Asia Europe Journal

, Volume 10, Issue 2–3, pp 181–198 | Cite as

Dead on arrival: normative EU policy towards China

  • Mikael MattlinEmail author
Original Paper


The European Union’s (EU) normative roles in global politics have in recent years been a hotly debated topic. The EU promotes its political values outside of the Union, especially with regard to prospective accession countries and small developing countries. However, a normative foreign policy approach encounters considerable challenges when confronted with major powers, such as China and Russia that do not share the political values promoted by the EU. Attempts at pursuing a normative policy towards these countries often come across as halfhearted. This article discusses EU normative policy towards China. It identifies loss of the moral high ground, conflicting positions of EU members and lack of leverage as the three main factors hampering it. It needs to be recognised that these problems are fundamental and stem from the very nature of the EU itself. The article argues that instead of a halfhearted offensive normative approach towards China or ubiquitous dialogues with partners, the EU may be better off with a more determined policy of defensive normativity. This would entail being more insistent in upholding European values within our own community rather than seeking to export them outside of the Union, and favouring demand-driven cooperation. The choice stands between altering the self-image of the EU to make it better correspond to reality, or making reality live up to the self-image.


European Union Member State Foreign Policy Normative Approach European Union Country 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The author would like to thank Ella och Georg Ehrnrooths stiftelse and the Finnish Foreign Ministry for providing funding to support the research for this article. The author would also like to thank Timo Behr, Tuomas Forsberg, Bart Gaens, Jonathan Holslag, Jyrki Kallio, Hanna Ojanen, Hannu Ripatti, Teija Tiilikainen, Mikko Tyrväinen and Antto Vihma for helpful comments. An earlier version appeared as a FIIA Working Paper in September 2010.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Finnish Institute of International AffairsHelsinkiFinland

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