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Still Punching below its Weight? Actorness and Effectiveness in EU Foreign Policy

Daniel Thomas

This paper examines a critical determinant of the EU's ability to function as an effective actor in world affairs: its political cohesion. EU political cohesion is defined here as the sharing of political goals and policy preferences, the adoption of common policies, and the pursuit of common behaviours by EU member states and supranational institutions. As such, the political cohesion of the EU will vary across issue-areas (trade, crisis management, human rights, etc.), relationships (EU-US, EU-China, etc.) and even across policy choices (how to approach a particular issue or relationship at a particular moment in time). It can be measured in terms of three stages of policy-making, represented as the '3 Ds'. 'Divergence' is a measurement of the similarity or diversity of goals and preferences among EU actors prior to any collective deliberation over common policy. This matters because high divergence creates opportunities for non-EU actors to exploit intra-EU divisions and reduces the likelihood of agreement on strong common policies. 'Determinacy' is a measurement of how clearly and narrowly an EU common policy defines the limits of acceptable behaviour by member states and supranational institutions. This matters because low determinacy legitimates EU actors pursuing distinct or even contradictory policy behaviours on the issue at hand. Finally, 'discipline' is a measurement of how strictly EU actors comply with the terms of whatever common policy has been agreed. This matters because lack of discipline coverts one EU into 27+ actors. This conceptualization of EU political cohesion and its consequences for the EU's effectiveness as a global actor are illustrated with references to EU policy-making toward the International Criminal Court.

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