The challenges of change in foreign policy - norms and the EU's policy learning in the European Neighbourhood Policy
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The lack of fundamental change within the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) seems puzzling given both the policy’s lack of success and the self-initiated opportunities the European Union (EU) had to change the policy to address this lack of success – namely the major reviews of the policy ending in 2011 and 2015. This study seeks to understand this continuity from a perspective that has yet to be taken within the scholarship on the ENP – that of learning. The behavioural perspective of organizational learning, particularly the concepts of ‘single loop’ and ‘double loop’ learning, is taken as the foundation of the approach. Noting that the description of the lack of fundamental change in organizational learning theory has much in common with the identity-preservation behaviours described by ontological security, and with the objective to connect organizational learning approaches to the study of the EU’s external action, a synthesis of organizational learning with ontological security is proposed. This synthesis provides organizational learning with a deeper, identity-based explanation for why fundamental learning does not occur even when it might be expected. Using this framework, and focusing upon DG NEAR (as the ‘organization’ most responsible for the ENP) and the reviews (as the clearest opportunities for learning), the lack of fundamental learning and, thus, the current state of the policy, can be explained as a series of learning opportunities in which fundamental learning was expected, but never implemented. This is because fundamental learning would have required the EU to change behaviours that can be connected to its identity as a promoter of values/norms, thereby constituting a challenge to its ontological security. The findings provide insight into the policy’s historical lack of success with an empiricallybased account of the EU’s challenge in changing it, providing more detail to the existing literature regarding the continuity of the policy. In doing so, the findings highlight the role of identity-preservation concerns as a factor in fundamental learning outcomes with respect to the EU’s external action, and therefore contribute to a deeper understanding of the EU’s policy learning processes.