Normative or pragmatic? The Estonian perspective on European Union foreign policy - cases of conflict in North Macedonia, Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh



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Tartu Ülikool


The European Union’s (EU) foreign policymaking has been known as value-based and therefore normative but in the document of European Union Global Strategy introduced 2016, the EU proposed a new way of dealing with foreign policy issues that put the emphasis on being pragmatic, interest-based and dealing with foreign policy crises with a more principled case-by-case method. This thesis aims to describe through a qualitative study how this proposed shift in the EU’s foreign policy is perceived from the viewpoint of the EU's smaller Member States, in this case focusing on Estonia. As smaller Member States are usually considered more as “policy-takers'' than “policy-makers'' and the EU foreign policy decisions are predominantly made with a unanimous decision, the discourse of smaller Member States of the EU could actually be contrasting from the official foreign policy positions of the EU. To understand the Smaller Member State's discourse regarding conflicts in Europe and in the proximity of Europe, the Estonian viewpoint is described through Estonian foreign policy experts' opinions on the crises. The crises in North Macedonia in 2001, Ukraine in 2014 and Nagorno-Karabakh in 2020 are therefore analysed in-depth to understand the EU’s evolution of foreign policymaking. The thesis uses Manner's (2002) Normative Power Europe and Ladrech's (1994) theoretical literature on Europeanization to understand the EU’s foreign policy and Estonian positions regarding crises of conflict are analysed through Regional Security Complex Theory by Buzan and Wæver (2003). The qualitative study conducted using comparative analysis, document analysis and semi-structured expert interviews shed light on the Estonian perspective, which was found to be more value-based than the EU’s official position on foreign policy crises in Ukraine and Nagorno-Karabakh, with similar perspectives towards North Macedonian crisis in 2001. Contrasting most with the EU’s perspectives was the case of Ukraine, where Estonia’s perceived threat to national security was identified as one of the main factors of the illustrated difference. The EU’s discourse shift is mapped and in the cases of conflict chosen for this thesis the study identifies a steady shift from more value-based to more interests-based foreign policy making.