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Philipp Thaler

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Philipp Thaler

Why is the external policy of the EU towards Russia lacking coherence, despite extensive institutionalization, a catalogue of formally stated objectives and repeatedly articulated political will? This chapter introduces the topic of the book to the reader. It shows that although the question of coherence pertains to many areas of EU activity, the EU’s external approach towards Russia offers a particularly rich empirical laboratory to investigate the issue. The chapter introduces the case studies of the book, external energy and human rights policy, as well as the analytical approach. This approach notably moves beyond conventional institutionalist arguments typically employed in research on the EU’s effectiveness. Based on a typology developed by Arnold Wolfers it takes account of the types of goals the EU pursues externally—milieu and/or possession goals—and uses their basic characteristics to develop propositions about external coherence. The remainder of the introduction presents the chapters of the book.

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Philipp Thaler

Chapter 2 develops the analytical framework for research on external coherence employed in this book. It reviews theories and literature from the scholarly fields of International Relations (IR) and European Studies and assesses their potential to explain varying outcomes of EU external policies. A special focus in explaining the external performance of the EU is placed on coherence: the concept is defined, structured and operationalized. On this basis, the chapter proposes a dual analytical approach to investigate the coherence of EU foreign policy. A distinction is drawn between the policy setting—investigated through an institutionalist research agenda—and the policy content. The latter is explored through Arnold Wolfers’ conceptualization of milieu and possession goals. On this basis, a set of research propositions on external coherence is formulated that informs and guides the following four empirical chapters.

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Philipp Thaler

Chapter 3 demonstrates the practical relevance of the concept of coherence in EU foreign policy. Based on interview data and publicly available sources, it reviews the perceptions, role and meaning of coherence in the context of EU external relations. The interview responses confirm the significance of the theoretically derived conceptual characteristics of ‘coherence’. Coherence between actors and policies is a recurrent theme in debates in Brussels and, in fact, has become a guiding principle of EU foreign policy that finds its relevance in the challenges arising from a fragmented institutional structure. Moreover, it is shown that the EU interprets problems in foreign policy as a lack of coherence, rooted in a policy setting that is unconducive to coordination and in insufficient coordination of the policy content.

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Philipp Thaler

Chapter 4 addresses the first part of the dual analytical approach of this book: it investigates the policy setting of the EU and its impact on external coherence towards Russia. The main argument is that a lack of coherence triggers the reinforcement of different coordination mechanisms. On the one hand, this is reflected in the formal institutional structure of external policy-making. The chapter reviews procedures and reforms in the European Council, the Council, the Commission, the HR and the EEAS, and their impact on external coherence. On the other hand, coordination is facilitated by informal practices, including socialization processes, the development of common values and objectives, like-minded groups, the practice of uploading and guidance through common agenda-setting and agreement on principles. Conversely, some elements of the policy setting, such as missing supranational competences, a fragmented institutional framework, turf wars, a lack of strategic objectives and administrative overload impede external coherence.

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Philipp Thaler

Chapter 5 investigates the policy content of the EU with Russia from a macro-level perspective. The main argument is that Brussels acts as a milieu shaper towards Moscow. The chapter first assesses the EU’s external role in rebuilding and consolidating relations since the end of the Cold War. Using examples from the areas of human rights and energy policy, it describes the EU’s role in shaping the relationship with Russia. The institutionalization of the partnership at political and expert levels, combined with frequent references to norms and values, has become an instrument of Brussels’ external governance. While these elements depict the EU as a coherent external actor, this picture is repeatedly undermined by a number of external and internal challenges. Russia increasingly undermines common norms and values—most recently illustrated by the Ukraine crisis. Thereby, Brussels’ responses are often constrained by its lack of identity as an international actor.

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Philipp Thaler

Chapter 6 assesses external coherence of the EU towards Russia in specific policy areas and episodes. It demonstrates that problems in achieving external coherence appear when tensions between milieu and possession goals cannot be resolved. Analyses of EU external human rights and energy policy reveal that coherence is dependent on mechanisms that avoid a conflict between different foreign policy objectives: where the EU engages solely in milieu-shaping activities without challenging possession goals, external policies are relatively coherent. The chapter then presents three distinct case studies from the areas of energy and human rights policy in which the interaction of milieu and possession goals caused different outcomes. It is shown that the sequencing of external goals matters for coherence. Where milieu goals are utilized to further possession goals, the EU appears as a coherent external actor. Conversely, where possession goals are utilized to further milieu goals, external coherence is unlikely.

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Philipp Thaler

The conclusion reviews the main findings of the book and identifies four answers to the central research question. The external policy of the EU towards Russia is lacking coherence, despite extensive institutionalization, a catalogue of formally stated objectives and repeatedly articulated political will, because (1) there is insufficient coordination between different actors and policy objectives; (2) there are partly insufficient coordination mechanisms, inexpedient institutional reform, path dependencies and unintended consequences; (3) internal and external challenges continuously question the fundamental norms and values of the EU–Russia relationship; and (4) there are policy episodes when the conflict between the EU’s milieu and possession goals can neither be avoided nor resolved. The chapter then discusses these findings and assesses their implications for policy-making and future research.

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Shaping EU Foreign Policy Towards Russia

Improving Coherence in External Relations

Philipp Thaler

Offering a comprehensive and structured analysis of the reasons why the EU lacks external coherence towards Russia, this book presents important new insights to the topic beyond conventional institutionalist arguments. Philipp Thaler utilises key cases in external energy and human rights policies to highlight the on-going difficulties in creating a coherent position, despite the EU’s formally stated objective to achieve this.