Legitimacy Through Norms: The Political Limits to Europe’s Normative Power

Part of the Palgrave Studies in European Union Politics book series (PSEUP)


This chapter analyses the idea of the European Union (EU) as a normative actor through the conceptual prism of legitimacy. It argues that the concept of ‘Normative Power Europe’ can be understood as part of a wider effort to find for the EU’s foreign policy a clear source of legitimacy, alongside the plethora of analogous qualifying adjectives such as ‘civilian’, ‘postmodern’ and ‘ethical’.1 A quick glance through the work on normative power makes clear the importance of this legitimizing function. In a recent special issue on ‘ethical power Europe’, Aggestam (2008: 1) explains that ‘the Union of 27 is in search of a new sense of collective purpose and legitimacy’ and that it has found such purpose in foreign policy. ‘This external role’, she continues, ‘is articulated in a discourse of universal ethics which defines the EU as a “power for good” and a “peacebuilder in the world”’. In another article in the same special issue, Mayer (2008: 61) explicitly states that his purpose is to develop ‘a new rhetoric, a more mature and responsible narrative by and for the EU on its future global role’. Mayer (2008: 61) argues that ‘a more responsible rhetoric would allow for a more realistic translation of ethical principles and political goals into successful practical action’. A review of the recent literature also suggests that the debate around the idea of the EU as a normative power has itself crystallized around the question of legitimacy. One of the main concerns of scholars and policymakers at the present time is to identify the sources of legitimacy for the EU’s norms. From being a source of legitimacy, Normative Power Europe is today in search of its own legitimacy.


European Union Normative Power Foreign Policy Social Preference Political Order 
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© Chris J. Bickerton 2011

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