Seeking common ground: Assessing the practical implementation of the EU's normative power in EU-China dialogues

  • Max Roger Taylor

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Normative power Europe (NPE) reflects one of the most influential, yet controversial contributions to European Studies. Existing literature tends to adopt an abstract focus on whether the EU is or is not a normative power, based on macro-level analyses that focus on the outcomes of the EU’s policies with third countries. This thesis instead seeks to ascertain the extent to which the EU’s values are practically featuring in its external relations, focusing on the micro-level implementation of its normative power. This reflects an arena where the actual role of values in the EU’s external action can be ascertained and meaningful change can take place.

To address this gap, this thesis concentrates on how individual EU officials are promoting or mainstreaming the EU’s values in the diverse bilateral dialogues making up the EU-China Strategic Partnership. EU-China relations represent arguably the hardest test-case for the EU’s normative power, as they display the greatest tension between the EU’s economic interests and its values in its international relationships. While scholars commonly conclude that the EU’s material interests are being prioritised at the expense of its values, discourse analysis of transcripts from 49 interviews, principally with officials from the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS), reveals that the weakness of the EU’s normative power is far more complex in practice.

It is impacted by contrasting perceptions of inter-institutional responsibilities, fears of antagonising the Chinese side, didactic approaches to value mainstreaming by EU officials and a lack of understanding of China amongst them. Nevertheless, this thesis also reveals that the EU’s values do underpin EU-China dialogues in practice. Dialogues are framed by these values and officials sporadically raise them in exchanges as a result. This highlights the existence of the EU’s normative power with China. However, these partial mainstreaming activities are limited in scope and unable to fully realise the ideal-type of NPE.
Date of Award19 Jun 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorMaria Garcia (Supervisor) & Timo Kivimaki (Supervisor)


  • normative power Europe
  • EU-China relations
  • EU diplomacy

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