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Promoting Ethical Norms: EU Responses to the Arab Uprisings

Chris Meikle

The EU has increasingly used its external policy mechanisms to export the principles that it was founded upon, in particular democracy, social justice and respect for human rights. Although this approach has long been evident in the EU's relationship with its neighbours to the south, there is now a widespread acceptance by EU officials that results have not matched rhetoric. The popular uprisings that swept through the "southern neighbourhood", despite seeming to share many of the principles that the EU has sought to promote in the region, caught almost everyone by surprise. As the dramatic events in Tunisia spread swiftly through the Arab world, the EU scrambled to reinvigorate its commitment to the promotion of democracy and human rights. What has been the driving force behind the upsurge of value promotion in response to the Arab uprisings? Building on Schimmelfennig's rhetorical entrapment theory, I argue that there was a "rhetorical convergence" of values in the early stages of the Arab uprisings that intersected with core principles at the heart of EU identity. By presenting itself as a unique international actor, one both ethical and normative, the EU has been compelled to position itself on the right side of history, despite longstanding support for the authoritarian regimes these revolutionary movements sought to displace. An analysis of EU policy responses to the Arab uprisings provides an understanding about the relationship between value promotion and interests in EU external action, which in turn clarifies the nature of the EU as an international actor.

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