Asia Europe Journal

, Volume 16, Issue 2, pp 199–212 | Cite as

Normative power Europe in crisis? Understanding the productive role of ambiguity for the EU’s transformative agenda

  • Bettina AhrensEmail author
Original Paper


The Euro, refugees, Brexit, thriving right-wing populism and time and again a lack of coherence and consistency in EU foreign policy, as in Iraq 2003 or in Libya in 2011—seem to point to the EU in crisis. The idea of normative power Europe (NPE) essentially entails that the EU has a transformative impact on international society also outside its own borders. In light of such developments, the question arises whether such a transformative impact still seems possible. Rather than dealing with all such different moments of crisis, this article focuses on an alleged EU foreign policy crisis and asks whether—as NPE sceptics argue—inconsistencies and a lack of coherence in EU foreign policy undermines the idea of a transformative agenda and thus puts NPE to crisis. This article introduces the concept of ambiguity as a particular way of studying NPE. Ambiguity in this sense is an inevitable feature of the social world—of the EU as a global actor and of processes of change. Thus, the argument is put forward that ambiguity does not necessarily impinge on the EU’s transformative agenda. Rather than being an indication of a foreign policy crisis, the ambiguous nature of the EU and resulting ambiguous policies actually do underpin the EU’s transformational potential.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of TubingenTübingenGermany

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