that although the debate about the reformulation of security and external economic policies took place in parallel, over time we have seen a ‘security logic’ being transposed to the EU’s external economic policies. Whilst the convergence of the two debates could positively impact coherence, it also brings risks. If one of the biggest defenders of free trade and multilateralism is increasingly reverting to a sovereigntist discourse and a policy of relative gains, this may negatively impact the openness of the global trade system and the EU’s international influence.

Ana E. Juncos is Professor European Politics at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol. Her primary research interest lies in European foreign and security policy, with a particular focus on EU conflict prevention and peacebuiding.



Sophie Vanhoonacker is Professor in Administrative Governance at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at Maastricht University. Her research focuses on the institutional aspects of EU External Relations and administrative governance in the area of foreign and security policy.

The post The ideational power of strategic autonomy in EU security and external economic policies appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

Ukraine’s other battle: the one against corruption

Thu, 28/03/2024 - 14:42

@Max Kukurudziak sur Unsplash

Every Monday, a member of the international academic association ‘UACES’ will address a current topic linked to their research on euradio.


Listen to the podcast on eu!radio.



You are postdoctoral research fellow and lecturer at the University of Surrey, in Britain, and you would like to draw our attention to the fact that Ukraine is not only defending itself against the Russian aggression, but also fighting a second battle, against corruption.

That’s right, and this second battle is a serious test for the promotion of democracy, not least in the post-war context.

However, measuring corruption’s impact and the success of reforms is notoriously difficult. What does, for instance, the revelation of corruption cases mean? Does it mean that corruption has become more widespread? Or does it mean that anti-corruption institutions have started to work more efficiently? There is a crucial need to distinguish facts from perception.


Tell us how the fight against corruption actually works.

It begins with the realization that policy makers in systems that are characterized by large-scale corruption have rarely an incentive to conduct reforms on their own. The EU’s mission to promote such reforms revealed a certain divergence within its own ranks: there are Realists and Idealists, and each group has its own definition of success and method of evaluation.

The Realists, emphasizing geopolitical stability, caution against vocal criticism of reform failures, fearing it might bolster counter-narratives. For them, the sole existence of anti-corruption institutions is sufficient to speak of a success of their “reform advice”.

Idealists, on the other hand, view institutional reforms as the bedrock of geopolitical strength and the most potent weapon in the ongoing conflict with Russia. As a result, they call for openly addressing shortcomings of local anti-corruption institutions and see only the processing and conviction rate of corruption cases as a sufficient measure to speak of success.

This antagonism reveals the complexity of internal assessments. The dominance of the realist camp in the EU explains the way in which the EU approached reforms in Ukraine and the corresponding language of official documents, which lacked consistency and clear yardsticks over the years.


How strong is resistance to reform?

The multifaceted nature of resistance to reform was visible in 2020, with the Constitutional Court ruling on asset declaration transparency, no doubt the most important backsliding event during President Zelensky’s tenure.

Traditional views see backsliding as a phenomenon driven by the executive. But this case unveils a whole network of opposition spanning the judiciary and the legislature, which the executive later used for its own benefit. That’s when coalitions between Western actors and the Ukrainian civil society become essential. The battle against corruption demands a decentralized, collective front, which can bring about actual results by incentivising policy makers to become active.


So what does this say about the reconstruction of Ukraine, once this terrible war is over?

The insights from recent years clearly advocate for a shift from passive declarations to active, committed engagement in real anti-corruption efforts conducted by Western actors.

This also touches upon the current debate on transferring Russian frozen assets to Ukraine. This approach might bring about moral hazard: Western actors might be tempted to disengage in the reconstruction due to the “easy fix” of these assets. Instead, these assets should serve as a partial refund mechanism for Western reconstruction aid given to Ukraine, which must, however, be conditional upon meeting institutional benchmarks first that would be elaborated and monitored together with Ukrainian civil society. This would bind Western actors to truly commit to good institutional outcomes in Ukraine and use their leverage to push policymakers in Kyiv to conduct the necessary reforms.


In a nutshell, what will be the key to success?

The integration of internal and external actors from the onset: any internal reform drive must be supercharged with external pressure to sustain it. The challenge hereby lies not only in implementing anti-corruption measures formally, but also in crafting a cohesive and realistic assessment of factual progress, one that bridges the gap between theoretical ambition and practical achievement.

The path to meaningful reform is fraught with challenges but illuminated by the potential for profound, transformative change. The insights received from Ukraine’s experience can serve as a beacon for future post-war reform efforts, guiding policymakers and international actors towards more effective cooperative reform strategies.


And guiding Ukraine to its objective of eventual membership. Thank you very much, Michael Richter, for sharing your research insights on this topic. I recall you are postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the University of Surrey, in Britain.

The post Ukraine’s other battle: the one against corruption appeared first on Ideas on Europe.

Categories: European Union

European elections: voting matters!

Thu, 28/03/2024 - 13:51

© European Union 2024 – Source : EP

Every Monday, a member of the international academic association ‘UACES’ will address a current topic linked to their research on euradio.


Listen to the podcast on eu!radio.



Simon Usherwood! I’m very pleased to welcome you back on Euradio. Your are professor at the Open University in Britain, and Chair of our partners UACES. Less than three months left until the elections to the European Parliament. What are your expectations? And: do you think these elections actually matter?

Whether these elections matter is a great question and one that often gets asked.

45 years after the first direct elections, it is still a key problem for the European Parliament that most people don’t know much about what it actually does. Instead, their main reference point is national politics.

As a result, many people vote to express their views about their national government’s performance, or to express their more instinctive political views. And many think there’s no real consequence: if you consider the European Parliament doesn’t do anything important, it’s your chance to get your general view, or simply your discontent out there.

Of course, you and I, Laurence, aren’t going to make the same mistake, because we both know that these elections do have consequences.


You are right: at EU!radio, we are well aware of the important role played by the 750 MEPs that will be elected in June.

To start with, it’s up to them to approve the formation of the new European Commission. Even if everyone expects right now that Ursula Von Der Leyen will most likely continue for another 5 years, she still has to get the votes of a majority of those MEPs, as will all of the other 26 Commissioners of her team. Given that she has raised various question marks over the past five years, this might not be as simple as it appears.

Secondly, the fields in which MEPs get to co-legislate cover a very wide range nowadays, from regional development to agricultural spending, from environmental protection to international development, so your choice at the ballot box really counts.

And finally, MEPs help to hold the rest of the Union to account. The Parliament’s committees can scrutinise the work of other institutions and invite individuals to give evidence. By holding up a mirror to the EU’s work, they can improve the quality and legitimacy of what it does.


Which is certainly not unnecessary. What do you expect for the election campaign?

The centre-right EPP group, with lead candidate Von der Leyen, is set to retain its position as the largest in the new Parliament, bolstered by substantial representation in every member state. On the centre-left, the S&D group will most likely be the second-largest group, making the current ‘grand coalition’ with the EPP and the liberal Renew group quite probable.

However, polls suggest that we are likely to see more critical voices in the Parliament than before. Mostly this comes from the nationalist and eurosceptic right, but also in part from the far left. Remember how I said voters often chose parties as a function of how they see their national government? Well, one consequence of that is that populist rhetoric about how ‘politics is failing’ or ‘all politicians are the same’ gets an outlet here. We see similar kinds of arguments in pretty much every member state.


Many of them sound like the UKIP’s pitch before the Brexit referendum eight years ago!

That’s right. At the same time, perhaps because Brexit was very messy, you hear fewer voices saying that leaving the Union is a good idea, but this doesn’t stop them criticising what the EU does and how it does it. Not without a certain inconsistency: the loudest critics are often the ones whose MEPs are the least present in the daily life of the Parliament.

The problem faced by the European Parliament are very similar to the problems in all democracies. Democracy lives through participation and engagement of citizens with those who make decisions on their behalf. And the first way to engage is to vote.

So the answer to the question whether European elections matter is: voting matters!

My message to the listeners: over the next three months, take a bit of your time to find out more about what parties say they will do for you and remember that your vote will have consequences.


Many thanks, Simon Usherwood, for sharing your thoughts on the forthcoming elections. I recall you are professor at the Open University, and Chair of our partners UACES.

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Categories: European Union

Clashes of sovereignty

Thu, 28/03/2024 - 13:28

@engin akyurt sur Unsplash

Every Monday, a member of the international academic association ‘UACES’ will address a current topic linked to their research on euradio.


Listen to the podcast on eu!radio.




Bonjour, Emilija Tudzarovska, you are Lecturer in Contemporary European Politics at Charles University, in Prague, and your research focuses on the democratic legitimacy of the European Union. How do you evaluate it today?

Let me start with going back to the economic crisis that struck the world in 2008. This crisis revealed deeper problems plaguing representative democracies and party politics, but also effected a profound change in EU member states’ political and economic systems.

One of the consequences has been the emergence of a new type of parties, movements and political leaders. These new parties are using appeals to both populism and technocracy, sometimes intertwining the two, as strategies to gain, hold and exercise power on behalf of ‘the people’. Their logic exploits what can be called clashes of sovereignty at the nation-state level.


Can you explain what exactly is understood by “clashes of sovereignty”?

Research has discussed EU democratic legitimacy from several different viewpoints. Some scholars have examined the transfer of key policy competencies in economic governance to the supranational level, especially since the Maastricht Treaty. In principle, national parliaments are supposed to exercise surveillance and accountability, on this share of authority, especially in economic policy, in order to provide legitimacy to democratic decisions, which should represent citizens’ interests.

The question is how well-equipped national parliaments are to do so. Their role has been changing, and the EU integration project has contributed to these transformations.

As a result, political systems and political parties are struggling to institutionalise popular sovereignty. In political science, this situation is best contextualized in a conflicts of sovereignty framework analysis. The framework identifies three main types of sovereignty conflicts: foundational, institutional, and territorial. What we are currently witnessing in Europe is an institutional conflict over where final authority lies.


If I understand correctly, this kind of conflict occurs between parliamentary sovereignty and claims to popular sovereignty?

Yes. In some other cases, it can also be between constitutional and popular sovereignty.

What these conflicts have in common is that they all came to the fore during the EU debt crisis in Southern and Eastern Europe. Events in Greece, Slovenia, Italy and Bulgaria, for example, show the degree to which institutional conflict has weakened the ‘institutionalization’ of political competition, and created a fertile ground for what is called a technopopulist logic – a new concept that describes a new way of doing politics.

The EU economic crisis was not only about clashes of sovereignty between the Troika and EU debt countries. It was also about how popular sovereignty is exercised within the EU, and it was underlaid by a crisis in party politics. All this results in different institutional conflicts of sovereignty.


What are the best strategies for resolving these conflicts?

Some European countries responded to citizens’ calls for more democracy by holding referenda. Many people think referenda enhance direct democracy because citizens can voice their opinions directly on a specific matter.

In Greece and Slovenia, states ignored demands for popular referenda. Instead, they introduced measures supported by supranational technocratic executives. Bulgaria and Italy organised two referenda to reform the institution of parliament. Both failed, but have substantially weakened parliaments in the face of national executives.

In all four countries, the clash between popular and parliamentary sovereignty has paved the way for “technopopulism”, and for the rise of political parties, movements and leaders, which combine appeals to populism and appeals to technocracy, to win elections. Both appeals, combined or not, constitute a challenge to traditional representative democracy.

The management of the Euro crisis brought politicians to pass policies through weak parliaments while at the same time invoking popular sovereignty to weaken parliaments even further.


Do you see a way out of this self-perpetuating crisis?

Not in the immediate. Popular and parliamentary sovereignty remains trapped in a technopopulist loop, which not only reflects the new conflicts of sovereignty but exacerbates them, leading to an ongoing crisis and challenging pluralistic forms of representative democracy. It will be difficult to break the loop that reinforces the tendency of government “for the people” rather than “by the people”.


Many thanks, Emilija Tudzarovska, for sharing with us your scientific approach to the crisis of representative democracy that we all perceive. I recall you are Lecturer in Contemporary European Politics at Charles University, in Prague.


first text version of this contribution has been published on The Loop, the blog of ECPR, the European Consortium for Political Research.

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Categories: European Union

Labour’s EU policy: Early markers

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 07:38

A bit of tricky one, this. It partly explains the hiatus in posting of late, although that might also be down to the rubbish weather.

As we move towards a General Election, interest has naturally turned towards what a Labour government might look like and do. And EU policy is a recurring question.

On the one hand, the party played down the issue. It’s not that salient among voters; the party worries its views might dissuade swing voters; and the Conservatives will make full use of an ‘will of the people’ argument on any big changes in relations.

On the other, the relatively distant trading relationship with the EU is a deadweight cost to the economy, instinctive sympathies for close relations exist throughout the party leadership and there’s an incentive to demonstrate how to ‘make Brexit work’ is more than just about tone.

Which leaves observers in a position of some uncertainty.

I have yet to speak to anyone who thinks there is a more developed and ambitious EU policy within the party, awaiting the moment it can be unleashed, presumably after a crushing election victory.

At the same time, the piecemeal and hopeful approach of what we already know appears to be not fully fit for any constructive purpose. As Tim Shipman noted last week, it’s not enough to say that you’re not the Tories and hope everything falls into your lap. Both the EU and its member states have already secured their key objectives in the TCA/WA treaties, so the UK needs to have a more compelling sell if changes are to ensue.

All of which is a prelude to a graphic-in-progress.

Here I’ve try to gather all the public elements of Labour’s EU work in the post-Johnson period. That includes speeches substantively about the subject (although all of these drift off into broader framings to various degrees), policy statements and interactions with relevant people.

It’s a limited overview, since there are various other things going on that I’m aware of, but can’t easily substantiate. However, there’s nothing that suggests any significant divergence from the broad picture presented here: lots of getting-to-know-yous, warm words, but minimal policy development beyond that.

At a guess, the intention is to get a few (relatively) simple wins – on SPS, on security – and then to leave more involved options for the fabled second term. Of course, those more involved options are also the ones that need more time to negotiate, so whether anything significant could be wrapped up in time is a moot point right now.

But that is to miss the wider point, namely that while there is an agenda of strengthening the UK’s profile as a key partner, within which EU relations sit, the starting point is one of minimising spending of political capital, rather than a strategically-grounded reassessment.

That’s understandable from a political management perspective, but it runs the risk of leaving a Labour government underpreparing for handling any future bumps in the road, foreseen and unforeseen. Just as the Major government found that reactive European policy had its limits in the 1990s, so too might Starmer discover that leaning-in is the less politically-costly option in the long run.



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Categories: European Union

Responsible Research and Innovation training

Mon, 11/03/2024 - 12:11
Inga Ulnicane

How to align research and innovation with values, needs and expectations of society? During the past ten years, researchers, policy-makers and funders in Europe have developed and supported the Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) approach to address societal aspects of research and innovation early on. This approach aims to go beyond risk management and have a broader focus on the purpose of research and innovation. It involves a range of anticipation, reflection, engagement, and action mechanisms to involve society and foster interdisciplinary collaborations to shape research and innovation towards socially beneficial goals. Importantly, in the RRI approach responsibility does not just refer to responsible conduct of individual researchers but aims to facilitate responsible processes and governance arrangements across the whole research and innovation system.

To build such a system, it is important to provide relevant training opportunities for researchers and stakeholders. Some of the major research funders such as the EU Framework programme and UK research councils have supported the development and delivery of RRI training activities, which play a crucial role in raising awareness and developing culture that puts societal aspects at the core of research and innovation. Two recent collaborative publications in the Journal of Responsible Technology share a number of good practices of RRI training.


RRI capacity development in a large-scale EU research project

Researchers in the EU-funded Human Brain Project (HBP) have developed a dedicated RRI capacity development programme (Ogoh et al 2023). The HBP (2013-2023) was one of the largest international collaborations ever that brought together around 500 researchers from over 100 universities and research centres from some 20 countries. Over ten years, the project received approximately half a billion Euros from the EU Framework Programmes. An integrated RRI team of social scientists and humanities researchers in the HBP worked alongside neuroscientists, computer scientists and engineers.

Continuous collaboration in this case allowed the development of the RRI capacity development programme in close consultation with researchers and stakeholders. The programme included 17 modules on a range of topics such as data governance, dual use, and diversity. Moreover, it developed online training resources, lectures, and videos.

Many participants of online and in-person training were eager to learn about and reflect on societal aspects of their work. Often, they told us that this much needed training has been missing during their university education, which typically had covered ethical aspects rather narrowly in terms of ethics approvals. However, assessing the impact of RRI training is far from straightforward. Counting training sessions and participants as well as reading evaluation forms gives some indication of interest and satisfaction. At the same time, it is much more challenging to assess some of the core aspects of RRI such as reflexivity, changing culture and increased sensitivity towards societal expectations.


RRI and doctoral training

In the UK, RRI training is integrated in the centres for doctoral training. A recent editorial (Stahl et al 2023) presents a variety of examples of how RRI training is organized and assessed in the context of these centres. This collaborative publication provides rich information and reflection on aims, content, and challenges of teaching RRI. It addresses questions such as: What kind of skills, attitudes and competencies do researchers need in the context of RRI? Should they be required to have a relatively detailed understanding of methodologies of foresight or public engagement? Or should they rather be willing and able to continuously reflect on and address social and ethical aspects of their own research?

The editorial demonstrates a broad range of approaches and methods to RRI training and assessment across diverse disciplines and universities. While having RRI as part of doctoral training is an important step towards its institutionalization, it is rather limited on its own. To be impactful, it needs to be part of a broader transformation of the research and innovation system including policy, reward system and funding.



Ogoh, G., Akintoye, S., Eke, D., Farisco, M., Fernow, J., Grasenick, K., Guerrero, M., Rosemann, A., Salles, A. & Ulnicane, I. (2023). Developing capabilities for responsible research and innovation (RRI). Journal of Responsible Technology15, 100065.

Stahl, B. C., Aicardi, C., Brooks, L., Craigon, P. J., Cunden, M., Burton, S. D., De Heaver, M., De Saille, S., Dolby, S., Dowthwaite, L., Eke, D., Hughes, S., Keene, P., Kuh, V., Portillo, V., Shanley, D., Smallman, M., Smith, M., Stilgoe, J., Ulnicane, I., Wagner, C., & Webb, H. (2023). Assessing responsible innovation training. Journal of Responsible Technology, 16, 100063.

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Categories: European Union

EU’s Conundrum of Strategies: Is There an Orderly Jigsaw on the Horizon?

Thu, 07/03/2024 - 11:01

Original date of publication on the UACES Ideas on Europe platform: 27 January 2016

The grandness of the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy lies in its potential to render the existing conundrum of various EU strategies into a more orderly set of strands with a clear vision regarding their mutually complementary role.

Strategies are inbuilt in EU’s genome. These policy documents define EU’s aims, approaches in tackling challenges and addressing common issues.  EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy (hereafter – EUGSFSP) is being designed with an aim to “enable the Union to identify a clear set of objectives and priorities for now and the future. On this basis the European Union can align its tools and instruments to ensure that they have the greatest possible impact”. The EUGSFSP refers to other existing initiatives, which should be streamlined according to the needs of this particular strategy. This short overview of several EU’s strategies is aimed at providing a broader context on how the EU Global Strategy of Foreign and Security Policy fits in the existing conundrum of EU strategies. Consequently, it provides few suggestions for consideration in the context of the EUGSFSP drafting and implementation process.

EU strategies are designed, coordinated and their implementation is overseen by Directorates-General of the European Commission, as well as European External Action Service. It is a common practice that prior to the drafting process a public consultation takes place. Then, during the drafting process of a strategy states come together to identify areas of mutual interest, where they see the added value of a joint action. It could be termed as the “business as usual” practice.

Broadly speaking, these policy documents are being discussed on two levels. The European level encompasses inter-service consultations and public consultations, as well as the European Council and its working groups. The national level is characterised by working groups which gather all national (and in certain cases subnational) entities involved in the implementation of the relevant strategy.

Overall, EU strategies vary in structure, level of details in terms of the implementation process, approach on measuring achievements, as well as vagueness or concreteness of goals. For example, DG MARE coordinates the EU Maritime Security Strategy (hereafter – EUMSS) which excels in its detailed approach towards actions to be pursued. One of DG REGIO’s facilitated strategies is the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (hereafter – EUSBSR), which, as its name suggests, has a regional focus and is characterised by broad descriptions of policy areas, getting closer to implementation once the flagship projects are explained. The European External Action Service is leading the EU Central Asia Strategy, which since 2007 defines a tailored approach to each of the five countries involved. These are just three examples of a much wider pool of EU strategies dedicated to regional matters or a specific policy area.

The reason why EU strategies are described as a conundrum is that they are far from being unique in terms of issues they are addressing and geographic areas they are aiming at covering. Here are few examples of overlapping responsibilities. Both the EUMSS and the EUSBSR aim at strengthening the cross-sectoral cooperation and synergies between information, capabilities and systems of various authorities in domains of maritime surveillance, preparedness for emergency situations and marine pollution. Moreover, the EUMSS has its own external dimension (called “Workstrand 1”), which defines actions to be undertaken in cooperation with the third parties. Similarly, EUSBSR encompasses cooperation with non-EU countries. In addition, the Strategic Review “The European Union in a changing global environment: A more connected, contested and complex world” covers regions which have already their specific EU strategies in place, such as the previously mentioned EU Central Asia Strategy.

Why is it worth pointing out these commonalities? The success of EU tools and instruments lies in their complementary nature. When it comes to the EUGSFSP, it would be advisable to go beyond the “business as usual” practice outlined above and render the existing EU strategic conundrum in a more orderly jigsaw. Namely, the EUGSFSP would explain the role of other relevant EU strategies and clarify their unique contribution to attaining the EUGSFSP goals. Such an approach would also help to pool the existing expertise for more coordinated actions and streamline initiatives taken under various EU frameworks, as well as avoid duplication of activities.

However, such an endeavour demands additional coordination of input and effort both from European and national levels. On the European level, it requires brainstorming regarding the future inter-service coordination of various strategies in order to increase the overall awareness of various EU strategies among different divisions of EU institutions. On the national level, it requires extended consultations. These discussions should not be limited to the so-called “usual suspects”, such as authorities dealing with foreign affairs, defence and military matters. It should incorporate inputs from other governmental bodies involved in the national steering of different EU strategies. All in all, if the EUGSFSP really is aimed at being grand, these suggestions might help to render the EUGSFSP impressive and overarching not only in words but also enshrine it in its nature and scope.

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Categories: European Union

Motivational Quotes For Work

Thu, 07/03/2024 - 11:00

Original date of publication on the UACES Ideas on Europe platform: 11 April 2016

Do you have at work one of these lovely collaborative brainstorming boards? I do. Here is my inspirational (inspirational / management) quote. In short, I have taken the liberty to add a new twist to the widely used Altshuler’s quote.

The impressive photo of F-22 was retrieved from Defense Industry Daily.

In case you find this collage inspirational and worth having in your office area, then feel free to download the JPG file.

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Categories: European Union

The EU’s Diplomacy for Science in the Southern Neighbourhood: Setting a Research Agenda

Thu, 07/03/2024 - 10:58

Original date of publication on the UACES Ideas on Europe platform: 15 October 2019

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash


The outlined science diplomacy research project is presented with a full appreciation of Adler-Nissen’s concise observation that ‘over the last 50 years, European states have come to view their nations as anchored so deeply within the institutions of the EU that their diplomats merge the promotion of national interests with those of the Union and states begin to speak with one voice’. ‘Science diplomacy’ is a term coined approximately ten years ago in order to launch a more in-depth discussion on the relations between science and diplomacy in shaping international ties. European Union (EU) is no stranger to science diplomacy. However, the overall pool of scholarly examined case studies remains rather thin. There is room for more insight into how individuals in various professional circles practice science diplomacy. This article provides an outline of how an analysis dedicated to the EU science diplomacy in the Southern Neighbourhood with a particular focus on Morroco (MA) and Tunisia (TN) throughout the time frame of 2014 – 2017 would contribute to the overall examination of science diplomacy, as well as establish ties to other topical theoretical strands of EU studies.


Science Diplomacy as a Component of the EU’s Structural Diplomacy

Since science diplomacy is not a term which would be widely integrated into the EU documents, the practices of this form of diplomacy, including those that are sometimes described as ‘public diplomacy’ or ‘academic exchange’ become the logic subjects for further examination. The implicit science diplomacy is understood as policies and implementation measures which are not called ‘science diplomacy’ but correspond to the basic definition of one of the three taxonomies of science diplomacy. ‘Diplomacy for science’, meaning, diplomacy exerted to establish cooperation agreements either between governments or certain institutions allowing one or several of the parties involved to benefit from ‘foreign science and technology capacity in order to improve the national capacity’ (Šime, 2018, p. 4; Van Langenhove, 2017, p. 8), is worth exploring in the European Southern Neighbourhood Policy context throughout the selected time frame of 2014-2017.

The novelty of such a choice or research project is its endeavour to enrich both the academic and policy expert thinking on the evolving ‘diplomacy for science’ understanding in the EU setting and embed it in a wider theoretical framework of structural diplomacy. In order to acquire a more nuanced understanding how the institutional set-up influences the perspectives of EU-based actors towards cooperation with the peer institutions located in the selected countries the actor-centered institutionalism is chosen as another theoretical building block. It implies analysing activities of certain entities as the causal link between macro-level processes and the governance regulations (Marks, 1996, p. 23).

Structural diplomacy, being an instrument of structural foreign policy, is a process of dialogue and negotiation by which actors in a system seek to influence or shape sustainable structures in the various sectors in a specific geographical area (Keukeleire & Justaert, 2010, p. 3; Keukeleire, Keuleers, & Raube, 2016, p. 200). Structural diplomacy and structural foreign policy are worth employing, firstly, due to a full appreciation of the funding schemes managed by key institutions representing the EU (namely, the sectoral Directorates-General of the European Commission), which ensure practical implementation of its defined external relations, such as the multilateral or bilateral agreements, corresponding funding programmes (Keukeleire, 2003, pp. 31-32, 49-50).

Secondly, the choice of structural foreign policy is motivated also by the acknowledgement that it is implemented with milieu goals (Keukeleire, 2003, p. 46) or endogenous local contexts (Keukeleire & Delreux, 2014, p. 30; Keukeleire & Justaert, 2010, p. 8; Keukeleire et al., 2016, p. 204) in mind, associated with support for evolution of long-term structural changes with permanent results (Keukeleire & Delreux, 2014, p. 28; Keukeleire & Justaert, 2010, p. 3; 2012, p. 2). In the Southern Neighbourhood, as some of the key context-specific traits the efforts directed towards promoting stability (Börzel & Lebanidze, 2017, p. 23) and state-building (Börzel & van Hüllen, 2011, p. 6) should be mentioned.

The research project is not preoccupied with the earlier identified democratisation-stability dilemma (Börzel, Dandashly, & Risse, 2015, p. 7; Börzel & Lebanidze, 2017, p. 23; Börzel & van Hüllen, 2014, p. 1040). Instead it focuses on the stability-enhancing activities stemming from the ‘volatile dynamics of change’ (Bouris & Schumacher, 2017, p. 293), namely, the geopolitical developments which EU’s envisaged ‘ring of well governed countries’ (Barbé & Morillas, 2019, p. 5) or (later on rephrased as) ‘ring of friends’ (Börzel & van Hüllen, 2014, p. 1035) transformed into ‘the ring of fire’ (Blockmans, Kostanyan, Remizov, Slapakova, & Van der Loo, 2017, p. 136; Bouris & Schumacher, 2017, pp. 85-86; Gaub & Popescu, 2015, p. 5), leading to a full awareness about a policy problem and the overall acknowledged urgency to address such instability of the EU neighbourhood via dialogue on certain assistance measures. It is worth adding that the severity of the situation has been commented with even grimmer assessments that the EU’s choice of promoting ‘resilience’ was directed more towards stabilizing ‘itself’ (Barbé & Morillas, 2019, p. 8), thus shifting more towards the internal dimension of the ‘intermestic sphere’ (Bremberg, 2010, p. 170) characterising the Mediterranean space.

Furthermore, due to the continuous instability risks posed by the youth bulges (Gaub, 2019, p. 11), higher education and research sectors are selected from the whole panoply of ‘intermestic affairs’ (Barbé & Morillas, 2019, p. 13) in order to acquire a more nuanced insight into the practical developments supporting the above discussed policy goals.


Mare Nostrum’s Community of Practices

The proposed science diplomacy research project follows the whims of the ‘practice turn’ in EU studies (Adler-Nissen, 2016). It supports the arguments of Adler-Nissen and Didier Bigo (2011, p. 251) about Bourdieu’s relevance in exploring the individuals as ‘liaison agents’ who shape the characteristics of international ties by mediating and refracting elite policies (Adler-Nissen, 2016, p. 11). Thus, the aim is to look beyond the elite diplomatic circles in order to explore how the high-level discourses are echoed in the working-level routines of EU funded higher education and research cooperation.

The theoretical configuration taps into an earlier identified potential of new institutionalism to offer theoretical integration opportunities (Scharpf, 2000, p. 762). Due to the fact that both structural diplomacy and actor-centered institutionalism have several commonalities with most reflections on the future EU ‘diplomacy for science’, stronger ties to both schools of thought would allow accelerating the conceptual honing of this strand of the EU science diplomacy. In addition, adding a practice theory theoretical component to this constellation tallies well with the focus on implicit science diplomacy developments following the actor-centered institutionalism’s approach to ‘interaction-oriented policy research’, where ‘actors and their interacting choices, rather than institutions are assumed to be the proximate causes of policy responses’ (Scharpf, 2000, p. 764). The conscious or unconscious practitioner of science diplomacy is placed in the limelight.

Communities of practice are understood as ‘like-minded groups of practitioners who are informally as well as contextually bound by a shared interest in learning and applying a common practice’ (Bremberg, Sonnsjö, & Mobjörk, 2019, p. 626). Thus, the research project is founded on a theoretical assumption that EU funded project managers share certain common traits in their working habits which are aligned with the requirements defined by the EU funding schemes. The research project seeks to draw some generalisations what such a community of practice delivers vis-à-vis the overarching goals set in the key policy documents.


Scoping the Empirical Field

In Bourdieusian terms, the EU is considered as the transnational field which is characterised by certain permanent institutions (Bigo, 2011, p. 248) – Directorates-General of the European Commission and other services – which through the funding programmes (as the practical implementation means of the EU strategic frameworks) creates certain ad-hoc institutions – projects – aimed at accomplishing specific tasks by a defined set of consortium members within a limited time frame.

In order to render the empirical examination comprehensive, yet not too vague or overstretched, the roles of four EU institutions – European External Action Service (EEAS), Directorate-General for Research and Innovation (DG RTD), Directorate-General for Education and Culture (DG EAC), Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) – would be put under the magnifying glass in terms of exploring the projects funded by their overseen programmes. Those would be the EU-MA and EU-TN Annual Action Programmes overseen by DG NEAR (as integral parts of the European Neighbourhood Instrument 2014-2017), Erasmus+ of DG EAC and the Framework Programme administered by DG RTD. Projects’ coordinators are the selected community whose practices in terms of perspectives on and experience in cooperation with MA&TN-based institutions are worth exploring in order to get a better understanding what judgements and lessons learnt form certain basis of the EU ties with the EU Southern Neighbourhood in higher education and research sectors.

The outlined EU institutions would be analysed with an awareness of one policy area requiring the engagement of several Directorates-General (Glover & Müller, 2015, p. 33; Šime, 2018, pp. 10-11), which does not necessarily translate into frequent policy innovations and new policy constellations due to the overall policy inertia and a general preference of status quo characterising multi-actor policy systems (Scharpf, 2000, pp. 768-769). Since none of the four EU institutions has been tasked to pursue science diplomacy, let alone diplomacy for science, the chosen conceptual constellation allows elaborating on the EU’s multiple voices (da Conceição-Heldt & Meunier, 2014), namely, what role EU-based research and higher education institutions acting as Lead Partners or Coordinators of EU funded projects play in the overall EU implicit science diplomacy exerted in relations with MA&TN throughout 2014-2017.


Priorities of EU Institutions in Short

The DG NEAR’s European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) 2014-2017 defines three priority sectors, none of which entail clear references to research, science or innovation. The EU puts emphasis on ‘socio-economic reforms for an inclusive growth, competitiveness and integration; strengthening fundamental elements of democracy; sustainable regional and local development’ (European Commission, 2018). The thematic focus of the EEAS on building the societal resilience in the European Southern Neighbourhood and DG NEAR pursued three priority sectors are not treated as the EU dialogue and practical cooperation with MA&TN lacking any component of science, research or innovation.

The leverage to such lack of domain-specific prominence is DG RTD and DG EAC continuous engagement of MA&TN in initiatives funded by the Framework Programmes and Erasmus+. It allows placing the ENI 2014-2017 initiatives and resources allocated to their implementation via EU-MA and EU-TN Annual Action Programmes as the benchmark to test whether research and higher education-related engagements funded by other EU programmes offer more opportunities. Those would be DG RTD’s Framework Programmes’ funded measures, such as BLUEMED and Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, especially in view of the comparative difference between the chosen cases. Namely, TN is an associated country of Horizon 2020 but MA does not enjoy the same status.

In order to enhance the structural dimension of the empirical analysis, the acquired data on the EU funded projects, where MA&TN are involved would also explore their segmentation, whether certain sciences were benefiting more from the EU offered cooperation and learning of good practices than others, thus potentially contributing more to the capacity building in certain sectors of socioeconomic value to both countries.

Moreover, the depth of analysis would not stop only at the examination of the statistical landscape of project engagements. Through the exploration of Coordinators and Lead Partners’ assessments of the engagement of MA&TN institutions in specific projects, a more nuanced understanding would be obtained about MA&TN capacity of learning and strengthening their research and higher education institutions via project engagement. Therefore, the research project aims at exploring not only the scope and science domain-specific coverage of MA&TN engagement in the EU funded measures, but also to analyse whether the experiences obtained through the implemented projects have been judged by the EU-based managers responsible for the project implementation, namely, to bring tangible benefits in the capacity-building of MA&TN-based research and higher education institutions.

This line of enquiry into the perspectives widely shared among the selected community of practice follows the conceptual logic of diffusion, especially its dependence on recipients, which, along the lines of the bounded rationality, are presumed to follow the ‘instrumental rationality or logic of consequences’ (Börzel & Risse, 2012, p. 5), as active shapers of results (Börzel & Risse, 2012b, p. 204). Thereby, strengthening the research potential and building capacities of research and higher education sectors in the Southern Neighbourhood is not just a matter of the EU’s proactiveness, but also depends on the responsiveness of MA&TN institutions to use the whole set of cooperation opportunities and ensuring the sustainability of project results.


Keeping the Focus on the EU

According to the new institutionalist logic of a bounded rational actor (van Lieshout, 2008, pp. 8-9) pursued along with the established social norms and values (Maggi, 2016, p. 22), the research project would explore what role the EU engagement both in the bilateral and multilateral dialogue on science, cooperation with MA&TN in this domain, play in the overall EU’s attempt to enhance resilience in its southern neighbourhood.

In order to keep a healthy level of focus and nuance ‘the target country perspective’ (Keukeleire & Justaert, 2010, p. 19) and three conceptualisations of alignment (Keukeleire et al., 2016, p. 205) – the value brought by an engagement in the EU funded projects of MA&TN researchers and higher education staff as seen from their own perspective – are kept outside of the scope of this specific suggested analysis. Instead, the emphasis is kept on exploring the perspective of EU-based institutions on their ties with the peer institutions in two selected countries of Southern Neighbourhood.



Besides the acquisition of earlier described statistical data on projects implemented throughout 2014-2017 with the financial support of three EU funding schemes, the semi-structured interviews will give a new impetus to the research on the recent rediscovery of the value of Jean Monnet method in Northern Europe in advancing the EU goals (Ekengren, 2018). The selected method of interviews follows, the logic elaborated by Emanuel Adler and Vincent Pouliot: ‘Not only is language the conduit of meaning, which turns practices into the location and engine of social action, but it is itself an enactment of doing in the form of ‘discursive practices’’ (Adler & Pouliot, 2011, p. 6). The interviews serve as a way of exploring how project managers are walking the talk.

Self-censorship and self-legitimation (Adler-Nissen, 2016, p. 15) presented by the interviewed Coordinators and Lead Partners of EU funded projects and their narrated overall contextualisation (Adler-Nissen & Kropp, 2015, p. 164) of MA&TN engagement would be a good source of comparative insight between working-level deliverables and framework goals set in key EU policy documents and promoted among the EU’s high level representatives.


Ready to Look Beyond the ‘Golden Carrot’

To conclude, the outlined science diplomacy research project is crafted to take a fresh look at the earlier findings on the EU Southern Neighbourhood. It avoids the blind following of the assessment of Keukeleire and Justaert (Keukeleire & Justaert, 2012, p. 2), as well as Börzel and her colleagues arguing for the crucial role of the ‘golden carrot’ – EU membership (Börzel & Schimmelfennig, 2017, p. 278; Börzel & Hüllen, 2011, p. 7), namely, that the EU external action has less of an influence vis-à-vis those countries to which it cannot offer EU membership as the ultimate reward. A more nuanced insight into the stabilising efforts exerted via capacity building in higher education and research might offer some new food for thought, whether this assessment is still valid in the contemporary setting.



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