Europeanisation and De-Europeanisation of EU Member State Foreign policies: Mirror Image or Discrete Phenomenon?

      Europeanisation and De-Europeanisation of EU Member State Foreign policies: Mirror Image or Discrete Phenomenon?


As part of the first consortium conference of the NORTIA network (June 2018), a conversation was opened over the course of the research panels as to where we stood with respect to the ‘Europeanization’ of foreign policy. This culminated in a fascinating roundtable discussion featuring contributions from Ana E Juncos (University of Bristol), Esther Barbe (IBEI/UAB), Richard Whitman (University of Kent), and Karolina Pomorska (Leiden University) as well as this author. We were challenged to discuss this is in the context of a claimed (re)nationalisation of European foreoign security nd defence policies as well as a potential (de) Europeanisation thereof. This extended blog post represents an extended take on my own presentation.

We are all well acquainted with the concept of ‘Europeanization’ as applied to EU foreign policy. In an expanding literature, a Google Scholar search in June 2018 reveals that this concept, linked to ‘EU foreign policy’, was cited in a total of just over 5,500 academic publications. However, this very growth has led to criticism. As noted elsewhere (Tonra 2015), Europeanization has been criticised as having limited explanatory capacity (Lodge, 2006), as being confused as to its causal status (Wong and Hill, 2011) and as being the emblematic example of concept stretching (Radaelli, 2000). In recent months, however, there is a new kid on the block, jostling for attention.

‘De-Europeanisation’ is now tentatively peering over the scholarly ramparts. While it is making an appearance in conference programmes – usually qualified by a question mark – scholars have been slow to commit scarce time and resources to publishing on the topic. A Google Scholar search in June 2018, for example, uncovers just 24 results. This may be about to change – and if so, are we prepared to avoid the evident pitfalls?

In policy making terms, the thesis of de-Europeanisation is clear. It describes a contemporary reality in which EU foreign policy making runs against the grain of certain member state declared values/interests, where member states are less willing to engage in collective policy making and where the results of that policy making are, on occasion, explicitly undermined by member state practice. In part, this is argued by policy makers to be a function of a broader contestation of values.  Here, those member states that are subject to a populist, nativist, and/or semi-authoritarian political dynamics (either within or outside government), challenge well established collective EU foreign policy processes and positions. In addition, some national policy makers also point to post Lisbon institutional changes for an explanation. They argue that with the loss of the rotating member state presidency within the Foreign Affairs Council and its associated structures (PSC, Military Committee etc.) member states are less positively engaged, and a certain diplomatic esprit du corps is being lost. They insist that even the distant prospect of chairing these institutions engendered a certain sense of responsibility to collective policy making. Expressed in its crudest terms it meant that member state diplomats shared the burden of leadership and that any failure on their part to support the chair’s effort at crafting shared policy outputs would return to haunt them when they later occupied that post.

In scholarly terms however, the concept of de-Europeanisation is less clear.  The first question we must ask is whether de-Europeanisation is best understood as a discrete phenomenon or as the mirror image of its parent concept? As a discrete phenomenon, we might perhaps be well advised to undertake extensive inductive research and generate new theory from the available (albeit limited) data. Thus far, the cases are few and the claims that the phenomenon evens exists are still pretty tentative. The time/resources necessary to such an inductive enterprise may not be seen to be proportionate, especially were the outcome to be a null set.

By contrast, the latter approach may offer greater return at comparatively limited cost. Here, the endeavour would be to be test the inverse of the Europeanisation thesis – to take a reverse definition of Europeanisation and to test this against the empirical realities. This of course has its own challenges - most especially if we are sensitive to the aforementioned critique of the existing literature. If our concept is poorly defined, stretched out of recognition, lacking explanatory capacity or confused as to its causal nature, the enterprise is a risky one.  For our purposes here, however, and by way of a thought experiment, it might be useful to engage in some exploration of the possible.

Europeanisation of EU foreign policy is broadly understood to encompass three policy dynamics; uploading, downloading and cross-loading. Uploading looks at how, when and to what extent national foreign policy goals are elevated to the EU policy making table as a means of adding collective European weight to national preferences- even at the cost of some level of compromise. For its part, downloading, is then seen to be the means and implications of a process by which collectively agreed EU foreign policy positions are embedded within national foreign policies and how such national policies evolve over time as a result. Cross-loading (Major 2005) is a later addition to the more classic Europeanisation literature. It is understood to be how member states learn from one another and are also acculturated within a dense system of shared information, analysis, and policy making structures. This has been subsequently extended to focus more centrally on processes of socialisation and, ultimately ‘identity reconstruction’ in foreign policy terms (Wong 2007).

Based on this general understanding, one can then take an established working definition of Europeanisation and test the extent to which its mirror image offers us a useful cut at something to be called de-Europeanisation. For my purposes, I use the following; Europeanisation is a “transformation in the way in which national foreign policies are constructed, in the way professional roles are defined and pursued and in the consequent internalization of norms and expectations arising from a complex system of collective European policy” (Tonra 2000).

 It is important at this point to set out what I do *not* see as de-Europeanisation. In my view de-Europeanisation cannot be defined as policy disagreements, reversals, weaknesses, failures, or limitations. All of the preceding is within – and must be seen to be within – the realm of normal political contestation. Whether that is a challenge to the EU’s position on peace in the Middle East, the balance between sanctions and constructive engagement or a recalibration of power balances in global governance, all this must be framed as being within the legitimate remit of foreign policy change and adaptation.

There are, however, three elements from the above definition which I think do give rise to a credible argument for de-Europeanisation. The first – and perhaps most obvious – is the structural disintegration of collective policy making institutions. This need not, of course, be the formal disbandment of structures and/or processes. If these structures are robbed of substantive content, if they become increasingly irrelevant, if member states perceive them to be of less importance and significance – all of this may be said to be signifiers of de-Europeanisation.

The second suggested element of de-Europeanisation is the reconstruction of professional roles in exclusively/predominantly national terms. The argument here is that ‘nationalisation’ or ‘renationalisation’ is a subset of this broader process of de-Europeanisation. Where diplomats are encouraged – or indeed required – by domestic political leaders to present and to see themselves as national champions in a foreign sea, a significant aspect of Europeanisation is absent. This may be evident in professional training and in response to processes of elite-level socialisation or even support for explicit processes of counter-socialisation (as in for example promotional patterns). The key issue here is the extent to which the European Union framework of policy making is represented nationally be ‘foreign’ in the same or in similar ways to that of any other large multilateral organisation; NATO, UN, OSCE etc.

The third and final proposed element of de-Europeanisation is that of a repudiation (implicit or explicit) of well-defined and established foundational norms – either procedural or substantive.  Procedural norms such as the ‘consultation reflex’ (Nuttall 1992) would be core here - defining as they do the deeply instantiated processes by which member states first construct and then pursue shared foreign policy positions and goals. A member state’s explicit – or by omission – implicit rejection of such norms could be a strong signifier of de-Europeanisation. The second aspect here is the foundational norms underpinning the substance of EU foreign policy. Here a difficult distinction muct be maintained. On the one hand, the pass must be left open to the political contestation of even long standing and well entrenched EU foreign policy positions. Moreover, such well-defined positions might even be claimed as being ‘foundational’ to the Union’s foreign policy. That, however, cannot be admitted. The Union must have the capacity to adapt and change and the existence of a common foreign policy cannot be conflated with the content of such a policy. At the same time, the Union – like all international actors – is in part understood as being a construct of certain norms and values. An attack on these foundational norms may then be seen as part of a wider process of de-Europeanisation. Norms such as the rule of law, the universality of human rights and respect for the institutions of global governance might be seen to be among such foundational norms. A member state’s repudiation of such norms – or practices which have the same effect – would have to be seen as part of a process of de-Europeanisation.

Thus we have an interlocking set of three elements of potential de-Europeanisation; structural disintegration, the reconstruction of professional norms and a sustained challenge to foundational norms - both procedural and substantive. What has yet to be determined in this thought experiment of course is the ranking, relative weight and individual measurement of these elements. Serious methodological issues also arise with respect to the definitional issues involved and means by which measurement over time and trajectories may be plotted. Nonetheless, the challenge is here and the editors await!

Ben Tonra

UCD School of Politics and International Relations

UCD Dublin


13 June 2018



Lodge, M. (2006) ‘The Europeanization of Governance - Top Down, Bottom Up or Both?’ in G.F. Schuppert (ed.), The Europeanisation of Governance, Baden-Baden: Nomos, pp. 60-76.


Major, C. (2005) ‘Europeanization and foreign and security policy: undermining or rescuing the nation state?’, Politics, 25(3): 175 –90.


Nuttall, S.J., (1992) European political co-operation. Oxford University Press.


Radaelli, C. (2000) ‘Whither Europeanisation? Concept Stretching and Substantive Change’,

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Tonra, B. (2000) ‘Denmark and Ireland’ in I. Manners and R. Whitman (eds), The Foreign Policies of the European Union Member States, Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 224 –242


Tonra, B., (2015) ‘Europeanization’, In Jorgensen, KE, Aarstad, AK, Drieskens, E., Laatikainen, K. and Tonra, B.(eds.). SAGE Handbook of European Foreign Policy. Sage Publications.


Wong, R.Y. (2007) ‘Foreign policy’,  in P. Graziano and M.P. Vink (eds) Europeanization: New research agendas, Basingstoke/New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp.321-34.


Wong, R., & Hill, C. (eds.) (2011) National and European Foreign Policy, London: Routledge