Material and Ideational Drivers in EU Policy towards the MENA, 1995-2010

Pepijn Van Houwelingen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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The argument advanced in this thesis is that analysis of international relations would benefit from greater consideration of how material and ideational forces coexist in foreign policy. All too often academic studies seek to assert how material or ideational forces ‘trump’ one another, to the detriment of their analysis. In this light we test the hypothesis that the EU’s policies towards the Middle East and North Africa are best explained by a joint dynamic between principled beliefs (pertaining to democracy and human rights) and materialist self-interest. As a causal mechanism to connect these variables to EU behaviour our hypothesis points to the causal beliefs of foreign policy elites, which influence the strategies chosen to pursue objectives. In this manner we propose a theoretical perspective with substantive ideational and material elements, rooted in the ‘soft rationalist’ approach advanced by Goldstein and Keohane (1993). Our engagement with the empirical data reveals a number of challenges that point towards future theoretical refinement, as it is shown that in light of persistent difficulties the EU progressively yielded to short-term pressures in which it was more difficult to trace our independent variables. Yet our main conclusion is that, as hypothesised, EU foreign policy towards the Mediterranean was neither an example of how norms and values lead to the transcendence of self-interests nor a case of disingenuous normative packaging. Thus, the analysis presented in this thesis strengthens the case for a synthesised perspective, suggesting that EU policy towards the MENA has for the most part evinced a marriage of material and ideational drivers under the explicit causal belief that they can be pursued in conjunction with one another. On this basis we formulate a number of recommendations for further theorising on ideational-material interaction in international relations scholarship.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Miskimmon, Alister, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2014
Publication statusUnpublished - 2014


  • European Union
  • Mediterranean
  • international relations

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