Liberal empire, geopolitics and EU strategy: norms and interests in European foreign policy making

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The European Union (EU) is an imperial power. Building on the EU-as-empire paradigm and Manners’ concept of ‘normative power’, this article argues that owing to the institutional set-up of its governance and its discursive strategies, the Union resembles an imperial polity which has to adopt an interest- and norm-driven ‘dual strategy’. EU scholarship has been exploring the tensions between short-term security interests and a long-term reformist agenda in the Union’s external strategies for the last two decades. The argument presented in this article is novel as it is informed by findings from a new imperial historiography which has revisited the imperial governance and discourse of former European empires—for example the Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian empires. The first part develops a definition of the EU as a liberal empire based on strategies of geopolitical modelling of hierarchy in centre-periphery relations and normative discourses to legitimise that hierarchical order. The second part explores the impact of strategic environments on EU strategy. An analysis of the ENP reviews of 2011 and 2015 suggests a resilience of the EU’s ‘dual strategy’ despite a geopolitical turn in strategic thinking. Thus, the supranational identity building capabilities of the EU’s ‘normative power’ are retained. At the same time, its impact propensity in the neighbourhood appears significantly weakened.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-123
Number of pages24
Issue number1
Early online date16 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Europe
  • Strategy
  • Identity


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