Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 11/2010

A normative EU policy towards China: Mission impossible?

Mikael Mattlin

September 2010

Finnish Institute for International Affairs


A vigorous debate is raging on the EU’s normative roles in the global context. The EU actively promotes its political values outside of the Union, especially with regard to prospective accession countries. Yet, a normative foreign policy approach encounters considerable challenges when confronted with major powers, such as China and Russia that do not always share the political values promoted by the EU. Attempts at pursuing a normative policy towards these countries often come across as unserious or half-hearted. This paper discusses EU normative policy towards China, identifying loss of the moral high ground, conflicting interests of EU members and lack of leverage towards China as the three main factors hampering it. The paper argues that instead of a half-hearted offensive normative approach towards China, the EU may be better off with a more determined policy of defensive normativity. More broadly, the EU faces a stark choice between its desire to be a Normative Power and its wish to be a Great Power.