The Power of the European Union

Special Report
What explains the EU’s (lack of) Influence on Russia?
By Tuomas Forsberg

There is much disagreement and confusion as to how much power the European Union actually has in international politics, whether it is increasing or onthe wane, and how the EU can best use what power it has. Although no single analytical framework suffices for understanding power in international politics, it is important to be able to understand what difference alternative theories of power make. First, power can be seen in terms of its sources: military, economic and normative. Second, it can be conceived in terms of resources, perceptions, and intersubjective understandings. Third, in addition to resources, effective power also depends on strategy and will to use power. Fourth, the assumption that the more powerful party is always able to impose its will might be mistaken. Because power depends on context, there are many instances where it is unreasonable to expect that the EU could influence Russia, regardless of the former’s resources or strategic skill. This article compares these four basic ways to understand power and applies them to EU – Russia relations. I argue that explaining the success or failure of the EU to advance its interests concerning Russia has little to do with the traditional understanding of power as military capability. On the contrary, much more attention should be paid to the other dimensions of power.

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