The EU's external relations policy covers several more specific issue areas ranging from enlargement through development aid to Common Foreign and Security Policy. In this context, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) represents a very interesting case that offers an insight into the specificities and the evolution of the EU's approach towards its neighbours. The ENP aims at supporting democracy and respect for human rights along with the principles of good governance, market economy, rule of law and sustainable development. The conditionality principle is meant to guarantee coherence between economic and political development of the partner-countries and the values promoted by the EU. In real terms, though - and this is the dilemma that this paper seeks to grapple with - these norms and principles only rarely are treated as an autonomous value; more frequently they are seen as an instrument aimed to attain other goals. Taking this observation as a point of departure, in view of the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty and the EU Global Strategy, the objective of this paper is to examine the sources of this dilemma and its implications. To this end, the EU's external relations policy is examined through the explanatory lens of three conceptual approaches, including: (i) the new governance perspective, i.e. an approach that captures the notion of the EU member-states' hesitation to further delegation of competences to the EU-level institutions; (ii) the idealist normativism, i.e. an approach based on the assumption that the EU's external relations are driven by pluralism, the rule of law, democracy, market economy, dialogue and consensus building; and (iii) the EU as a 'soft' empire, i.e. an approach that rests on the assumption that the EU's relations with its neighbours are asymmetric, whereby the EU imposes certain norms only for the sake of attaining its own interests and objectives.
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