GIGA Focus International Edition English

The Comeback of the EU as a "Civilian Power" through the Arab Spring?

GIGA Focus | International Edition English | Number 02 |

On 12 October 2012, the European Union was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for, among other things, “the successful struggle for peace and reconciliation and for democracy and human rights,” as the official press release states.

The Nobel Prize organization’s explanatory statement matches the EU’s traditional selfimage as a "civilian power" not only in European affairs but also in its foreign relations. However, when applied to the EU’s policy towards the countries south of the Mediterranean, the civilian power approach exhibits many problems.

  • The Arab Spring has repoliticized cross-Mediterranean relations. In the 1970s, the EU based its self-image as an actor in international relations on a civilian power approach. The aspirations of an ideal civilian power are based on the promotion of nonviolent conflict resolution, democratic values and social justice. Yet in the decade prior to the Arab Spring at the latest, the EU’s approach towards the Arab world had become very “pragmatic,” meaning that European claims regarding the EU’s progressive foreign policy were purely rhetorical.

  • Still, a heated, partially ideologically charged debate among scholars – and politicians – on the EU’s self-image continued. The main reason the approach managed to remain on the agenda, despite empirical counterevidence, was that the pre-Arab Spring environment, with its authoritarian regimes, was hostile to a civilian power.

  • With the Arab Spring, a quasi-experimental situation has emerged; whether the European self-image matches the reality thus needs to be tested. Since the Arab Spring it has certainly become more common for European politicians to use major elements of the civilian power approach on the rhetorical level.

  • When compared with major empirical developments since the Arab Spring, the civilian power approach does not adequately explain European relations with the countries south of the Mediterranean.

Related Research at the GIGA

Suggested Citation Style

Beck, Martin (2013), The Comeback of the EU as a "Civilian Power" through the Arab Spring?, GIGA Focus International Edition English, 02, urn:nbn:de:0168-ssoar-331767


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The GIGA German Institute of Global and Area Studies – Leibniz-Institut für Globale und Regionale Studien in Hamburg publishes the Focus series on Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and global issues. The GIGA Focus is edited and published by the GIGA. The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the institute. Authors alone are responsible for the content of their articles. GIGA and the authors cannot be held liable for any errors and omissions, or for any consequences arising from the use of the information provided.

General Editor GIGA Focus Series: Prof. Dr. Sabine Kurtenbach

Prof. Dr. Martin Beck, an associate researcher at the GIGA, holds a chair of contemporary Middle East studies at the University of Southern Denmark. His current research interests include international and regional policy in the Middle East, the Israeli–Arab conflict, regional oil policy, and Lebanon. The research which this paper is based on was funded by the Carlsberg Foundation.

Recent Publications by the Authors

Martin Beck / Dietrich Jung / Peter Seeberg (eds.)

The Levant in Turmoil. Syria, Palestine, and the Transformation of Middle Eastern Politics

New York: Palgrave, 2016

Martin Beck / Simone Hüser

Jordan and the 'Arab Spring': No Challenge, No Change?

Middle East Critique , 24, 2015, 1, 83-97

Martin Beck

Contextualizing the Current Social Protest Movement in Lebanon

E-International Relations, 2015