Is different better? A critical analysis of the EU as international actor.
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The European Union is a new and novel international player, and as such holds a special place in the international system, as in the academic world. The EU as an academic subject is unique in two respects. Firstly, the EU is questioned on a matter which most international actors are not, that of ‘actorness’. The EU’s economic weight and overall increasing global presence have not detracted from its peculiarities as an international actor, and scholars have kept occupied debating both the viability and the character of the EU as global participant. Secondly, the particular backdrop against which the EU has developed and the symbolical significance of the European integration project, have attached a certain ideological connotation to the EU which has, up until today, been maintained (not least by itself). The combination of the EU’s unique actorness and its ideological foundation has resulted in extensive debate and research into the Union’s role perception and identity. Perceptions of the EU as a normative force are dominant within the field of EU-studies and its normative qualities are generally considered a by-product of it being a distinctive, hybrid polity. Its non-stateness cannot be refuted and as a result, the EU is in many respects ‘different’. An important thing to note however, is that this otherwise neutral observation is in practice very much normative, in that the EU being ‘different’ is commonly equated with the EU being ‘better’. Inherent to depictions of the Union as a civilian, normative power, thus is their generally sympathetic account of the EU’s international presence, and it is observed that they in fact closely resemble the self-perception of the EU (Sjursen 2006b: 235). The apparent normativity of these perceptions has triggered several critical questions with regards to the EU being a normative, civilizing power, which will be explored in this thesis. More concretely, this thesis will investigate these questions by exploring and critically assessing the perception of the EU as a normative actor, paying specific attention to the fact that the debate itself is normatively charged. In the concluding section I will assess whether the EU can really be regarded as a more benign, normatively driven player, or whether it perhaps resembles other international actors to a greater extent than is generally assumed.