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.

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 (selection)

For more information on the work of our COST ENTER-Working Groups, see “Publications” and “Events and Grants” on this website.

Marc Ringel, Nils Bruch, Michèle Knodt (2021): Is clean energy contested? Exploring which issues matter to stakeholders in the European Green Deal, Energy Research & Social Science, 77, July,

The European Green Deal aims at decarbonizing the European Union’s economies by 2050. This implies stepping up policy actions to support both renewable energy and energy efficiency, two domains in which the body of EU law has recently changed. These changes raise the question of stakeholder support for more ambitious policies. To assess such support, we first apply the concept of salience to identify the most important issues for four core European stakeholder groups and follow up with an in-depth investigation. We use a mixed method design, testing external issue salience through a qualitative read-out of 182 stakeholder position papers and 198,128 Twitter messages, and then testing internal salience and readiness to support through analysis of an opinion survey of 20 key European stakeholders. We find stakeholders closely align in demanding binding energy efficiency and renewable energy policies. Strong focus can be expected on energy efficiency targets and measures, less so on the further development of the framework for renewable energies. These findings confirm earlier studies on salience in different policy fields.


Knodt, Michèle; Schoenefeld, Jonas (2020): Harder soft governance in European climate and energy policy: exploring a new trend in public policy, Special Issue at Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, Vol. 22,

While various forms of soft governance have been long in the making, there is a growing introduction of new policy elements in order to ‘harden’ soft governance arrangements. These new forms of ‘harder’ soft governance (HSG) vary in the degree of hardness in different settings. This special issue aims to derive lessons for climate and energy policy on HSG by looking across other policy fields and institutions where such ‘hardening’ has emerged, including in climate policy monitoring, the EU Energy Union, the UNFCCC, the OECD, the Open Method of Coordination, the European Semester, and policy surveillance in transnational city networks. Bringing the contributions together, this introduction reviews soft governance approaches, including their hardening. It then develops a framework for diagnosing HSG, including indicators such as obligations, justification, precision, ‘blaming and shaming’ opportunities, the role of third party actors, bundling, enforcement by policy field coupling, and sanctions. The introduction then identifies driving factors of HSG, including the role of the EU Member States, a strong need for coordination, policy entrepreneurs and institutional opportunities. The lessons from this special issue provide a useful yardstick for the future development of climate and energy governance, and the use of HSG in other policy fields.


Schoenefeld, Jonas J.; Jordan, Andrew J. (2020): Towards harder soft governance? Montoring climate policy in the EU, in: Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, Vol. 22,

In the emerging debate on ‘harder soft governance,’ the relationship between hard and soft elements has not been fully explored. This paper addresses this gap by looking at the changing nature of policy monitoring, a quintessentially soft governance mechanism. It focuses on climate change, a dynamic site of policy expansion and experimentation in which the EU has historically been an international frontrunner. This paper finds that a range of ‘harder’ elements have been added to the EU’s climate policy monitoring over time, including more explicit legal provisions, greater external publicity, and more concrete links to other policy processes. These changes have emerged from politically sensitive negotiations between many actors, principally the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Environment Agency (who together have generally favoured greater hardening), and Member States (some of whom preferred softer governance) in the context of changing international opportunities and constraints. Moving forward, this paper highlights the need for more research on the efficacy of policy monitoring, especially with respect to the EU’s significantly more ambitious long-term decarbonisation targets.


Knodt, Michèle; Ringel, Marc; Müller, Rainer (2020): ‘Harder’ soft governance in the European Energy Union, in: Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, Vol. 22,

In 2016, the Commission proposed an ambitious governance strategy in order to further the transformation of the European energy system towards the Unions’ 2030 climate and energy targets. Therein the EU adopted the Regulation on the Governance of the Energy Union in 2018 to harden its otherwise soft governance. This contribution firstly aims at characterizing the ‘hardness’ of this soft governance. The analyses showed the introduction of harder elements to soft governance to at least a certain extend. Secondly, it explains the degree of hardness from actor-centred institutionalism perspective by analysing the trilogue of the co-legislators and the Commission. The analysis shows a successful entrepreneurial role of the Commission in those questions where it was backed by the European. The Parliament performed strongly due to powerful support of its joint committee, experienced negotiators and a wide majority voting in the plenum. In contrary, the Council showed a divided opinion in many points and was confronted with a weak presidency during the dialogue. As a result, harder elements were introduced in questions, where Commission and Parliament argued along the same lines and could even go beyond the Commissions’ proposal, where Parliament and Council found points of common interest.


Oberthür, Sebastian; Groen, Lisanne (2020): Hardening and softening of multilateral climate governance towards the Paris Agreement, in: Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, Vol. 22,
This article assesses the evolving ‘stringency’ of multilateral climate mitigation governance towards the 2015 Paris Agreement. To do so, we systematically distinguish four key dimensions of hard/soft governance: (1) formal legal status; (2) the nature of the obligations (procedural-substantive); (3) prescriptiveness and precision; and (4) implementation review and response. We find that the governance approach of the Paris Agreement is significantly softer than the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, but harder than the 2010 Cancun Agreements under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. As a result, the Paris Agreement has had a differentiated effect on the stringency of governance. On the one side, it has softened climate governance for countries that are parties to the Kyoto Protocol, most notably the European Union. On the other side, it has hardened the international governance framework for developing countries and industrialised countries that are not subject to the Kyoto Protocol, including the US, Japan, Canada, and Russia. The shifting climate geopolitics of the twenty-first century helps us understand this development.
de la Porte, Caroline; Stiller, Sabina (2020): Lessons about the ‘Harder’ elements of OMC governance for the EU energy Union, in: Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, Vol. 22,

This paper identifies three ’harder’ – potentially more constraining – features of existing OMCs (employment and social inclusion), explains why they are ‘hardening’, and draws lessons for the Energy Union. The first ‘harder’ element is ‘EU benchmarks and national targets’, where the former signals EU commitment and sets direction over the medium term, while the latter bind member states to develop policy in line with EU strategic priorities. The second harder element is ‘two-level policy dialogue’, referring to two-level administrative coordination – around national reports, EU assessment of member state performance and Country Specific Recommendations. ‘Two-level policy dialogue’ is ‘hardening’, because it is structured around the key EU aims, priorities and benchmarks, but at the same time targeted at each individual member state. The third harder element is ‘policy entrepreneurs’, as such individuals are capable of mobilizing high-level political commitment at the EU and member state levels. We assess that these three elements together contribute to a ‘hardening’ – and thus potential to change policy – of OMC-type governance, which is already taking place in Energy Union. We also note that two other factors – institutional capabilities and financial resources – are crucial in conjunction with Energy Union.


Bocquillon, Pierre; Brooks Eleanor; Maltby, Tomas (2020): Speak softly and carry a big stick: hardening soft governance in EU energy and health policies, in: Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, Vol. 22,

EU governance is experiencing a shift towards soft governance frameworks that incorporate ‘harder’ elements. Using a qualitative case study approach and an original set of elite interviews, we examine two policy areas – health and energy – where similar such architectures – the European Semester and the Energy Union Governance Regulation – are now core governance tools. Three research questions are addressed: (1) What mechanisms are employed to harden these governance frameworks? (2) What is driving this shift? And, drawing on the more extensive experience of the Semester, (3) What lessons can be drawn for energy policy? We establish the experimentalist nature of these two governance architectures and identify a mix of ‘harder soft governance’ (HSG) mechanisms used in both cases. We show that, although similar in structure, the shift towards HSG frameworks is driven by different factors in each case. The more extensive experience of the Semester in health points to the importance of concrete implementation practices; the power of specificity to strengthen soft commitments; the role of policy coupling as a lever for implementation; the potential influence of strategic entrepreneurs; the role of politicisation in pressuring change; and the significance of periodic revision as windows of opportunity for incremental change.


De Francesco, Fabrizio; Leopold, Lucas; Tosun, Jale (2020) Distinguishing policy surveillance from policy tracking: transnational municipal networks in climate and energy governance, in: Journal of Environmental Policy & Planning, Vol. 22,

The challenges related to climate change and energy issues have induced a growing number of actors to participate in governance arrangements of information-sharing and mutual policy-learning. In recent years the increasing availability of data on policy outputs and outcomes has enabled researchers to observe variation in these governance arrangements of transnational municipal climate networks (TMCNs). To capture this variation, we rely on two ideal types of policy information systems: policy tracking (PT) and policy surveillance (PS). Focusing on two TMCNs active in energy governance, our qualitative analysis attests the existence of these two modes of monitoring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions. The Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy exemplifies how PS schemes can standardize scoring methodology and facilitate policy compliance and enforcement. In contrast, Energy Cities fits the typology of a PT system that aims to showcase local initiatives and mutual learning.


Chaban, N., A. Niemann, J. Speyer (eds.) (2020) Changing perceptions of the EU at times of Brexit:  Global Perspectives, Abington and NY: Routledge,

This volume brings together contributions that conceptualize and measure EU perceptions in the strategic regions around the world in the aftermath of the UK referendum. Contributors assess the evolution of EU perceptions in each location and discuss how their findings may contribute to crafting foreign policy options for the “new EU-27”.

Brexit is very likely to have a substantial bearing on EU external policy, not merely because of the loss of a major member state with a special relationship to the US and the Commonwealth, but also because it challenges the integrational success story that the EU strives to embody. This book thus serves a dual purpose: on the one hand it broadens the recent studies on Brexit by focusing on external partners’ reactions, and on the other it allows for an innovative evaluation of policy options for EU foreign policy. Based on a solid theoretical foundation and empirically rich data, it constitutes an innovative and timely addition to the evolving debate on Brexit and its consequences.

This book will be of key interest to scholars and students of European politics, Brexit, British politics, EU politics, comparative politics and international relations.


Chaban, N., & Elgström, O. (2020). A Perceptual Approach to EU Public Diplomacy: Investigating Collaborative Diplomacy in EU-Ukraine Relations, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, 15(4), 488-516. doi:

This article contributes to the theorisation of collaborative public diplomacy by introducing a perceptual approach. Engaging with the collaborative diplomacy paradigm developed to conceptualise public diplomacy in the context of non-traditional security threats and conflicts, as well as nation building, the article explores and compares perceptions of the European Union (EU) as a public diplomacy actor in Ukraine (tracked in 50 elite interviews) and in Brussels (13 interviews with EU practitioners). The article engages with a concept of a ‘perception gap’ hypothesising a gap between the Others’ perception of the EU and the EU’s self-perception. It furthers the conceptualisation of a perception gap by suggesting to consider it at cognitive, normative and emotive levels in the image structure and arguing variation between the levels. The article contends that a perception gap is a critical factor in preventing genuine dialogue, engagement and listening — key concepts proposed by the collaborative diplomacy paradigm.


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.


Coupe, T., Chaban, N. Creating Europe through culture? The impact of the European Song Contest on European identity. Empirica 47, 885–908 (2020).

The UK’s Brexit vote marked a major institutional crisis for the EU and re-opened both the scholarly and the popular debate about the importance and drivers of a “European identity”. We use quasi-experimental data to estimate the immediate impact of the biggest pan-European cultural event, the Eurovision Song Contest, on whether people in Europe consider themselves to be Europeans. Using data from several Eurobarometer surveys with tens of thousands of observations, we find little evidence that the contest at current provides a sizeable immediate boost to the share of Europeans who feel European, feel EU citizens, or have a positive image of the EU.


Knodt, Michèle & Chaban, Natalia et al. “New Opportunities for the EU-Canada Strategic Partnership.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of European Studies 11, no. 3 (February 2020).

This special issue, edited by JMichèle Knodt (Technical University Darmstadt) and Natalia Chaban (University of Canterbury), discusses various aspects of the EU-Canada relationship and strategic partnership.


Natalia Chaban, Michèle Knodt, Šarūnas Liekis & Iverson NG (2019) Narrators’ perspectives: communicating the EU in Ukraine, Israel and Palestine in times of conflict, European Security, 28:3, 304-322,

The role of newsmakers as intermediaries in the shaping of external perceptions and reception of narratives advanced by different actors remains sparse in EU studies. This contribution fills this gap and addresses the personal images of the EU of newsmakers. We contribute to the understanding of those personal perceptions and their link to professional values of audience interest, newsworthiness and objectivity in reporting the EU. The article will demonstrate that all journalists perceive EU coverage in their respective locations are led by local priorities. Negative views of the EU as a weakening, biased, ineffective, elitist and arrogant actor are dominant. Arguably, they create conditions for the birth and dissemination of Euro-distant and even Euro-sceptic media narratives. The article will explain why this is the case while drawing on political/ideational and business/financial explanations.


Chaban, N., & Elgström, O. (2019). Constructing bridges and fostering growth: Interdisciplinary insights into European Union conceptions and perceptions. Cognition, Communication, Discourse, (17), 24-36.

This article studies the EU’s role conceptions and projections towards its Eastern Neighbourhood, and Ukraine specifically. Informed by the novel focus on narratives and emotions in International Relations (IR) theory and in EU foreign policy studies, we propose an innovative interdisciplinary synergy between IR’s role theory [Harnisch et al. 2011; Holsti, 1970] and cognitive linguistics’ conceptual metaphor theory [Lakoff and Johnson 1980]. Using the tool of conceptual metaphor, we systemically explore the EU’s role conception (self-image) as well as its perception and expectations of the Eastern partners (role prescriptions). In doing so, we put forward a new method to systemically analyse cognitive and emotive elements in the EU’s foreign policy roles based on the notion that conceptual metaphors reveal fundamental cognitive and emotional traits central to the roles actors play. Empirically, we analyse the EU Global Strategy (June 2016) and the EU Eastern Partnership (EaP) Summit’s Official Memorandum (November 2017), as well as 12 interviews with EU practitioners dealing with Ukraine (conducted in 2017).


Natalia Chaban, Alister Miskimmon & Ben O’Loughlin (2019) Understanding EU crisis diplomacy in the European neighbourhood: strategic narratives and perceptions of the EU in Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, European Security, 28:3, 235-250,

This Special Issue seeks to better understand the role of communication and perception in EU crisis diplomacy. In a recent Special Issue in this journal, Catarina Kinnvall, Ian Manners and Jennifer Mitzen argue that, “ … the greatest security challenge facing people across Europe is not physical, despite the threats of Putin and ISIS, but is a sense of fear and anxiety over their daily lives” [2018. Introduction to 2018 Special Issue of European Security: “Ontological (in)security in the European Union”. European security, 27 (3), 249–265]. We take an interdisciplinary approach to widen the scope of studies on European security and offer new avenues for further research into how citizens in the EU’s neighbourhood understand the security challenges they face and the role the EU plays in addressing these. Through this, we aim to bring theoretical and methodological innovation to understanding the role of the EU as an external actor.


Chaban, N., & Zhabotynska, S. (2019). Political images and perceptions at the interdisciplinary crossroads. Introduction to the Special Issue “Ukraine-EU Relations: Verbal Narratives, Images, and Perceptions&quot, Cognition, Communication, Discourse, (17), 13-23.

This special issue presents findings of the transnational research project “Crisis, Conflict and Critical Diplomacy: EU Perceptions in Ukraine, Israel and Palestine” (C3EU) (2015-2018) focusing on Ukraine-specific results [C3EU, online]. Supported by the Erasmus+ of European Commission, C3EU united experienced and early careers scholars into a research team of 36 who studied and facilitated best practice in EU perceptions research. The results of the project contributed to policy debates on EU global and regional governance and fostered academic-policy-makers’ dialogues in Ukraine and the EU. Leading to this extensive outreach to the stakeholders, the C3EU research consortium had consolidated academic excellence by gathering linguistic and non-linguistic information, and producing comprehensive and methodologically rigorous analyses of EU perceptions and narratives in Ukraine and Israel/Palestine reflecting major societal challenges. The articles published in this special issue focused on perceptions and images exposed in narratives on the EU, Ukraine and EU—Ukraine relations are interdisciplinary. They combine methodologies of cognitive and communicative linguistics with the findings of communication and media studies, cultural studies, political science, international relations, and European integration studies.


Natalia Chaban and Svitlana Zhabotynska (2018): Special Issue “Ukraine-EU Relations: Verbal Narratives, Images, and Perceptions”, Cognition, Communication and Discourse, No 17,

This special issue presents findings of the transnational research project “Crisis, Conflict and Critical Diplomacy: EU Perceptions in Ukraine, Israel and Palestine” (C3EU) (2015-2018) focusing on Ukraine-specific results [C3EU, online]. Supported by the Erasmus+ of European Commission, C3EU united experienced and early careers scholars into a research team of 36 who studied and facilitated best practice in EU perceptions research. The results of the project contributed to policy debates on EU global and regional governance and fostered academic-policy-makers’ dialogues in Ukraine and the EU. Leading to this extensive outreach to the stakeholders, the C3EU research consortium had consolidated academic excellence by gathering linguistic and non-linguistic information, and producing comprehensive and methodologically rigorous analyses of EU perceptions and narratives in Ukraine and Israel/Palestine reflecting major societal challenges. The articles published in this special issue focused on perceptions and images exposed in narratives on the EU, Ukraine and EU—Ukraine relations are interdisciplinary. They combine methodologies of cognitive and communicative linguistics with the findings of communication and media studies, cultural studies, political science, international relations, and European integration studies.