Working Group 4: Relations

Our goals

WG 4 – previously WG 5 – is concerned with the EU’s adjustment to a changing external and internal foreign policy environment at the policy level. It coordinates research on the EU’s relations with multilateral organizations (multi-lateral relations), such as the UN, the IMF, or the IAEA; with major global powers, such as the US, China, or Russia (bi-lateral relations); as well as with its neighbourhood (regional relations). Adjustments in the EU’s external relations may involve the way the EU defines and articulates its strategic priorities and guiding principles, but it also relates to its concrete foreign policy conduct. At the level of its strategic rhetoric, the EU has long embraced concepts like ‘effective multilateralism’, “a comprehensive approach” in its strategic discourse, whilst more recently new terms like “pragmatism”, “differentiation” and “flexibility” have gained in prominence. Here, the Working Group will facilitate research that takes stock of the guiding principles of EU foreign policy and the way these principles motivate and orient the Union’s external relations.

How to participate

Please contact the working group coordinators if you would like to join.

Our outcomes

Laura C. Ferreira-Pereira, Michael Smith (Eds.) (2021): The European Union’s Strategic Partnerships. Global Diplomacy in a Contested World,

This timely collection is an important contribution to our understanding of the EU’s international relations during the last quarter century. Strategic Partnerships have increasingly become the neglected child of the EU foreign policy family. This volume is thus of historic and contemporary relevance.


Ferreira-Pereira L.C., Smith M. (2021) Introducing the European Union’s Strategic Partnerships: Global Diplomacy in a Contested World. In: Ferreira-Pereira L.C., Smith M. (eds) The European Union’s Strategic Partnerships. The European Union in International Affairs. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

This chapter introduces strategic partnerships as a multidimensional and multipurpose instrument of the EU’s global diplomacy in a complex and contested world. It then explores the positioning and discussion of this topic within the field of European Foreign Policy. Finally, the chapter offers an overview of the focus and content of the volume.


Ferreira-Pereira L.C., Smith M. (2021) Strategic Partnerships in European Union External Action: Evolution and Analysis of a Developing Policy Instrument. In: Ferreira-Pereira L.C., Smith M. (eds) The European Union’s Strategic Partnerships. The European Union in International Affairs. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

This chapter is designed to provide an empirical and analytical framework within which the specific partnerships or policy processes dealt with in later chapters can be assessed and evaluated. It begins with a review of the ways in which SPs have evolved since their inception in the 1990s, linking them to the more general development of EU foreign and security policy and locating them in relation to the multiple crises that have affected the context for SPs in the twenty-first century. It then moves on to consider ways in which SPs generally might be analysed, drawing particular attention to three logics (internal, external and identity) shaping EU external action and three images (strategic, managerial and reactive) expressing the practice of strategic partnerships in EU diplomacy. Finally, the chapter explores four key questions about the development of any given SP: functions and motivations, policy implications, institutionalisation and role implications—that give a guide as to where it fits into the broader pattern of EU external action. These logics, images and questions shape the consideration of SPs in subsequent chapters, and their reassessment in the concluding chapter to the volume.


Ferreira-Pereira L.C., Mourato Pinto J. (2021) Soft Power in the European Union’s Strategic Partnership Diplomacy: The Erasmus Plus Programme. In: Ferreira-Pereira L.C., Smith M. (eds) The European Union’s Strategic Partnerships. The European Union in International Affairs. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

This chapter attempts to fill part of a gap in the literature by exploring the EU’s soft power in connection to the area of higher education and more specifically to the communities of alumni built around the Erasmus+ Programme. Its focus is on a ‘bottom up’ rather than the ‘top down’ view of the Strategic Partnerships (SP); and its underlying argument is about the persistence and even strengthening of the educational links and networks set against the stagnation and erosion of the SPs in the broader sense. For this reason, the chapter examines the life beyond summitry generated by the Erasmus+ Programme in the cases of Brazil and Russia, which are illustrative because since the outset their SPs with the EU included support for people-to-people connections based on academic exchanges with the goal of increasing mutual trust and understanding. This study’s conclusion points out the growing role of higher education in sustaining the EU’s relations with its strategic partners, especially those relations that have ended up ‘suspended’ and even ‘frozen’ at the highest political level as a result of a combination of exogenous and endogenous factors.


Smith M. (2021) The European Union and the United States: Competition, Convergence and Crisis in a Strategic Relationship. In: Ferreira-Pereira L.C., Smith M. (eds) The European Union’s Strategic Partnerships. The European Union in International Affairs. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

This chapter focuses on the key strategic relationship in the evolution of the EU—but one which has never been formalised as a strategic partnership. First, it explores the ways in which the post-Cold War period gave rise to a new and creative period in the EU-US partnership but also to new areas of fluidity and tension in both transatlantic security relations and the management of the transatlantic political economy. Second, it focuses on the tensions and crises emerging from the growth of the EU as a foreign policy actor, the attempts of the US to restore global leadership in a changing security order, the attempts to negotiate a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the growing perceptions of a crisis in the transatlantic relationship since 2016. Third, it assesses the scope, scale and effectiveness of the EU’s attempts to manage recent fluctuations of transatlantic relations, and especially those evident since the advent of the Trump administration. The chapter conclusions explore the ways in which the balance between competition, convergence and crisis has shifted in contemporary EU-US relations, and the extent to which the relationship can still be characterised as a ‘strategic partnership’ of the type studied in this volume.


Ferreira-Pereira L.C. (2021) European Union-Brazil Relations: A Strategic Partnership in Suspended Animation. In: Ferreira-Pereira L.C., Smith M. (eds) The European Union’s Strategic Partnerships. The European Union in International Affairs. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

After a period of evolution from promises to practice towards the implementation of a strategic partnership established in 2007, EU-Brazil relations have entered into a phase of suspended animation. This tendency started to take shape after the 8th EU-Brazil Summit held in 2014 and became more pronounced with the advent of testing times for the EU and Brazil, gaining expression in more or less simultaneous crises. This chapter traces and critically assesses the turbulent course of EU-Brazil relations and the factors that have led to the stagnation of cooperation since 2014, and its particular implications in the context of the EU’s endeavours to build a stronger international presence in a post-Brexit globalised world. A key contribution of the argument is its focus on the impact of political change within one of the EU’s key strategic partners on the capacity or inclination of the EU to further the partnership. The chapter concludes that the state of limbo characterising EU-Brazil relations in recent years is at odds with the EU’s need to reinforce its strategic partnership policy to address global governance issues and common challenges in an increasingly complex and contested world.


Hackenesch, Christine / Julian Bergmann / Jan Orbie (eds.) (2021): The politicisation of European development policies, in: Journal of Common Market Studies (JCMS) 59(1), special issue,

In the past few years decision‐making processes and the normative underpinnings of EU external relations have become subject to intense debate in the European institutions, member states and the wider public. Previous research suggests that there is variation in the extent to which individual domains of EU external relations are politicized and contested. This special issue aims to theorize further and investigate empirically this, using the example of European development policy and its relations with other external policies. It brings together a broad variety of research covering different arenas, objects and levels of politicization as well as different policy nexuses. The ten contributions to the special issue also combine various theoretical perspectives that include rationalist and constructivist approaches and different methods including statistical and discourse analyses. Individual articles both focus on politicization processes within the EU and member states as well as at the level of partner countries in Europe and Africa. Building on these different approaches and foci, they draw insights that help us to theorize the two mechanisms that may drive politicization dynamics in European development policies and that are at the core of this special issue – horizontal politicization and outside‐in politicization.



Hackenesch, C., Bergmann, J., and Orbie, J. (2021) Development Policy under Fire? The Politicization of European External Relations*. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 59: 319.

In the past few years decision‐making processes and the normative underpinnings of EU external relations have become subject to intense debate in the European institutions, member states and the wider public. Previous research suggests that there is variation in the extent to which individual domains of EU external relations are politicized and contested. This special issue aims to theorize further and investigate empirically this, using the example of European development policy and its relations with other external policies. We introduce two new mechanisms that drive politicization dynamics. We argue that politicization can be diffused horizontally from one policy field to another, which we call horizontal politicization. We also investigate how the politicization of EU external policies in third countries occurs and influences politicization dynamics in the EU, which we call outside‐in politicization. The introduction to the special issue presents our theoretical approach and summarizes the key findings from the special issue.


Raunio, T., and Wagner, W. (2021) Contestation over Development Policy in the European Parliament. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 59: 2036.

Recent rise of populist parties has brought about more contestation over development policy. There is also increasing diversity within the European Union: some countries allocate more development aid while the contributions of newer member states are on average smaller. But do such national interests surface more often than in other issue areas, and what is the structure of contestation over development policy in the European Parliament (EP)? Examining roll‐call votes and the processing of the 2017 European Consensus on Development, this article shows that opposition to development policy is restricted to the more Eurosceptical representatives. EP party groups attain similar levels of cohesion in votes on development aid as in other policy areas, with coalition patterns following the left–right dimension. Development policy is thus ‘business as usual’ in the Parliament, but the results suggest increasing politicization of aid through stronger horizontal linkages between immigration, security, and development policy.


Bergmann, J., Hackenesch, C., and Stockemer, D. (2021) Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe: What Impact Do they Have on Development Policy?. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 59: 3752.

Previous research suggests that the rise of populist radical right parties (PRRPs) is contributing to the politicization of European domestic and external policies. However, whether this is also the case for European development policy is unclear. Building on a new dataset that analyses government positions and coalition agreements across European countries since the 1990s, we investigate whether, and if so how, the strength of PRRPs affects European governments’ framing of the relationship between migration and development policy. Research on PRRPs suggests that they influence other parties’ positions directly when they are in government, or indirectly by framing topics such as migration differently from other parties, thereby pushing government and opposition parties to modify their own positions. We find (moderate) support for PRRPs’ indirect influence on the framing and salience of the migration–development policy nexus, via their vote and seat share. The effect of PRRPs in government on the formulation of development aid policy goals is smaller.


Lauwers, N., Orbie, J., and Delputte, S. (2021) The Politicization of the Migration–Development Nexus: Parliamentary Discourse on the European Union Trust Fund on Migration. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 59: 7290.

The European Union’s development policy has become increasingly intertwined with other policy fields, which erodes the objectives of this policy domain in their own right. We specifically look at the linkages with migration policy, which has been a highly politicized EU policy domain. This article assesses the EU migration–development discursive linkages by addressing two related questions: how and to what extent has this nexus been politicized in Europe? We focus on two dimensions of politicization, namely salience and the polarization of opinions within the context of national parliaments. Through a conceptualization of argumentation lines this article sheds light on how the nexus has been translated into political communication by political actors. We conclude that there are varying, often opposing, argumentation lines on how the migration–development nexus is conceived – that are more complex than the distinction between ‘preventive’ and ‘restrictive’ approaches as identified in the literature on EU external migration policy.


Saltnes, J. D., and Thiel, M. (2021) The Politicization of LGBTI Human Rights Norms in the EU‐Uganda Development Partnership. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 59: 108125.

The EU is committed to promoting human rights through its development policy. This article argues that its expansive human rights framework has led to EU‐internal and outside‐in politicization of LGBTI rights in Uganda. It views contestation as a mechanism of politicization and suggests two paths through which contestation occurs; based on the normative core or on the application of human rights conditionality. We establish these paths through a case study of politicization of LGBTI rights promotion in the Uganda–EU partnership. While member states’ policies are more affected by political pressure from domestic constituents, EU institutions aim to depoliticize the issue and prioritizes diplomatic channels. Conversely, conditionality operates as a driver for contestation in beneficiary states. Whereas postcolonial studies interpret claims of universal rights as neo‐colonial intervention, our findings highlight a more nuanced applicatory contestation by rights activists. These actors insert themselves as change agents aiming to reshape the policies of international norm promoters.


Youngs, R., and Zihnioğlu, Ö. (2021) EU Aid Policy in the Middle East and North Africa: Politicization and its Limits. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 59: 126142.

Some elements of EU assistance to the countries of MENA have become more politicized in recent years. This is largely because sharper differences of opinion have emerged over EU funds being used to limit migration and for security aims. Contestation has intensified horizontally between different EU institutions and European governments. However, this politicization varies across different policy areas and different parts of the MENA region, and in some instances remains relatively muted. After outlining the general increase in salience and wider institutional engagement; we then contrast this with the more measured increase in the third dimension of politicization, namely polarization over the EU’s MENA aid policies. We offer three examples of the way that internal policy‐making dynamics have softened polarization and discuss implications for the broader analysis of EU foreign and security policy. We conclude that different kinds of dynamics both drive and limit politicization within the EU’s external policies.


Chaban, N., and Elgström, O. (2021) Politicization of EU Development Policy: The Role of EU External Perceptions (Case of Ukraine). JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 59: 143160.

This article highlights the role of external audiences and their perceptions in analysing the politicization of EU development policy. We analyse how EU foreign assistance is understood in two different intermediary arenas of politicization – elites in different societal sectors and media – within Ukraine, a major recipient of EU aid. By investigating to what extent EU assistance is perceived to be politicized, in terms of salience and polarization we contribute to the debate on outside‐in politicization. Applying a perceptual approach to EU foreign policy studies, we focus on Ukrainian images of Self in its relation to the EU as a development actor and on Ukraine’s evaluations of EU assistance. We consult the theory of framing and propose an operationalization of salience in terms of visibility, cultural congruence and emotive charge. We use the typology of cognitive, evaluative and affective images from political psychology to operationalize the notion of polarization.


Plank, F., Keijzer, N., and Niemann, A. (2021) Outside‐in Politicization of EU–Western Africa Relations: What Role for Civil Society Organizations?. JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies, 59: 161179.

This article explores the empirical relevance of researching outside‐in politicization processes in European studies. To this end, it examines to what extent and how civil society organizations (CSOs) have contributed to the politicization of EU policies towards Western Africa in two cases: the negotiation of Economic Partnership Agreements and the EU’s engagement with the G5 Sahel. CSOs were strongly engaged in the trade negotiations, while they were largely excluded from the G5 Sahel process. In both cases this was due to CSOs’ own initiatives, or the absence thereof, with these strongly linked to being either invited or discouraged by official actors. The article argues that authority transfer and the domestic context – including state fragility and state–society relations – are relevant to explaining the (non‐)involvement of CSOs in outside‐in politicization.