European Union Foreign Policy in a Changing World

Book review

Reviewer: Andriy Tyushka

Publisher: Polity Press, 3rd edition ISBN: 9780745664705
Author's page: Karen E. Smith

European Union Foreign Policy in a Changing World

IMPORTANT: CEJISS is not associated with resellers. CEJISS is not responsible for the content of external links

The flurry of changes to the EU’s internal and external environments produced a demand for thorough analytical accounts of the Union’s challenges as an international actor aiming to imprint the world order. Unsurprisingly, a robust scholarship of EU foreign policy analysis has mushroomed in the last decade. Among them, Karen E. Smith’s European Union Foreign Policy in a Changing World stands out for its distinctive focus—searching for the rationale behind the EU’s empowerment and its goal-driven involvement in shaping international affairs. Smith illustrates that ‘change is the one constant in international affairs’ (p. xiii), including the academic dimension. Accounting for the changing internal and external contexts in which the EU operates, this edition retains the original focus on ‘teleology’ of the EU’s foreign policy by analysing ‘why and how the EU pursues five foreign-policy objectives’ (p. 2). 

Since its establishment, the EU has been questioned on its effectiveness and blamed by sceptics for delivering too little. To a certain extent, this critique is been ill-founded since it often lacks the reference point of identifying what the EU’s objectives were from the onset. Asking precisely what the EU foreign policy goals are and how they emerged, what are the available instruments and how effectively the Union has deployed them, Smith attempts to fill this lacunae with her genuine focus on the EU’s ‘milieu goals’ (p. 6). 

Essentially, the book is built around a set of selected five EU foreign policy objectives broadly conceived as both legally stipulated and politically manifested imperatives for action. Smith’s take contributes to a burgeoning field of research in IR; manifesto research, which originates from comparative politics. 

Structurally, this text is organised into 9 chapters revolving around the topical analytical categories such as the EU’s international role and actorness, its foreign policy effects and effectiveness, as well as the very core of its international identity as constituted by the declared foreign policy objectives. The book can be split in two parts with the first introducing EU foreign policy and international actorness, and the second tackling the problem of contextualising and operationalising its foreign policy objectives as imperatives for international engagement. 

Chapters 1-3 set out the theme of the EU as an international actor; conceptualise it’s foreign policy against the backdrop of declared foreign policy objectives; trace the evolution of EU actorness – starting from the early Community efforts to instigate the European Political Cooperation, up to the most recent developments in de-pillarisation and the new coherence consolidated by the Treaty of Lisbon – and evaluates the foreign policy instruments both used and potentially deployable to assert the EU’s role in shaping the world affairs. Remarkably, along with assessing traditional foreign policy instruments (economic, diplomatic, and military) just as the issue of coherence and consistency in their usage, Smith also disentangles ‘a few unique ones’ (p. 65)—essentially a ‘contractual diplomacy’ (with emphasis on agreement-based relations), the use of positive and negative conditionality mechanisms, and recently, strategic partnerships diplomacy. 

Constituting the analytical axis of the textbook, chapters 4-8 provide an account of the five relevant facets of EU foreign policy action driven and structured by each of the selected five foreign policy objectives, namely: 1. the encouragement of regional cooperation, 2. the promotion of human rights, 3. the promotion of democracy and good governance, 4. the prevention of violent conflicts and, 5. the fight against international crime. Following a similar pattern, each chapter reveals the relevance of every selected foreign policy objective for the EU and within it; contextualises them and specifically defines them to possibly best assess the practices of their implementation. This allows the author to present a theoretically informed extensive empirical evaluation of what is often sporadically approached in foreign policy analysis of the EU—the very objective of foreign policy action. The final chapter surveys the theme by holistically revisiting the EU’s distinctiveness as an international actor, its commitment to the manifested foreign policy objectives and its performance in pursuing them. 

This excellent title offers an accessible and engaging insight – and an enjoyable read – into the EU as a teleologically informed shaper of international affairs. Strikingly, with her manifesto analysis of the genuinely distinct actor in international relations, Smith links what the EU does with what it aims to do. In a more ideational and non-labelling vein, she manages to present what the EU is – yet, ultimately, ‘the pursuit of [the] objectives also feeds into perceptions of the EU’s international identity, that is, the identity the EU (and its member states) would like to project’ (p. 204). Paradoxically, the weakness of this otherwise impressive textbook lies in the attractiveness of the problems it tackles. Whereas being suited for the primarily intended audience of (rather advanced) undergraduate and postgraduate students, it also undoubtedly attracts a more advanced readership. To provide for the latter, a more sound and appealing source of expert knowledge, a methodologically more sophisticated approach (including a systematic content analysis) could have been deployed. This would also allow the author to better tackle the matter of objectives implementation, that is the issue of ‘how effective the EU has been in actually achieving the objectives,’ which ‘this book does not cover in great depth’ (p.208), as admitted by Smith herself.

As it stands, European Union Foreign Policy in a Changing World is a well-written and well-researched account of EU foreign policy across intrinsically acute themes. Offering to escape inconclusive debates on sometimes ephemerally constructed perceptions of what the EU is, Smith invites readers to get ‘back to the sources,’ including Treaties and secondary law and official political statements, in order to facilitate a more fine-grained assessment of the EU’s international identity and actorness based on its goals-driven performance in world affairs. In this, Smith has drafted the most definitive survey, to date, of the EU’s manifesto as shown through her succinct interdisciplinary account of it’s foreign policy objectives.

2017 - Volume 11, Issue 2