By Lena Partzsch
What can we learn from international relations about how ‘normative’ or ‘ethical’ power can be used in successful negotiations, for example, for pathways to sustainability? Here I build on Ian Manners’ (2002) concept of “Normative Power Europe”. He argues that the European Union’s specific history “pre‐disposes it to act in a normative way” (Manners 2002: 242) based on norms such as democracy, rule of law, social justice and respect for human rights. I explore the broader ramifications of the normative power concept for empirical studies and for practical negotiation and collaboration more generally.
First, the concept of normative power implies that the spread of particular norms is perceived as a principal policy goal, whether that relates to foreign policy, environmental policy or other kinds of policy. This requires understanding:
- which norms the actors involved in negotiations pursue;
- whether these identified norms are internationally shared norms;
- which interests these norms support, especially if they are narrow or sectional.
Second, normative power assumes that joint action is possible. “Power with” implies learning processes that allow actors to question self-perceptions and to actively build up new awareness (Partzsch and Fuchs 2012). This requires understanding:
- if all relevant actors are involved in the negotiations and contribute to finding consensus or compromise;
- whether there are mutual learning processes that allow actors to develop a new understanding of what is just and what is unjust;
- whether there are instances of persuasion and learning in negotiation and collaboration.
At the same time, we should not lose sight of asymmetries due to some actors’ potentially privileged material or ideational capacities.
Third, the concept of normative power assumes that public actors (eg., governments) can enforce particular norms on business and civil society, such as respect for human rights. This requires understanding:
- whether the actors with public authority can regulate other actors and, also, the scale at which they can act;
- what the prospects of success are, ie., will business and civil society actors actually change their practices in the face of negotiated rules to do so.
These three criteria can be used as a theoretical framework to analyse rule-making processing, including empirically (Partzsch, forthcoming). The criteria and associated questions are summarised in the table below.
One use of these ideas is in designing international negotiations, where ‘normative’ or ‘ethical’ power is based on universal norms. Where norms come into play that are not universal, proactively involving “power with” and staying open to learning about other norms and being able to change one’s own positions is crucial. Finally, commitment to the adopted rules and their public enforcement are also important outcomes.
These ideas may also be useful in negotiations on smaller scales, such as in research collaborations. I would be interested to hear how you think they may be useful in your work.
Manners, I. (2002). Normative power Europe: A contradiction in terms? Journal of Common Market Studies, 40, 2: 235–258.
Partzsch, L. (Forthcoming). The new EU Conflict Minerals Regulation: Normative power in international relations? Global Policy.
Partzsch, L. and Fuchs, D. A. (2012). Philanthropy: Power within international relations. Journal of Political Power, 5, 3: 359–376.
Biography: Lena Partzsch PhD is Professor of Environmental and Development Policy at the Institute of Environmental Social Sciences and Geography, University of Freiburg, Germany. Her research interests lie in the fields of international relations and sustainability governance.