Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
Research The Groningen Research Institute for the Study of Culture (ICOG) Research Research centres Research Centre for the Study of Democratic Cultures and Politics Events & Colloquium

EPS Seminar Series - MARIANNA LOVATO (Brussels School of Governance, Vrije Universiteit Brussel): 'The Room Where It Happens: The Role of Informality in EU Foreign Policy Negotiations'

When:We 18-10-2023 16:00 - 17:00
Where:Collaboratory B, Harmonie building

This event is part of the Seminar Series of the theme group European Politics and Society.


Why, despite being one of the most institutionalized organizations in the world, the EU’s decision- making process is still very much defined by informal arrangements? Why, despite the abundance of formal rules and procedures, do negotiators still feel the need to meet in “smoke-filled rooms”, make handshake deals, and create ad hoc coalitions?

No area of EU policy-making is as clearly governed by informality as the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy/Common Security and Defense Policy (CFSP/CSDP): not only do foreign policy negotiations concern (time-)sensitive and political issues that cannot always be addressed most efficiently through formal channels, but member states have even more leeway as to when and how they might ‘go informal’ compared to legislative decision-making.

Yet, the role of informality in CFSP/CSDP has received relatively little attention compared to legislative decision-making.

Combining the insights from the IR and EU Studies literature on informal governance with social constructivist approaches to EU foreign policy, this project provides an analytical framework detailing when and how member states exploit informality to make formal institutions work (for them).

I contend that, when formal institutions do not measure up to the needs and interests of member states, the latter have an incentive to move to more ‘agile’ negotiation arenas (e.g. informal sub-groupings of member states and/or third countries), resort to informal practices (e.g. capital-to-capital coordination outside Council structures), perform informal roles (such as that of broker or penholder), all in careful adherence to specific norms (including the so-called coordination-reflex, trust building and constructive ambiguity). These informal modes of cooperation, in turn, have a distinct effect on the coherence, responsiveness, and overall effectiveness of EU foreign policy.

The proposed framework is then tested across three CFSP/CSDP negotiations: the agreement on the three-staged sanction regime against Russia back in 2014, the establishment of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), and the adoption of Operation EUNAVFOR MED Irini.

Showing how member states informality to make sure that the EU delivers – and does so in a way that accommodates their interests – this project provides critical insights into the study of informality in global governance.

If you would like to attend, please contact Martijn Schoonvelde (martijn.schoonvelde