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Worldly encounters: non-state actors and the making of the European Union’s international identity

Ruben Zaiotti
Dalhousie University
Ruben Zaiotti
Dalhousie University
Open Panel

Abstract

Besides raising its (currently low) international profile, the ongoing thrust to push the ''external dimension'' at the forefront of the European Union''s political agenda can also be considered as an attempt to reinforce the Union''s own uncertain identity as a sui generis supra-national entity in a political environment still dominated by states, for it is through the engagement with the outside world that the EU can define more clearly what it actually stands for. This ongoing ''external'' quest for identity, however, does not occur only through the formal institutional channels of EU foreign policy. Albeit less visibly, this process also characterizes the ''marginal'' encounters between the EU and the constellation of non-state actors (e.g. would-be migrants, Europe-bound travelers) outside the Old Continent that regularly come into contact (physically and symbolically) with the EU in its external projections (e.g. the EU Migration Centre in Mali; EU countries` embassies) or are affected by its policies (e.g. the Schengen visa regime). In exploring the significance and implications of these encounters for the construction of EU identity, I rely on sociological literature that has emphasised the role of everyday practices in structuring group dynamics in a given social setting, and explore their potential for the study of international organizations such as the EU.