The EU's Struggle for a Strategic Narrative (on China)

Alister Miskimmon, Prof Ben O'Loughlin

Can international organizations construct and deploy an effective strategic narrative? The European Union has relied on a strategic narrative from its inception to the present day. This narrative has aimed at building support within Europe for deeper integration and sought to forge influence internationally. Over the years this narrative has shifted from a grand strategic vision of the people of Europe to a narrative of strategic calculation in the post-Cold War period. The formation, projection and reception of the EU strategic narrative is complicated by the hybrid nature of the institution - reflecting both supranational and intergovernmental aspects, which complicates efforts to speak with a single voice in international affairs. This paper argues that the EU has in recent years lost a vision for a shared narrative of European integration, thus hampering the EU's strategic impact. This has been most clearly witnessed in EU crisis management in which diverging and occasionally conflicting narratives have emerged. However, the case of China offers the EU a way forward. The European tour of President Xi Jinping in October 2015 saw positive meetings with Commission leaders as well as national heads of state. China and the EU are foreign policy actors in development. Their emergence is changing international order. Their respective strategic narratives of how they view this new international order, how they view their emergent identities as international players, and how they press strategic narratives in the policy areas they interact in will determine the scope for cooperation and conflict.

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