The EU's 'transnational power over' Central Asia
: Developing and applying a structurally integrative approach to the study of the EU's power over Central Asia

  • Fabienne Bossuyt

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis challenges the consensual scholarly expectation of low EU impact in Central Asia. In particular, it claims that by focusing predominantly on narrow, micro-level factors, the prevailing theoretical perspectives risk overlooking less obvious aspects of the EU?s power, including structural aspects, and thus tend to underestimate the EU?s leverage in the region. Therefore, the thesis argues that a more structurally integrative and holistic approach is needed to understand the EU?s power in the region. In responding to this need, the thesis introduces a conceptual tool, which it terms „transnational power over? (TNPO). Inspired by debates in IPE, in particular new realist and critical IPE perspectives, and combining these views with insights from neorealist, neo-institutionalist and constructivist approaches to EU external relations, the concept of TNPO is an analytically eclectic notion, which helps to assess the degree to which, in today?s globalised and interdependent world, the EU?s power over third countries derives from its control over a combination of material, institutional and ideational structures, making it difficult for the EU?s partners to resist the EU?s initiatives or to reject its offers. In order to trace and assess the mechanisms of EU impact across these three structures, the thesis constructs a toolbox, which centres on four analytical distinctions: (i) EU-driven versus domestically driven mechanisms, (ii) mechanisms based on rationalist logics of action versus mechanisms following constructivist logics of action, (iii) agent-based versus purely structural mechanisms of TNPO, and (iv) transnational and intergovernmental mechanisms of EU impact. Using qualitative research methodology, the thesis then applies the conceptual model to the case of EU-Central Asia. It finds that the EU?s power over Central Asia effectively derives from its control over a combination of material, institutional and ideational structures, including its position as a leader in trade and investment in the region, its (geo)strategic and security-related capabilities vis-à-vis Central Asia, as well as the relatively dense level of institutionalisation of its relations with the five countries and the positive image of the EU in Central Asia as a more neutral actor.
Date of AwardOct 2012
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorDavid J. Bailey (Supervisor) & Uwe Wunderlich (Supervisor)


  • EU external relations
  • Central Asia
  • power conceptualisation

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