The Notion of Solidarity in European Foreign Policy

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The Notion of Solidarity

in European Foreign Policy

a Realist-Constructivist Approach*

Thanasis Pinakas


In the unique and basically intergovernmental co-operation area of European foreign policy, the notion of solidarity has been employed in three specific cases. In the Falklands/Malvinas islands crisis, the Imia/Kardak islets crisis and the Perejil/Leila island crisis, the EU's solidarity with the member state facing an external threat to its territorial sovereignty was officially proclaimed. By examining comparatively the empirical details of the crises and by adopting a theoretical framework based on Realist and Constructivist theorems, the current study shows that solidarity in European foreign policy is a value of intersubjective nature. A value, which has been generated by the process of socialisation between national politicians and diplomats, with its influential impact determined by the decisive variables of national interest considerations and of personal links between key national agents. Moreover, it is argued that a Realist-Constructivist theoretical model provides an appropriate theoretical basis for the adequate comprehension of the nature of European foreign policy, and consequently for the examination of various puzzles and aspects of this unique policy sector.

I. Introduction

"Europe will not be built all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity"1

Robert Schuman

Even from the very beginning of the European integration process2, the notion of solidarity has been used in political, economic and legal contexts and in different policy fields3. In a series of issues related to mutual assistance in trade policy, transfer of economic resources to the Community's cohesion countries, assistance in case of environmental disasters or common handling of security problems, the notion of solidarity has been deliberately employed to basically characterise a sense of 'mutual support' between the member states of the European Union (EU)4.

The area of foreign policy does not constitute an exception. In the field of European foreign policy the notion of solidarity has been primarily utilised in few specific cases that an EU member state faced a situation of external threat with a non-EU member state. In the history of European foreign policy, three cases of this nature have occurred. In the Falklands/Malvinas islands crisis (1982), the Imia/Kardak islets crisis (1996) and the Perejil/Leila island crisis (2002)5, the most fundamental element of state sovereignty was challenged. The territorial impartiality of United Kingdom, Greece and Spain was questioned in practice by Argentina, Turkey and Morocco respectively. Although in all three cases, the EU's solidarity with the member state in need was explicitly proclaimed by the European foreign policy mechanisms and actors in response to the external threat, the degree of this employment varied significantly from case to case.

The purpose of the study is twofold. Firstly, by examining theoretical assumptions of certain mainstream IR theories and the empirical material in relevance to the cases mentioned above, we will attempt to assess the actual essence of the notion of solidarity in the area of European foreign policy and to explain the puzzle of different reactions by mechanisms and actors to basically uniform cases of external threat. Secondly, and in close connection with our first purpose, the ambition of the author is to positively contribute to the recently 'regenerated' theoretical debate in the study of European foreign policy.

II. A Realist-Constructivist Approach

It is the author's belief that the most appropriate theoretical framework for the purposes of the study is provided by a fruitful 'inter-linkage' of two main theoretical approaches: Realism and Constructivism6. This is not only possible7, but also highly necessary because of the simple fact that the two approaches are equipped to detect different general patterns of behaviour. Whereas a realist perspective helps us to trace agents' behaviour back to general assumptions about the basic interest of states, a constructivist perspective8, by focusing on intersubjective understandings and identities, is best equipped to make us understand the specific background of agents' preferences (Wagner 2000:4). Given the utility and complementary character of the two approaches (Mulay-Shah:2001:14), their mutual interaction in the study is deliberately promoted.

Our primal assumption derives of the fact that policy and decision making control in European foreign policy is predicated upon national control and this has traditionally been the primal and unquestionable rule of foreign policy co-operation (White 2001:42). The locus of control has diachronically been situated firmly and unambiguously with the member states through the Council and its committees and working groups. Decision-making in this area, therefore, is characterised by a process in which the determinative agents are the national politicians and diplomats who primarily decide on the direction that the national interest -as prescribed by realism- lead them.

But only primarily, not solely. In accordance with the constructivists theorems there is actually something more, than a pure loyalism to national interest. The proposition on the existence of intersubjective understandings is actually valid. The differentiation however that we make here and is partially observed by constructivist studies (Tonra 1999:8-9), is a critical distinction between intersubjective ideas, expectations and norms and intersubjective or common values. The latter must be seen as an immediate consequence of the former. National politicians and diplomats by interacting within the intergovernmental structure of the European foreign policy have been influenced by this interaction in their conceived ideas, expectations and norms. The constructivist assumption on the strength of implicit norms and principles of behaviour is also accepted. While there are rules set down in treaty text it is often the influential impact of informal norms and principles that are of greatest significance. The ultimate result has been the creation of intersubjective values which transform the function and image of the structure.

In close connection with this latter evolution, national interests are also being transformed and redefined within a European context (Tonra 2000:9). The interests of the EU member states have not remained fixed but instead they have been partly modified as co-operation proceeds (Mulay-Shah 2001:14, Smith 2000:628). Consequently, the identity of national interest in European foreign policy, which has been traditionally based on a rationally specified and material-oriented definition, has been complemented by a new form of interest, deriving its existence by the intersubjective essence of common values. In other words, interests in European foreign policy are not only defined by material forces but also by ideational ones9. Thus, as constructivists argue, intersubjective understandings are constituted by the structure but they also gradually constitute the structure.

However, this has not happened to the extent that the constructivists assert. Although a common set of ideas, expectations and norms (an esprit de corps) exists and led to the creation of common values, their significance in forging the agents' behaviours -and even interests- is comparatively limited compared to this of the traditionally defined national interest. In other words, what is contested here is not the existence, but instead the degree that the prescribed as 'intersubjective values' influence behaviours and attitudes, and most importantly the degree that they could challenge the primacy of national interest considerations10. Only in this conceptual 'shell' of national interest's primal role we can investigate the process of generation, essence and degree of common values impact in European foreign policy.

III. The Crises
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