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The European External Action Service’s influence in European security and defence policy: understanding the role of its relational capital

Heimsoeth, Eleonore (2021) The European External Action Service’s influence in European security and defence policy: understanding the role of its relational capital. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004358


Ten years after its institutionalisation, there remains little understanding of the European External Action Service’s (EEAS) role, its impact and the extent of its influence in the European security and defence policy-making process. This thesis aims to address this gap by answering whether, to what extent and how the EEAS has the ability to purposefully steer and shape European security and defence policies so that policies’ development and/or outcome is affected. More specifically, what enables or constrains the EEAS’s ability to influence policies? In juxtaposition to the dominant discourse that highlights the EEAS’s scarce material capital, this thesis argues that in order to understand the EEAS’s influence in the policy-making process, it is necessary to analyse its relational capital, defined as the capabilities and resources the institution derives from its networks. The thesis explains how (1) the EEAS’s reach across the governance structure derived from its embeddedness in a policy’s network governance and (2) the use of its networks, may be as conducive for policy impact and/or influence as its formally derived material capital. While the first structural assessment delineates the extent of influence the EEAS may have, the second actor-centric assessment offers a more granular understanding of how and to what effect the EEAS uses its intra- and inter-institutional networks. It assesses how the EEAS mobilises intangible assets such as its human and social capital to wield trust and information. Drawing on 77 elite interviews, three case studies are studied, namely the drafting and implementation of the EU Global Strategy, the Permanent Structured Cooperation and the Civilian CSDP Compact - tackling the 'strategic’, civilian and military components of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The findings of the thesis corroborate that capabilities derived from and resources mobilised through its relational capital enables or constrains the EEAS’s ability to shape and steer policies, and more significantly, explains the variation in the extent of influence observed. This research offers a two-fold contribution to the academic literature. Theoretically, by highlighting the relevance of relational over material capital for understanding an institution’s influence in European policy-making, it introduces an overlooked yet highly relevant approach to European Foreign Policy. Empirically, it offers an in-depth understanding of the role, impact and influence of the EEAS in an increasingly informal, transgovernmental European security and defence governance.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2021 Eleonore Heimsoeth
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Sets: Departments > International Relations
Supervisor: Economides, Spyros and Bicchi, Federica

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