Kristian Lau Nielsen will defend his doctoral thesis titled „Soft Power Europe: The Lesser Contradiction in Terms and Practises" on 14 June at 17:00.
Supervisor: Prof Eiki Berg
Opponent: Prof Knud Erik Jörgensen, Aarhusi Ülikool
Summary: This dissertation discusses the soft power of the European Union. In doing so it distances itself from the dominant paradigms within the study of EU foreign policy - Civilian Power Europe since Normative Power Europe – which have between them dominated the field since the 1970’s and early 2000s respectively. Both of these concepts were created specifically with the EU in mind, and both have inspired copious amounts of literature. They have, however, both also been heavily criticised for their severe theoretical and empirical shortcomings, and neither has found widespread usage outside EU studies. By contrast the soft power concept has been relatively under-utilised in this field. The central argument of this dissertation is that the study of EU foreign policy would benefit greatly by abandoning exclusive niches and engage with wider IR scholarship by bringing traditional and more widely used IR concepts like hard and soft power to the fore. Soft power, which is the main topic of the dissertation, captures the intangible aspects of EU power. It has been defined as “the ability to get others to want the same that you want”, and rests on the attractiveness of an actor’s culture, values and policies. It envisages an interplay between different kinds of power resources, but assumes no ideal types of actorness. It therefore provides a more theoretically and empirically sound conceptual lens for analysing what kinds of intangible power of attraction the EU actually possesses, and for understanding what is holding it back. Moreover, the concept is eminently suited for studying the EU’s foreign policies, as the EU itself frequently expresses a preference for a less overtly confrontational style of politics. Ultimately, the argument of this dissertation is that instead of continuing to engage in the futile debates over ideal types of actorness, the academic community should instead return to examining what kind of power the EU actually has, and with what effectiveness it is making use of it. The dissertation is based on four peer-reviewed articles, published between 2009 and 2016, which between them cover several aspects of EU soft power. The opening chapter presents the broad concepts and their applicability to the EU’s foreign policy. The first article discusses the relationship between EU soft power and the capability-expectations gap, which the EU is often considered as labouring under. The second article examines the Eastern Partnership from 2008, and the level of success with which it functioned as a channel for EU soft power. The third article argues that civil society organisations can be agents for the EU’s foreign policy agenda, using Estonian organisations as a case study. The fourth article discusses Russian soft power in Estonia, using this as a counterpoint to the EU’s soft power in the same region. The dissertation sets out why the soft power concept offers more promising avenues for further research than the tired concepts of civilian and normative power. It holds greater explanatory potential, and it should gain greater usage in the study of EU foreign policy.