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Mapping leadership roles in EU foreign policy

Conference contribution
Authors Lisbeth Aggestam
Markus Johansson
Published in 8th Pan-European Conference on the European Union (ECPR). Trento, Italy: 15-18 June
Publication year 2016
Published at Centre for European Research (CERGU)
Department of Political Science
Language en
Keywords leadership, foreign policy, role theory, European Union, legitimacy
Subject categories Political Science


This paper examines the nature of leadership in EU foreign policy. The latest treaty reforms of the European Union involve a significant institutional delegation and centralisation to Brussels of the formal leadership functions in the field of foreign policy. This is puzzling given that theories of European integration discount that a significant delegation of leadership will happen in the high politics of foreign policy given its close association to sovereignty and statehood. In this paper, we set out to explore a paradox at the heart of EU foreign policy between the demand for leadership effectiveness (strategic action) and perceptions of legitimate leadership (appropriate behaviour). We suggest that the analysis of leadership in EU foreign policy is dependent on how we regard institutions, and propose that social role theory can provide an original analytical perspective from which to study the contested nature of leadership in EU foreign policy. We argue that not only formal institutions determine leadership in EU foreign policy, but that the enactment of leadership is crucially shaped by the possibilities for role relations (a shared organizational reality) between leaders and followers. Based on survey data, this paper explores what leadership role expectations representatives of EU member states and European External Action Service (EEAS) officials have. The empirical findings indicate that there are diverging perceptions about the post-Lisbon leadership functions in EU foreign policy, and that member states still have a leadership role to play. We also show that the perceptions about leadership performance differ between member states and EEAS officials, and that there are constraints to the independent agency held by the EU High Representative.

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