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The EU and Soft Power

In this section, learn about the European Union’s approach to foreign relations and how it is changing.
More about Power and Politics: The Prisoner’s Dilemma ~ Democratization

What is power?

Power is the ability to get someone else to do what you want.

How do governments use power?

The two leading diplomatic strategies used by powers today are hard power and soft power. Hard power tactics employ means of military force or other coercive strategies to achieve a desired outcome. On the other hand, soft power diplomacy strives to achieve a desired outcome without force, through persuasive tactics. In short, hard power uses force, while soft power uses the power of attraction, or makes the opposing side want what you want.

Political scientists and diplomatic strategists have begun to emphasize the increased effectiveness of using a combination of hard and soft power, or smart power. In the International Relations world, U.S. foreign policy is generally sited as an example of hard power (in many cases using military or economic coercion to procure a desired outcome), while the EU tends to employ more soft power policies, attracting new members and allies through European values and the creation of a shared European identity.

Video: Soft Power, Hard Power and Smart Power

The Partnership has had mixed success throughout the region. The primary goal of transitioning to democratic governance is slowly underway in Moldova, Georgia and Armenia. The outbreak of Ukraine’s recent crisis suggests a democratic backslide in the country. Belarus and Azerbaijan are still ruled by authoritarian regimes with no incentives, despite the benefits offered by the Eastern Partnership, to step down. Critics site the problems with a one-size-fits-all approach to these vastly different countries, and the fact that ascension to EU membership is not on of the benefits of the partnership as the biggest obstacles to success. In most cases, the costs of implementing reforms (either monetarily or politically) outweigh the benefits offered.The goal of the partnership is to encourage growth of democratic institutions and governance in Eastern Europe through favorable trade agreements that encourage economic development, and direct support from the EU in areas of institution building, social and environmental policy, and human rights among others.In 2009, the European Union launched its Eastern Partnership program (Watch YouTube video and read 30-page slide set at right) designed to solidify the EU’s commitment to its Eastern European neighbors, as well as create closer ties between the partner countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan) and the EU. The partnership is a manifestation of the EU’s soft power approach to foreign policy; an approach that achieves wanted outcomes by attracting foreign governments to join your side through peaceful diplomatic strategies like offering economic aid, or appealing to shared values. It contrasts with hard power policies, which coerce cooperation through threat of military intervention, war, economic sanctions and other strong-arm tactics. (Nye, Joseph. Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics.(New York: 2004). You can watch Joseph Nye explain the difference between hard power, soft power, and smart power in the video to the left (starting around 0:57).

Video: The EU’s Eastern Partnership Explained

Credits: This page was curated by CES.