Images of Europe and the Myth of Exceptionalism

14 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2010

See all articles by Ben Tonra

Ben Tonra

University College Dublin (UCD)

Date Written: October 7, 2010


The paper begins by recalling academic debates on foreign policy and identity and the ways in which state identity is produced, reproduced and challenged. The boundary-producing role of foreign policy is fore grounded as is its contribution to identity creation. The paper then assesses the extent to which such an analysis can be applied to the European Union. Does the Union possess a ‘foreign policy’ in the sense that we understand states to have foreign policies? Does the Union’s international activity create boundaries and identities comparable to those created by states’ foreign policies? The paper goes on to argue that the EU’s identity as a foreign policy actor is at least in part a function of contested national narratives, that the Union suffers from a weakly instantiated sense of self and foreign policy identity and that its fragile democratic legitimation is a partial outcome of that weakness. Thus, if their goal is a strengthening of the capacity, credibility and effectiveness of a ‘common’ foreign, security and defence policy, European policy elites are well advised to focus less on process and procedure and more on the strengthening of discursive political spaces from which discernable European narratives might be drawn.

Suggested Citation

Tonra, Ben, Images of Europe and the Myth of Exceptionalism (October 7, 2010). Available at SSRN: or

Ben Tonra (Contact Author)

University College Dublin (UCD) ( email )

Belfield, Dublin 4 4

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