Working Group 3: Contestation


Our goals

EU foreign policy is normally seen as rooted in shared internal values and arrangements and as consisting in its externalization vis-à-vis third countries and multilateral institutions. This has made it difficult to conceive the EU as the venue for political conflict over fundamental normative questions of foreign policy. Yet, changing external realities – including the contestation of the international liberal order by emerging powers and the US – erode internal support for a liberal world order and multilateral global governance. Simultaneously, the normative “consensus” underpinning EU foreign policy is also being challenged from within, with the rise of right wing populism, Euroscepticism and a return to national solutions. The aim of this WG is therefore to explore the extent and the ways in which core norms that traditionally underpin EU foreign policy are being contested within the EU itself.

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Our outcomes (selection)

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Franziska Petri, Elodie Thevenin & Lina Liedlbauer (2020) Contestation of European Union foreign policy: causes, modes and effects, Global Affairs, 6:4-5, DOI: 10.1080/23340460.2020.1863159

The Cambridge Dictionary defines contestation as “the act of arguing or disagreeing about something” (Cambridge Dictionary, 2020). The concept has gained considerable momentum in International Relations (and in particular Constructivist International Relations) research over the past decades. Starting from a paradigm of norm diffusion and norm cycles (Finnemore & Sikkink, 1998), with empirical realities changing, research moved to theorizing the causes, mechanisms and effects of norms, in terms of their meaning, their implementation and their evolution (Acharya, 2018; Niemann & Schillinger, 2016; Wiener, 2014, 2018). In this research strand, Antje Wiener’s (2018, p. 2) definition of norm contestation as “a social practice of objecting to or critically engaging with norms” is among the definitions most commonly cited. Research on EU foreign policy and its contestation can therefore lean on this strand of International Relations research and its various theoretical propositions on types and modes of contestation (Deitelhoff & Zimmermann, 2018; Wiener, 2014, 2018; Zimmermann, Deitelhoff, & Lesch, 2018). Accordingly, contestation has started to receive more scholarly attention in European studies over the past decade: This includes theoretical considerations on the links between contestation and politicization trends in Europe (Costa, 2019) as well as more empirical studies on contestation from the inside and outside in various EU policy areas (Johansson-Nogués et al., 2020), such as neighbourhood policy (Góra, Styczyńska, & Zubek, 2019). This Special Issue aims to contribute to this evolving strand of research by analysing the varieties of contestation causes, modes and effects on EU foreign policy. For the purpose of this Special Issue, we define contestation of EU foreign policy as an implicit and explicit expression in discourse and/or action of political opposition towards European integration and/or concrete EU policies in the realm of foreign policy. By uncovering various root causes for contestation in foreign policy and distinguishing modes of discursive and action-based contestation, we reach a more nuanced understanding of what effects various contestatory practices have on the polity (i.e. institutions, decision-making structures) and policies of EU foreign policy (De Wilde & Trenz, 2012).

The three key research questions this Special Issue aims to address are the following:

  • How is EU foreign policy contested (modes), from the outside and/or the inside, and why do we see (increased) contestation in this policy area (causes)?

  • What are the effects of EU foreign policy for the distinct policy areas and their internal and external integration dynamics?

  • What can we learn from these patterns of causes, modes and effects of contestation about EU foreign policy-making?


Franziska Petri, Elodie Thevenin & Lina Liedlbauer (2020) Contestation of European Union foreign policy: causes, modes and effects, Global Affairs, 6:4-5, 323-328, DOI: 10.1080/23340460.2020.1863159

The European Union (EU) seems to have reached a new momentum in its development, characterized by renewed contestation. EU policies and actions are being contested, both domestically – by the proliferation of nationalist, populist and Eurosceptic voices (De Wilde, Koopmans, Merkel, & Zürn, 2019; Falkner & Plattner, 2019; Zeitlin, Nicoli, & Laffan, 2019) – as well as on the global level – by re-emerging global power competition, the open contestation of norms of multilateral cooperation by emerging as well as new isolationist powers (such as former United States (US) President Donald Trump), and within international (non-governmental) organizations (Aggestam & Hyde-Price, 2019; Copelovitch, Hobolt, & Walter, 2020; Hill & Hurst, 2020; Ikenberry, 2018; Johansson-Nogués, Vlaskamp, & Barbé, 2020; Riddervold & Newsome, 2018). While the contestation of EU actions and policies can be considered as a long-term phenomenon, especially with regard to EU foreign policy, the novelty of the situation stands in the multiplicity of contesting voices, as well as the nature of the new contesting actors (Johansson-Nogués et al., 2020). Furthermore, this contestation intertwines with a re-consideration of the values on which the EU is based and which it seeks to promote, which suggests a new shift in the Union’s role and representation. Given on-going challenges in Europe (e.g. migration and solidarity crises, rise of illiberalism) as well as recent developments in EU politics (with a new Commission and therefore also new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission (HR/VP) coming into office in 2019), we aim to analyse afresh EU foreign policy in this arguably new environment: What are the origins of contestation (re-)emerging within and towards EU foreign policy? Which voices are contesting EU foreign policy? To what extent do EU values and norms still matter in foreign policy, when it comes to immediate reactions to external events? To what extent does this contestation impact the decision-making process, the actual implementation of decisions and thereby the effectiveness of EU foreign policy?


Manuel Herrera (2020) Contestation to the European Union on nuclear non-proliferation, Global Affairs, 6:4-5, 329-345, DOI: 10.1080/23340460.2021.1872399

This article analyses the contestation of the European Union’s (EU) nuclear non-proliferation policy. Contestation is as a social practice by which third actors express in discursive or practical terms their disapproval of certain norms and the actions that match them. In this way, norms are challenged, reinterpreted and transformed; and as a consequence, the validity of the norms is weakened or reinforced. There are reasons to believe that, as it is happening in other areas of EU foreign policy, the Union’s role in the global nuclear non-proliferation regime is becoming increasingly controversial. The article argues that the contestation to the EU’s nuclear non-proliferation policy is the result of its actions and positions in both in multilateral (i.e. The Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference), and bilateral (i.e. EU-India relations) settings.


Diego Badell (2020) The EU, migration and contestation: the UN Global Compact for migration, from consensus to dissensus, Global Affairs, 6:4-5, 347-362, DOI: 10.1080/23340460.2020.1871301

The 2015 migration crisis has shaken the EU system to the point that no agreement on the matter was possible. In this line, it was decided to bring to the international level the need to agree on a migration norm: the UN Global Compact for Migration. This article analyses the EU and Member States dynamics of dissent vis-à-vis substantive and procedural norms. It shows the existence of four structural factors within EU foreign policy that enhances consensus. That is the existence of a common position on the matter, the expert culture constraining the behaviour of parties, the EU community of practices and the role of the chair. The presence of these factors explain why the EU contained Hungary’s objections to the Compact, but its absence also explains the domino effect triggered by the Austrian withdrawal. At the end, EU norms such as effective multilateralism and sincere cooperation were contested.


Sharon Lecocq (2020) EU foreign policy and hybrid actors in the Middle East: ready for geopolitical contestation?, Global Affairs, 6:4-5, 363-380, DOI: 10.1080/23340460.2021.1872401

The 2019 European Commission recognizes a need to learn the language of power and geopolitics for the EU to become a stronger player in a contested world. Yet the EU experiences difficulties in navigating the geopolitical scene in its immediate neighbourhood, the Middle East and North Africa, characterized by fast-changing alliances among international and regional powers but also a wide array of non-state and hybrid actors. Policy recommendations urge the EU to include the latter in its foreign policy calculus. This article investigates how the EU accounts for a specific set of actors by exploring its foreign policy discourse. Specifically, it analyses how two hybrid actors, Hamas and Hezbollah, are discussed within the European Parliament, Commission and Council. It is argued that internal contestation over the terrorist nature of these actors poses challenges for the EU to join the geopolitical game in its Southern neighbourhood.


Franziska Petri & Katja Biedenkopf (2020) “United we stand, divided we fall”. The effects of US contestation on EU foreign climate policy ambition, Global Affairs, 6:4-5, 381-397, DOI: 10.1080/23340460.2021.1885988

A number of key governments’ active diplomacy and leadership, including the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (USA), drove the adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change in December 2015. Less than two years later, international climate politics looked very different: Former key proponents strongly contested climate policy, most prominently exemplified by President Trump’s 2017 announcement to withdraw the USA from the Paris Agreement. Our analysis focuses on the EU’s response to this hard contestation, as a central actor in the multilateral climate regime, the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter and an active proponent of achieving the Paris Agreement goals. We trace how the European Council, the Council of the EU, and the European Parliament (EP) responded to the USA’s climate U-turn. Our qualitative content analysis finds that the EU overall pursued a rhetorical containment strategy by reinforcing its commitment to ambitious climate policy and the Paris Agreement.


Özlem Terzi (2020) Contesting the European Union at the “Poles”: a multi-level analysis of contestation of the EU’s presence in the Arctic, Global Affairs, 6:4-5, 399-415, DOI: 10.1080/23340460.2021.1872400

This article searches for the types of contestation that arise to an EU presence in a region where the EU is not a dominant actor, like in the Arctic. The issue areas that this article focuses on are environmental protection, indigenous people’s rights, and (sustainable) economic development. The article presents a critical discourse analysis of the national strategy documents of EU member states, non-EU Arctic Council members and non-EU, non-Arctic observers of the Arctic Council from a discourse-historical approach. Through this analysis, the article focuses on normative/political and external/internal contestation to the EU stance represented through EU policies, positions, priorities and norms. This article concludes that there are different types of contestation to the EU from different sources in each policy area. In each of these cases of contestation, the EU makes an explicit decision about which source of contestation to engage with and about which types to remain silent.


Jasmin Hasić, Nedžma Džananović & Lejla Ramić Mesihović (2020) “Implicit” contestations of EU foreign policy norm-domestication in Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia, Global Affairs, 6:4-5, 417-432,DOI: 10.1080/23340460.2021.1897952

This article focuses on scrutinizing EU’s norm-setting practices toward the Western Balkan (WB6) countries through identifying particular points of norm-acceleration and norm-resistance related to EU’ foreign policy and enlargement objectives in developing “good neighborly relations” (GNR) regionally. Although the EU has repeatedly attempted to diffuse its foreign policy and enlargement-related norms to promote regional stability, development and cooperative relations across the WB6 countries, we posit that two policies are not always complimentary and that domestication of these norms in some countries still remains nationally contextualized and guided by specific dynamics. This article explores the factors that promote or mitigate the domestication of EU-induced norms in two selected countries, Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia. By examining these two cases separately, we argue the current norm domestication patterns in both countries stave off these “coded” EU-induced normative perspectives on GNR, mainly because of their strong mixture with the “non-codified” enlargement criteria.


L. Johan Eliasson & Patricia Garcia-Duran (2020) The Saga Continues: contestation of EU trade policy, Global Affairs, 6:4-5, 433-450, DOI: 10.1080/23340460.2021.1885987

Trade policy constitutes a significant part of the European Union’s (EU) foreign policy. The EU’s emphasis on global trade liberalization in the 21st century is most evident through its ever increasing number of modern, deep, bilateral trade agreements. However, aspects of EU trade policy and bilateral agreements are hotly contested. We examine this by comparing the rhetoric employed by European civil society organizations from 2013 through 2020. While the focus of contestation and the rhetorical strategy remained fairly consistent, the effects of contestation (politicization, institutionalization of new processes) changed, largely due to the presence or absence of negotiations on a deep trade agreement with an economic and political equal perceived to have greater bargaining power. This study contributes to the literature on norm contestation and politicization by providing empirical evidence that mere contestation is insufficient for politicization, and by showing show that perceived bargaining strength influences trade politicization.


Elodie Thevenin, Lina Liedlbauer & Franziska Petri (2020) Conclusions on contestation of EU foreign policy: diverse causes, various modes and multiple effects?, Global Affairs, 6:4-5, 451-459, DOI: 10.1080/23340460.2020.1892417

The Special Issue presents an overview of how and why European Union (EU) foreign policy is contested. Particular attention is given to the EU’s inside and outside environment in triggering contestation, as well as to the intergovernmental and supranational dynamics at play. This conclusion brings together insights from the seven contributions to this Special Issue focusing on the causes, modes and effects of contestation across the various clusters of EU foreign policy. Several lessons can be drawn from the contributions for future research on contestation dynamics in EU foreign policy: First, that internal and external contestation can arise from diverse actors and that these internal and external dynamics can be interrelated. Second, that despite the various foreign policy areas being influenced by different dynamics, intergovernmental dynamics were particularly dominant in shaping EU foreign policy.