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European foreign policy after a crisis: change and continuity

‘Crisis and change in European Union foreign policy.’ That is the title of Nikki Ikani’s book that was published last month. We asked the writer five questions about her book. Presentation: 5 & 20 April.

Can you give us a short summary of your book?

Ikani: ‘My book centralizes a set of questions: What happens to European foreign policy arrangements after a crisis hits? Is EU foreign policy changed as a consequence and if so, how and by whom exactly? And crucially: do things actually change?

During my project I discovered that little research has been done into the process of policy change on the European level. While policy changes on a national level after a sudden crisis have been investigated, little has been done to find out how those processes work exactly within the EU. I found that really surprising because the EU operates quite differently from the national or local governments. In this book, I study the decision-making processes of the European Union, to find out which factors determine if and how the EU decides to change its foreign policy course after crisis.

After explaining some of the theory, the book addresses five recent crises, as well as the policy changes that were made as a result: the Arabic uprisings, the Ukraine crisis of 2013/2014, the ‘security crisis’ that followed, the disinformation crisis, and the 2015 refugee crisis. Based on these cases I created an analytical framework that students and researchers can use when looking to study policy changes in a different context. For example, if they want to know what the impact of the current war in Ukraine might be on European defense policies. But it can also be used to study how a worldwide crisis such as the COVID pandemic will effect domestic and foreign policies.’

What is the most important message according to you?

‘The most important message in the book is that no matter how loud calls for change are after crisis, and how much rhetorical commitment is made to such changes,  most of the time surprisingly little actually changes. On the European level, we indeed often see symbolic changes. These are policy changes that are announced with a lot of fanfare, often using new and appealing terms. But when you take a closer look, they are often the same ideas that have been given a new coat of paint. I also show in the book that sometimes policy changes are deliberately kept ambiguous. Vague or very general terms are used for new policy upon which all member states can agree, but often it is quite difficult to figure out what is actually going to be done.

Yet such symbolic or ambiguous changes are not always useless. They might actually form important inroads for later change, precisely because they are relatively low stakes. They may act as important placeholders for future change, allowing member states to get used to the EU being active in the policy area.

This is what we see happening now during the war in Ukraine. The European Peace Facility was called into being in the years after the annexation of the Krim in 2014. The EU felt it had to do more to safeguard its own security. The Facility provided the EU with an official budget to pay for the costs of military operations outside of the EU. Yet most were skeptical of the Facility at the time. Countries did not have to pledge any funds yet and there still was a lot of discussion on how the money would be spent. It looked like it would turn out to be yet another unfulfilled EU defense promise. But when Russia invaded Ukraine and the EU was looking how to best support Ukraine, the facility suddenly provided the perfect solution. 450 million Euros were made available to finance weapons and ammunition for Ukraine. This was a historical step for the EU. The ambiguous policy change of implementing the peace facility a few years ago cleared the way for this historic change in policy. The European Peace Facility provides a good example of processes I talk about in my book.’

Nikki Ikani

Who are your audience? Who should definitely read the book?

‘This is first and foremost a book for students. During my teaching I often notice that students are really interested in large crises and conflicts, and predominantly in the question of their impact on policy. Think of the COVID pandemic, the war in Syria or the current war in Ukraine. Students can use the book as a starting point to conduct a step-by-step inquiry into these dilemmas It provides a balance between theory and case examples. But you can also read the book if you’re simply interested in one of the five large crises that are being addressed, to learn more about what the crisis looked like and how the EU responded to it.’

How did you experience the writing process and how proud are you now that it is finished?

‘It was a long process. When I started the book, I didn’t have any children yet. Now that the book is finished, I have two. That says it all, I think! The book is in part based on my PhD dissertation. Over the past few years, I have added to that knowledge in different ways. I have interviewed a lot of people who are working for the EU, both as part of the European delegations in Ukraine, Russia, and North Africa as well as EU civil servants in Brussels. I also wanted to find the right publisher for my book, and that process also takes time. With Manchester University Press, I managed to do so. And rereading the end result makes me proud.’

So, the launch, what are the plans?

‘The book is published in troublesome times, with the ongoing war in Ukraine. That unfortunately also makes the book very relevant, because the book pays a lot of attention to the last crisis in Ukraine. I will be collaborating on a number of lectures regarding the consequences of the war, in particular for the European Union. On 5 April, I will present the book as part of the ‘Diplomacy and Global Affairs Research Seminar Series’ by ISGA. The presentation will take place from 13.15 – 15.00 in Room 3.45 at Wijnhaven. It is also possible for people to attend online.

On 20 April, the publisher has organized a panel discussion about the book. Dr. Karolina Pomorska of the Institute of Political Sciences will also be present. The event is open to the public and can be followed online. You will need to register using this link.’ 

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