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First published online June 4, 2013

EU normative power and regionalism: Ideational diffusion and its limits


The ideational impact captured by Manners’s notion of normative power Europe (NPE) appears most distinct and potentially most consequential in the realm of regionalism. However, empirical research on the topic has been hampered by the focus on EU actorness and methodological difficulties. Drawing on diffusion theory, this article develops conceptual, theoretical and methodological foundations for conceiving NPE as ideational diffusion. It argues that Europe’s ideational influence on regionalism can be fruitfully understood as the largely indirect process by which the EU experience travels to other regions through socialization and emulation. Yet, as structural conditions vary across regions, EU ideational diffusion rarely leads to similar or even comparable institutional practices and outcomes. A choice-orientated approach is proposed for examining these claims empirically, which focuses on specifying the underlying counterfactual: political decisions in regionalism would have been different in the absence of the EU. The article concludes by outlining the analytical and normative promise of the proposed recasting of Manners’s original concept.

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Tobias Lenz is a post-doctoral fellow in the project ‘Causes and Consequences of Multilevel Governance’, funded by the European Research Council and directed by Liesbet Hooghe and Gary Marks, at the Free University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His research deals with regional organizations from a comparative perspective and the role of diffusion processes, especially from the EU. He holds a DPhil in International Relations from Oxford University.

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Article first published online: June 4, 2013
Issue published: June 2013


  1. Diffusion
  2. EU as a model
  3. normative power
  4. regionalism
  5. regional economic integration

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Issue published: June 2013
Published online: June 4, 2013




Tobias Lenz, Department of Political Science, Free University of Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1081, 1081 HV Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Email: [email protected]

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