The role of „soft power” in shaping EU’s external image

Emil Wojtaluk

Defining instruments for creating EU’s external image can be problematic. The conference held at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin on November 9-10, entitled “Cultural dimension of the European integration” gathered scholars from different universities to help us understand these processes.

The conference was co-organized by the Polish Society of European Studies

The conference was co-organized by the Polish Society of European Studies

Defining soft power

Taking culture into account should be connected with its external image. The problem of EU’s perception is very complex, looking at all crises the Union is struggling with, its image decreased. Another thing is that the Union itself has problems with defining its external image policy. What is more, the incapacity to inform its own citizens leads to ignorance about functioning of the European Union, let alone countries outside of the EU. A way to solve this problem could be effectively acting diplomacy of the Union (as the element of soft power).

According to J. Nye soft power could be defined as ability to receive what we expect thanks to attractiveness, not violence, compulsion or payment. The ability of one’s entity to form an alliance and to get more influence is possible thanks to three factors. These are culture, political values and foreign policy – realized on the basis of previously mentioned values and culture. The essential instrument of conducting foreign policy by the EU is shaping positive image on the international scene, via these three soft indicators.

If we are to discuss main merits of EU’s soft power, one of them is that EU is perceived as “civilian power”, having its origins in the 70s. The concept was based on the assumption that the Communities are founded on peace. A distinctive factor is that civilian power means also economic activities. In the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU we can find that in exercising foreign relations the Union is relating to universal values such as democracy, human rights or EU enlargement policy. These provisions as well as other EU legal acts referring to external policy create the so called set of values, which are components of soft power. One of the essential features of Union’s involvement in the world is multilateralism, also seen as soft power (cooperation with other countries). The European Union is perceived as one of world’s mediators on the international scene, but rather as advocate of only peaceful resolutions, which sadly have low efficiency. Especially looking at recent crises inside the EU and internationally, it is said that the Union use the methods of “cheating reality”.

Public diplomacy

Beata Piskorska, PhD during the conference

Beata Piskorska, PhD during the conference

Another part of soft power is public diplomacy – understood as dialogue between countries, realized with using media and direct communication. That is why using means of Public Relations is also crucial. The EU is currently trying to meet this challenge by the use of social media and digital diplomacy. We could observe it looking at the activities of former and current High Representative of the Union, especially during the “Arab Spring” – seen as the test for digital diplomacy and using social media. The national example of using digital diplomacy is former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland, Radosław Sikorski and his twitter account – it was debatable whether his commentaries were his private opinion and whether it reflected his position as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, that’s why using such means is debatable everywhere in the world.

Public diplomacy is realized by the EU in various ways: by study visits, cooperation with local MS’ governments, cooperating with international organizations, as well as by development aid and supporting cultural institutions. Here the essential element of public diplomacy is cultural diplomacy. In 2007 document “European agenda for culture” it was emphasized that promoting of cultural dimension is significantly important, and it should be supported by cooperation with other international organizations dealing with cultural policy.

“United in diversity” is perceived as one of the biggest achievements of the EU as an attempt to connect different cultures and identities. Nevertheless, it becomes an contentious issue. Especially when it’s crucial to create mutual legal framework for the functioning of culture. It is the problem how to create laws common to all, indeed different cultures.

Summing up, despite all difficulties with communication and creating unified image of the EU by 28 Member States, the European Union is still seen as a model of integration processes. It is extremely important to understand that values that are important for EU members (like the rule of law or equality in a broad sense) may not be so crucial for people coming to Europe or living outside the EU.

The article is based on the speech of Beata Piskorska, PhD (Department of Political Science/John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin) entitled “The role of „soft power” in shaping EU’s external image” at the conference entitled “Cultural dimension of the European integration” held at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (Poland) on 9-10 November 2015.

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