Transgovernmental networks and rationalist outputs? The partial social construction of EU foreign policy

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Series Details Vol.25, No.4, December 2016, p524-541
Publication Date December 2016
ISSN 0966-2839
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The European Union (EU) foreign policy has gone beyond intergovernmentalism. It is largely formulated by (Brussels-based) national officials, in a process characterised by a high number of cooperative practices, diffuse sentiments of group loyalty and possibly argumentative procedures. Yet, in many cases, the most likely output of this process reflects the lowest common denominator of states’ positions or the preferences of the biggest states.

The article intends to investigate this puzzle. In the first part, it corroborates its existence by using answers from an original database of 138 questionnaires and 37 interviews with EU negotiators. Next, it argues that cooperative practices remain often subordinated to nationally oriented ways of doing things. Consequentialist practices perform an anchoring function, in that they define the parameters around which (social) practices operate.

The last section looks more closely at the sites of and meanings attached to EU foreign policy-making. By discussing national diplomats’ conspicuous leeway in Brussels, it also argues that negotiating practices are performed through a mix of partial agency and persistence of national dispositions. On the whole, changing practices is difficult, even in dense and largely autonomous settings such as EU foreign policy. The social construction of EU foreign policy occurs only to a partial extent.

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