Introduction the idea of “power over opinion” and


EU’s role in
international relations has been open to heavy debate due to the sui generis
nature of the EU, and in light of this, there has been a new way of
categorizing the EU’s distinct power structure in international relations,
under the heading of “normative power” as stated by Ian Manners. This new idea sets itself apart
from preexisting concepts of international power such as military or civilian
power, instead adopting the idea of “power over opinion” and shaping the
mentality of people beyond the capabilities of state-actorness. (Manners 2001) This new
idea adds food for thought in the way the EU has been categorized as an
international actor as it highlights the EU’s tendencies towards the
propagation of common principles and core norms as its definitive angle. Then
how much credence can be given to this new idea of “normative power” as the
representative role of the EU in international relations? In this paper, the
concept of “normative power” within the context of the EU will be further
explored, and by examining the EU’s interactions with ASEAN and the relations
thereof, an assessment of the effectiveness of this new way of categorizing the
uniqueness of the EU actorness in international relations will be made by
analyzing the extent of the success the EU has achieved under the notion of a
“normative power”.

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Definition of
Normative Power

Like most forms of power in International
relations, normative power’s definition and boundaries has been inconsistent
among scholars and academics following its proposal by Ian Manners in 2002.
Before delving into how the normative power format fits into the EU’s framework,
a more concrete definition as stated by Ian Manners will be used as the basis
and understanding of normative power. Normative power, unlike other forms of
power such as military or civilian, has its roots in the power of ideas instead
of the use of coercive measures or economic encouragement to drive the pivotal
concept of power as the ability to make another party “do something that they would not otherwise do” (Dahl
1957). In the case of normative power, this ability is lot
less apparent due to it being more subtle and under-the-surface, and uses the
idea of presence in itself as the driving force behind the implementation of
the power itself. Hence, in the matter of efficacy, the amount of time taken as
compared to other forms of power will be an issue, much like ‘water on stone’ (Manners
2009). Normative power’s structure is built on a three-stage implementation
process, starting from the principles that are to be imbued, the actions of
imbuement, and the impact of said imbuement. Concerning the principles that are
to be imbued, the key point is that these principles are legitimate in world
politics, being both widely accepted as an agreed concept and delivered under
concrete moral authority. This legitimacy is usually ascertained in the eyes of
the world through unified agreement in the form of treaties or conventions,
with a large emphasis on the established legitimacy in accordance with UN
mandated principles such as democracy and justice. A point to consider is that
even without the mandating of international authorities or states, these
principles themselves are uniform in its concepts and holds autonomous weight
in social context. For the actions that propagate these principles as norms, it
comes in the form of persuasion through presence rather than a direct
subjugation. As Manners states, in order for these actions are to be effective,
“then the actions taken must involve persuasion, argumentation, and the conferral
of prestige or shame.” (Manners 2009). These actions can take the form of “constructive
engagement, the institutionalization of relations, and the encouragement of
multi- and pluri-lateral dialogue between participants.” (ibid.), conferring a sense of to-and-fro communication
to iron out differing principles through agreement. Lastly, for the impact of
normative power, Manners states that its impact must involve “socialisation,
partnership, and ownership.” (ibid.) Socialization indicates the involvement of
a larger process of communication in the global stage, partnership indicates
institutionalization of relationships and ownership indicates the ownership of these
new norms as part of a collaborative effort. As Manners mentions, “the nurturing
of domestic, transnational, and international support for international
principles.” is the motivations behind the efficacy of normative power. This,
however, poses an issue as this makes it difficult to truly judge the impact of
normative power beyond that of improved relations or the adoption of
normatively justified principles. Therefore, for the purposes of streamlining
the process, this will be the yardstick that will be used to measure the extent
of the power of normative power. All in all, based on Manner’s statements,
normative power can be summed up as the power to change the ideologies of
others through presence and communication. As the leading authority in
normative power, this depiction as stated by Ian Manners will be the main definition
of normative power.


EU as a
normative power

One of the
concerns of the EU is that the EU is technically not an international actor as
it is not a state, as represented in the Westphalian concept of
state-sovereignty. However, this has become more of a technicality over the
years as the EU has “presence” in international relations, giving it a sense of
actorness beyond preexisting ontologies, giving the EU the title of “less than a state, but more than a
conventional intergovernmental organization” (Hill 1993).
This “presence” has had varying interpretations in global politics for the EU, and among
them there has been ideas of civilian power as the EU’s international power as stated by Duchene,
or in this case, normative power. Presence is defined as “the property of ideas, notions, expectations and imaginations” (Allen & Smith 1990), and this
ideational authority that the EU possesses is what Manners brings to the table
to categorize the EU as a normative power. The “presence” of the EU has the power to shape the
conceptions of normal in international relations, albeit the credence towards
this notion is difficult to gauge as it is both a slow process and its
competence is open to interpretation.


Manners also mentions about the normative basis for the
EU, being the core principles that set the foundations for the EU’s propagation of legitimate norms.

The EU’s early roots were more focused on
economic integration rather than an ideological one, with the Paris Treaty of
1951 based around the creation of the ECSC to facilitate economic fluency in
the region of the 6 founding members. The EU’s first steps towards the adoption
of its core norms started later from the Single European Act of 1986, along
with the establishment of its advocacy towards democracy, rule of law and human
rights made clear in the Copenhagen Criteria in 1993, the same year of the
adoption of the Maastricht Treaty. For over 50 years, it has been made clear
which each treaty or declaration and their involvement thereof that the EU has
made great strides towards establishing this platform of core norms. The five core norms that the EU
upholds are peace, liberty, democracy, rule of law and respect
for human rights and fundamental freedoms, all of which are stated in the
Treaty of European Union of 1993.1
The table below clearly lines out the norms of the EU that has reached almost a
commandment like position within the EU.


Source: (Manners 2001)

In summary, the concept of normative power EU
helps us understand the EU beyond preexisting ontologies by shedding the notion
of the EU’s lack of preconceived actorness as a limitation and focuses on the
EU’s ability to emanate its existence as an international entity that goes
beyond that of states or NGOs. The supranational governance structure of the EU
goes beyond that of its own borders and this gives it a significance as the
propagator of norms and the principles as defined by Manners.


EU’s Normative Power Assessment

Having examined how the framework of normative
power is applicable to the EU, examination of the extent of its normative power
is needed to determine whether the normative power EU has actual certainty to
it or is just a theory that conveniently fills in an academic void in interpretation
of EU’s power structure in international relations. To do this, the EU’s
relations and interactions with ASEAN will be studied to see if EU’s normative
power has managed to have had an impact in the norm setting of democracy in the
South East Asian region.


ASEAN Values and Norms

To understand the challenges the EU was to face
in the propagation of their norms in the Asian region, a look at the early mentality
of Asia is necessary to see how the original values of the region came about
and became a part of their norms. Historically, the SEA region was characteristically based on realist
worldviews, as the South East Asian region’s history was rife with conflict and
volatility, in which rulers
survive by conquering neighboring territories and preventing conquests of
external forces.(WANG)
Furthermore, events such as the colonization of SEA countries by European
nations from as old as the 16th century, the Japanese colonization
of the region in the 1940s and the negative impacts that the Cold-War has
brought onto them has made the SEA region develop a wariness towards the
outside. (Ruland 2000) This is reflected in the values of the region that
emphasizes state-sovereignty, national power and a strict hierarchy, with many
SEA countries ruled by monarchies. In 1955, a conference by the name of the Bandung
Conference played a major role in establishing the norms of “non-intervention” and
“sovereign equality” for the Asian Region. (Acharya 2009) These principles set
the foundation for the inception of the norms that would represent ASEAN,
institutionalizing these concepts as the defining characteristics of
inter-regional relations for the member countries that also affected the way
they interacted with the outside. These norms made it normal to avoid “criticizing the actions of a member government
towards its own people, including violation of human rights, and from making
the domestic political system of states and the political styles of governments
as a basis for deciding their membership in ASEAN”
(Acharya 2001) Due to the establishment of these prior norms, the
principles set out by the Bandung Conference became the primary code of conduct
for the ASEAN region, diminishing attempts at democracy in lieu of autonomy.
After all, the ASEAN institution was not pioneered on preexisting economic
interdependence nor at an aim at interregional integration, but instead as a
bulwark against communism and with the aim towards economic fluency in the
region to spur growth. (Eccleston, Dawson, & McNamara, 1998)
To sum up, the South East Asian region had a stark absence of democratic values,
and this was reflected in the way ASEAN set up their values and norms.


EU-ASEAN Relations

First contact between the two parties originated
from ASEAN, but early interactions between both parties did not amount to much.
Started in 1978, ASEAN made attempts to improve dialogue with their EU
counterparts through the first ASEAN-EU Ministerial Meeting, shortened to AEMM, with motivations to create cooperation between
the two regions in response to the shifting of power   through
the Cold-War and to gain access to the European economy. (Ruland 2001) However, success in imbuing
the norms of the EU was limited as the EU was more focused on other regions
such as the ACP and Mediterranean and the dialogue between the two EU and ASEAN
were primarily focused on enhancing economic ties. Early dialogue placed almost
no emphasis on human rights or in the propagation of interregional integration
and democratization.


EU’s first proper steps towards asserting
their normative power was at the end of the Cold-War. EU policies towards the
Asian region changed, incorporating political conditionalities with the
agreements between parties as a way to advocate the values of liberal democracy
and human rights after the fall of the communist bloc. (WANG) This shift towards
emphasis on the implementation of norms as a prerequisite was met with less
than favorable response from the ASEAN region, which considered the propagation
of liberal democracy and human rights as a neo-colonialist attempt of establishing cultural hegemony. (Ruland 2001) The criticisms
towards human rights violations by the EU towards ASEAN such as the suppression
of the democratic movement of Myanmmar in 1988 and the East Timor Massacre in
1991 as a method to establish the EU’s focus on the importance
of human rights and liberal democracy was brushed off under the pre-existing
principles of non-intervention as a breach of sovereignty autonomy. The EU’s attempts at asserting a form of power to imbue the norm
of human rights were counteracted by ASEAN taking the
stance that the West’s advocacy of individual human rights as overbearing,
vividly stating their position of sovereign equality in the Joint Communiqué of
the 26th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in 1993 that stated that human rights policies
was subject to the “regard for specific cultural, social, economic and
political circumstances”. The EU’s early attempts at consolidating their core
principles was a failure, diminishing the credibility of the EU as a normative


A better opportunity was handed to the EU to
assert their normative power after the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. The Asian
Financial Crisis took its toll on the ASEAN way due to the lackluster response
it had in resolving the crisis due to a lack of interregional integration. (Ruland 2000) In order
to prevent such an incident or the weak crisis response it had shown, ASEAN set
about to redefine their interregional integration as a reform from their prior
soft institutionalism. In order to highlight the importance of improving integration
among the ASEAN states, ASEAN adopted the Bali Concord II at the 2003 ASEAN Summit
in Bali. The Bali Concord II set the framework for the establishment of an
ASEAN Community, which sets up three foundational pillars for improved interregional
relations: the ASEAN Economic Community, ASEAN Security Community and the ASEAN
Socio-cultural Community.2
This event also holds another significance as the Bali Concord II establishes the
emphasis on democratization as one of its agendas. The EU was had undergone a
change as well with the adoption of the New Asia Strategy of 1994, which not
only accentuates the importance of the EU to establish their economic presence
in Asia, but also to ‘contribute to the
development and consolidatione of democracy and the rule of law, and respect
for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Asia.”3 In response to the adoption
of the Bali Concord II by ASEAN, the EU supported the ASEAN’s new path towards regional integration, which became a
joint agenda between the two parties within dialogues and projects. A project
of significance is the ASEAN-EU Programme for Regional Integration which played
a major role in both enhancing interregional integration within ASEAN and
improve ties between the EU and ASEAN as well. More importantly, the indicators
towards the “action” element of normative power came in twofold in conjunction
with the above events: the European Commission’s SEA 2003 Asian strategy outline “A New Partnership with
Southeast Asia”, and the Nuremburg Declaration. The “A New Partnership with Southeast Asia” document
showed the joint agreement between the EU and ASEAN to “practicing dialogue in specific policy areas and a channel to discuss normative issues
contentious between the two regional groupings” 4
and the Nuremburg Declaration of 2007 that highlights the promotion of “universal
values of justice, democracy, human rights, good governance,
anti-corruption, the rule of law, social equality and caring societies….for further strengthening and expanding EU-ASEAN


However, even with the “action” element of normative power coming into fruition, its “impact” is not as fruitful as expected.
ASEAN still held onto their prior norms of non-intervention which would collide
with the new norms of democracy and human rights that the EU brought. For
example, the Thailand political crisis of 2013 which eventually lead to the
establishment of a military dictatorship. The military coup was not given a
proper condemnation by the ASEAN, which instead responded with blanket
statements and an overall weak response to blatant violation of the norms that
was set up in the ASEAN charter. Even with the EU’s efforts to establish and reinforce the core norms of
human rights and democracy, the “impact” has not been as effective as expected. In the end, the
norms did find their place in the documents of the related parties, but
implementation of these norms are not going as planned, diminishing the “impact” portion of normative


Conclusion – EU’s
normative power Assessment

In the end,
it is difficult to say that the EU is a concrete normative power when taking
the EU-ASEAN relations as case study as even though the “action” part of normative
power was undertaken, the “impact” is not as impactful as it seems. Adding to
the Thailand example, a contemporary example of ASEAN internal affairs also bring
up the EU’s normative power inadequacy into play with the ASEAN’s insufficient response to the human rights
violations of the Rohingya crisis, which is reminiscent of ASEAN’s old norms of
non-intervention still rooted in their international relations.6 That is
not to say that the EU’s normative power does not hold any credence at all,
after all, the EU’s “presence” represented by the two pronged agreements
between the EU and ASEAN has given ASEAN a further need to underline their
support for these norms as part of their internal structure. Furthermore, as
mentioned earlier, the results of normative power assertion need time to take
place, and is also difficult to gauge with only visible evidence. Even so, I
would have to say that EU’s normative power is a convenient explanation towards
the propagation of universal values that has become more common in modern
society, but not with intention but rather by happenstance. Since the EU’s
interactions with other state-actors mostly rotate around economic dialogues, I
would conclude by saying that the EU’s normative power is more of a secondary addition
to the EU’s tendencies towards Soft power, or more accurately, Civilian power. It
is still a part of EU’s power in the global arena, but not the most prominent
aspect of it.

1 ACT, F. (1992). Treaty on European union. Official Journal C,
191, 29.


3 UNSPECIFIED (1994) Towards a new Asia strategy. Communication from
the Commission to the Council. COM (94) 314 final, 13 July 1994.

4 A new partnership with South East Asia. Communication from the
Commission. COM (2003) 399/4

5 Nuremberg Declaration on an EU-ASEAN Enhanced Partnership. 2007