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Foreign Policy Analysis
Decentring the analysis of European foreign policy (1/9): Why decentring?

Decentring the analysis of European foreign policy (1/9): Why decentring?

Analyzing European foreign policy poses significant challenges in terms of understanding the external context in which foreign policy is projected. Having a good knowledge of the policies of the European Union and its member states towards other regions is not really sufficient to evaluate European foreign policy and the external challenges Europe is facing. In order to genuinely understand European foreign policy towards other parts of the world, it is essential to complement a Europe and Western-centric view with what we label as a decentred perspective. A decentred perspective implies that the foreign policy analyst also examines foreign policy from the perspective and within the context of the regions, countries and societies that are the subject, target or recipients of European foreign policy – whether this is Russia, China, India or countries in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa or Central Asia. As we show in our article in Cooperation and Conflict, academic research on European foreign policy often adopts an inward-looking and Euro-centric perspective. Very often, the focus is on, for instance, the nature and identity of the European Union as an international actor, the institutional set-up of EU foreign policy making, the relationship between values and interests and foreign policy is then mainly evaluated from the perspective of the European Union. There are some exceptions, such as a literature on external perceptions and some specific case studies of EU foreign policy towards the Mediterranean and China. However, in most cases, scholarly attention is not really devoted to a decentred perspective in which the foreign is taken as a major point of reference in the analysis of, indeed, foreign policy. Scholars specialized in European foreign policy – including myself – are often not specialized in the countries, regions and societies that are the subject of European foreign policy. This is often also limiting our ability – also my ability – to evaluate the effectiveness and relevance of this policy and to understand the external contexts in which the European Union operates. The existence of such a knowledge gap in the analysis of European foreign policy is what I learned when doing research and interacting with scholars and practitioners from the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Russia. They brought to my attention concepts, values and phenomena which they considered as important to understand their country and a potential impact of European foreign policy, but which I did not know or did not really understand. To give some examples: can you make sense of words like warfalla, ‘adala, ubuntu, guanxi, lichnost and the various other words that I even can’t try to pronounce as I do not read Russian, Mandarin, Farsi, Arabic, Swahili and other non-Western languages. More fundamentally, the study of European foreign policy itself, based on Western and Eurocentric paradigms and categories, offers only partial understanding of non-Western contexts. It is in this context that Fisher Onar and Nicolaïdis amplified the call – and I quote – for “a paradigm shift that decentres the study and practice of Europe’s international relations, necessary to make sense of our multipolar order and to reconstitute European agency in a non-European world”. What such a decentred analysis of European foreign policy can look like will be explained in next clip. However, before answering the question how to decentre, it is also useful to point to its policy relevance. In the Global Strategy for the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy, the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini emphasized that responsive external action must be underpinned by strong knowledge base which requires a deeper situational awareness, knowledge of local languages and experience in other countries. As she explained in her preceding strategic analysis: the EU in a Changing Global Environment, the EU has to operate in an increasingly connected, contested and complex world. In our view, a decentred perspective can help to pursue a deeper situational awareness and understanding of this complexity, interconnectedness and contestation which increasingly affect Europe.

1 comment on “Decentring the analysis of European foreign policy (1/9): Why decentring?

  1. completely agree, also views in academic literature on same issues from both sides differ significantly

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