Working Group 2: Perception and Communication


Our goals

Working Group 2 focuses both external and internal images of the EU and information flows and narratives of the EU inside and outside the Union. Knowledge of EU external images and narratives – in the EU’s neighbourhood and far away from its borders – is the key to analyse gaps between expectations of the EU and the new realities of the changing world. We also examine how images and perceptions may influence the EU’s diplomatic instruments, its strategic partnerships, political dialogues, and its capacities as an – albeit contested – normative power. Over the past decades, political dialogue has advanced as a flexible, multi-purpose tool to express the EU’s multiplicity of voices. WG2 aims to explore the EU’s discursive powers and the ways in which political dialogue can be mobilized to acquire consent and coin European narratives.

Systematic comparative analysis of self and external perceptions in their interaction and co-construction as well as different phases in narrative circulation – formulation, projection and reception – are an effective means to chart the extent to which the EU is recognized by external partners and internal stakeholders to be a credible and leading actor able to shape global debate and policies at a time of major global challenges. Zooming in on “new realities”, we will concentrate on specific topics such as the EU’s strategic standing in the eastern and southern neighbourhoods, Middle East region, questions of EU-Africa relations and development, and the role of the EEAS as a communicative actor and dialogical power. Furthermore, we will explore external perceptions of the EU as an aspirant global power and international leader.

Working Group 2 ensures interdisciplinary innovative synergies between studies of the EU and its foreign policy, International Relations, political communication and psychology, media, linguistics, identity and cultural studies. It tests new theories and a range of methods to add to the explanation of images, frames, perceptions and narratives projected by the EU – and understood by audiences – inside the EU, in the European neighborhood and around the world.

Our activities

In the current period, the Working Group focuses on 1) preparing and circulating policy papers and policy briefs and 2) working on the two peer-reviewed Special Issue profiling research into EU perceptions inside and outside the EU by the participants of the WG2 Winter School at Aarhus University, Denmark, in November 2019.

The topics we cover include, but are not limited to, images and perception of the EU inside the EU and among its neighbours to the east and south, implications of the information flows and perceptions evolutions for Europe’s neighbourhood policy, climate and energy policy, and the interaction between the European institutions and the Member States in the EU’s external policy agenda.

We encourage both academic and non-academic authors to boost the outreach of their work by preparing short executive summaries of their research findings. The COST action will then circulate them in the relevant policy arena in the EU. For more information, please contact the group leaders.

How to participate

Please contact the Working Group leaders in order to join the mailing list and follow our Research Gate project to interact with the group directly.

Our outcomes

Osička, Jan; Kemmerzell, Jörg; Zoll, Maksymilian; Lehotský, Lukáš; Černoch, Filip; Knodt, Michèle (2020): What’s next for the European coal heartland? Exploring the future of coal as presented in German, Polish and Czech press, in: Energy Research & Social Science, Vol. 61,

This article addresses the future of coal in the European coal heartland, i.e. in the area of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic, which together account for nearly 57% of coal consumption and 87% of coal-mining jobs in the EU. It approaches the problem within the interpretative tradition of social research and explores the coverage of the future of coal in major newspapers and political magazines in the three countries. The results show that despite similar material conditions, the issue is presented in a fundamentally different manner as the media tend follow the dominant energy policy paradigm in their countries: in Germany, they facilitate the phase-out policies; in Poland, they act as an inhibiting factor; while in the Czech Republic, their coverage echoes the political uncertainty around lignite mining in the northwest part of the country. The results also suggest that the media act mainly as a platform for the countries’ decision makers and energy policy stakeholders to voice their perspectives. The prevalent media coverage thus simultaneously enable and constrain policy options by promoting dominant discourses and preventing alternative views from surfacing.


Chaban, Natalia; Elgström, Ole, Knodt, Michèle (2020): Perceptions of EU mediation and mediation effectiveness: Comparing perspectives from Ukraine and the EU, in: Cooperation and Conflict, Vol. 54,

A small but growing literature has started to analyse the European Union (EU) ‘as an effective peacemaker’. We make a contribution to this field by investigating EU mediation effectiveness in the Russia–Ukraine conflict. The focus is on perceptions of effectiveness. Based on information from semi-structured interviews, we compare EU self-images with Ukrainian evaluations of EU mediation efforts. How effective is the EU, including its Member States, deemed to be? What factors are believed to lie behind perceived (in)effectiveness? We concentrate on four such factors, derived from the mediator literature: perceived (im)partiality, coherence and credibility and, finally, evaluations of the EU’s mediation strategies. Both internal and external views singled out EU member states as the most effective actors in current mediation. The role of EU was seen in ambivalent terms by both sides. All the four determinants of mediation effectiveness are discussed in our material, but differ considerably in the degree of attention given to each of them. While (im)partiality is not a factor that is linked to effectiveness in any straightforward way, EU incoherence is associated with inconsistent and weak policies, notably in the Ukraine material.


Schoenefeld, Jonas J.; Knodt, Michèle (2020): Softening the surface but hardening the core? Governing renewable energy in the EU, in: West European Politics,

Soft law and governance captured the attention of scholars in the 2000s, and new policy challenges and the novel introduction of ‘harder’ elements now drive a (re)turn to these discussions. This article explores the extent to which dynamics leading towards ‘harder soft governance’ (HSG) appear in the EU’s renewable energy governance by comparing the 2020 and 2030 Renewable Energy Directives. Document analysis and interviews reveal a surface-level softening because the new 2030 directive contains no binding national targets for the Member States. An entrepreneurial Commission has been seeking to introduce ‘harder elements’ at the core by focusing on implementation, allowing for potentially deeper influence on the national energy mixes though the Energy Union. Two main factors drive these changes: the evolving international context of climate change governance, as well as re-configurations of the actors in the EU. Future research should explore the effectiveness of emerging HSG in detail.