The EU’s ontological (in)security: Stabilising the ENP area … and the EU-self?

DOI10.1177/0010836717750197
Published date01 December 2018
Date01 December 2018
https://doi.org/10.1177/0010836717750197
Cooperation and Conflict
2018, Vol. 53(4) 528 –544
© The Author(s) 2018
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DOI: 10.1177/0010836717750197
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The EU’s ontological (in)
security: Stabilising the ENP
area … and the EU-self?
Elisabeth Johansson-Nogués
Abstract
The 2016 EU Global Strategy and the 2015 European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) review have
made stabilisation of the ENP area one of their main priorities. Our argument here, however,
is that the Global Strategy and the ENP review not only seek to mitigate the numerous crises
currently affecting the neighbourhood; they also aim to address a set of intra-EU vulnerabilities
linked to events in the ENP area that are threatening the EU’s own ontological security. We
employ narrative analysis to explore how insecurity in the EU and in the ENP area is affecting
the EU’s relation to the neighbourhood-other and its understanding of the EU-self. Our main
findings point to the Global Strategy and the ENP review providing ample measures to stabilise
the neighbourhood. However, whether they have provided a sufficiently compelling narrative to
enable the emergence of new emotional structures for the EU and its member states to make
sense of themselves and their relation to the neighbourhood-other remains an open question.
Keywords
Crises, EU, narratives, neighbourhood, ontological security, self/other
The 2016 EU Global Strategy (EUGS) and the 2015 European Neighbourhood Policy
(ENP) review have made peace and stability in the ENP area a strategic priority.1 The
predominant perception within the EU is that the eastern and southern neighbourhoods
seemingly have gone from one crisis to the next since 2011. In the east, the conflict in
Ukraine has not only caused armed clashes and territorial truncation, but also strong tur-
bulence in other parts of Eastern Europe. In the southern neighbourhood, the conflict in
Syria and the turmoil in post-Qaddafi Libya have added to the EU’s trepidations about its
neighbours due to the escalating violence, the rise of Islamic State, and the large refugee
flows affecting Egypt, Libya, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. The predominant perception
Corresponding author:
Elisabeth Johansson-Nogués, Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals (IBEI), Ramon Trias Fargas, 25-27,
08005 Barcelona, Spain; Centre for International Studies, London School of Economics and Political Science,
Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK.
Email: E.Johansson-Nogues@lse.ac.uk
750197CAC0010.1177/0010836717750197Cooperation and ConflictJohansson-Nogués
research-article2018
Article
Johansson-Nogués 529
in Brussels and many member states is therefore that ‘[t]oday’s neighbourhood is less
stable than it was ten years ago’ (EC/EEAS, 2015b; European Parliament, 2015).
Consequently, one of the principal documents coming out of the 2015 ENP review, the
Joint Communication on the Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, makes clear
that in ‘the next three to five years, the most urgent challenge in many parts of the neigh-
bourhood is stabilisation’ (EC/EEAS, 2015a).
The push for stability in the neighbourhood is, nevertheless, not only due to the
numerous crises affecting the ENP area. Insecurity, directly or indirectly linked to the
neighbourhood, has also had concrete spill-over effects on the EU and its member states.
Many EU member states have either become host or transit countries for refugee flows
from the ENP area, reportedly the largest displacements of people in Europe since the
Second World War (European Commission, 2016). The Nordic and the Baltic member
states have become increasingly concerned over Russian military build-up close to their
borders and violations of their airspace. Terrorist acts in EU member states committed by
individuals or commandos, some with ties to Al Qaeda or the Islamic State, have
increased. All these events have generated a strong sense of physical insecurity in EU
member states. The events have also had a destabilising effect on internal EU dynamics
and routines. The EU and the European integration project is increasingly coming under
fire as some EU members are questioning EU solutions to current security problems,
forfeiting on concrete facets of the European construction in the name of defending
national interests and territory, or challenging the values that underpin EU security
agency. The destabilisation of the eastern and southern neighbourhood has, in other
words, upset the narrative of the European integration and arguably, on a deeper level,
the EU’s ontological security. The priority currently placed on stabilising the neighbour-
hood is, consequently, as much about dealing with the manifold crises related to the
neighbourhood as stabilising the EU’s ‘sense of self’.
Using narrative analysis, this article will analyse the EU’s current existential crisis
and its aim to re-establish ontological security in and through the neighbourhood
(Patterson and Monroe, 1998; Somers, 1994). We have reviewed over 60 official docu-
ments, speeches, academic literature and newspaper reports in the period spanning 2004
and 2017 to uncover how the EU political elite and supporting epistemic community
narrate the EU-self and the neighbourhood-other. The article will proceed in the follow-
ing manner. The first section outlines the conceptual framework. The second section
draws up the contours of the ontologically secure EU in the early days of the ENP and
contrasts it to the EU’s current unsettled sense of self. The final section explores how the
EU is attempting to reformulate new narratives for the dual purpose of stabilising the
neighbourhood-other as well as stabilising an EU’s ontologically insecure self.
Ontological (in)security and narratives
Ontological security refers to the efforts of an actor to safeguard the survival or persis-
tence of a sense of self in contexts of recurrent uncertainty (Giddens, 1991; Laing, 1990
[1960]). The key premise of the ontological security literature is that all actors instinc-
tively strive for ‘biographical continuity’, to ensure stability of self’s existence as well as
confidence in its agency and social interactions (Giddens, 1991). In International

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