Normative Power is in the Eye of the Beholder: An Empirical Assessment of Perceptions of EU Identity at the WTO

Elisabeth de Zutter & Francisco Toro


The concept "normative power" is developed to grasp the EU’s identity, role and concomittant practice in world politics. The EU’s ability to “define the normal in world politics” depends on others’ perceptions of it and its external practice. Normative power requires that non-EU states perceive the EU as embodying the norms it espouses, to perceive those norms as attractive for emulation, and to perceive EU action to be norm-driven (as opposed to interest-driven), and based on universally valid norms. To assess non-EU state elites’ perceptions of EU identity, we conduct a series of interviews with WTO negotiators and former negotiators with experience of negotiating with the EU. We find that, while third country elites do perceive the EU as embodying the norms central to its identity and, to some extent, see those norms as attractive for emulation, they do not perceive EU action as distinct and predominantly norm-driven or based on universal norms. Our research qualifies the understanding of the EU as normative power.

Keywords: Normative Power, NPEU, EU Identity, WTO, Trade Policy Making, Perceptions of the EU

JEL code classification: F13

UNU-MERIT Working Papers ISSN 1871-9872