Rethinking European Union Foreign Policy

By Ben Tonra; Thomas Christiansen | Go to book overview

JAKOB C. ØHRGAARD


3
International relations or European integration:
is the CFSP sui generis?

The study of European integration has in the past been plagued by the so-called sui generis problem: 'the EU is considered somehow beyond international relations, somehow a quasi-state or an inverted federation, or some other locution' (Long 1997: 187). At the empirical level of analysis, few would deny that the EU does indeed display unique characteristics, be it in its scope, institutional design, decision-making procedures or supranational legal identity. Yet many students of international relations would probably instinctively echo Moravcsik's claim that 'although the EC is a unique institution, it does not require a sui generis theory' (1993: 474).1 The danger perceived by students concerned with global trends in international relations is that theories developed specifically to explain one particular manifestation of a more general phenomenon become so embedded in the more unique characteristics of their object of study as to seriously limit their range of general applicability. It is in this space between the richness of empirical observation and the parsimony required by theoretical generalisation that the sui generis problem arises.

Long has suggested that 'the sui generis problem… is at one level less acute with the CFSP', given that 'the CFSP is intergovernmental and is probably better characterized as a process rather than as an institution' (1997: 188). Pijpers takes this argument one step further when arguing, with reference to realism and the study of CFSP's antecedent, EPC, that 'the traditional paradigm demonstrates that EPC is a less unique phenomenon than some integration theorists prefer to believe' and that 'considering the record of EPC so far, or its cooperation procedures, it is difficult to discover original aspects of the Twelve's approach in world politics' (1991: 31–2). Yet few analysts of European foreign policy cooperation, even those working within international relations theories, would probably go as far as Pijpers. Thus, Long concedes that, when analysing the CFSP, 'the sui generis problem does not disappear altogether', mainly because 'the CFSP is not an ordinary multilateral institution or process' (1997: 188).

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