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Researching the Multidimensionality of Sanctioning Policies | UACES Scholar: Martina Fürrutter

Report by UACES Scholar 2018, Martina Fürrutter (University of St. Gallen). Applications are now open for the 2019 UACES Scholarships.


Outline of the project

My PhD project explores the multidimensionality of sanctioning policies. Existing research has highlighted the ineffectiveness of sanctions as an instrument of foreign policy. However, most studies tend to base their results on a limited understanding of sanctions in terms of coercive economic measures. In a globalizing world, states but also regional organizations such as the European Union (EU) cooperate in a large variety of policy fields, including environment, trade, and justice and home affairs. Such policy cooperation provides external actors with a catalogue of options for imposing sanctions.

Against this, I argue that external sanctioning is not a uniform policy. Rather, whether and how norm violations are sanctioned depends on the properties of the sanctioning actor, the sanctioned actor, and the violated norm. I seek to explain EU sanctioning policies globally and over the last 30 years, characterized by considerable change in these policies. Specifically, I explore rational choice and constructivist explanations, independently and in interaction with organizational insights.

To this end, I will produce a novel dataset on EU sanctioning based on the analyses of documents and interviews with experts from EU institutions that goes beyond the restricted understanding of sanctions as an instrument of economic coercion in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Purpose of the fieldwork

In order to better understand why the EU sanctions in some cases of norm violation but not in others, I conducted interviews with experts from the EU institutions. In detail, I conducted semistructured interviews with eleven EU officials from 1) the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Parliament, and 3) the European Commission.

In preparation for the interviews, I carefully selected EU officials not only from the three main EU institutions but also with different expertise, ranging from human rights, electoral observation, and to sustainable development. Doing so allowed me to gain a comprehensive understanding of how EU officials define sanctions, the factors enhancing but also hampering their use, and how EU-internal and external cooperation in sanctioning works.

Additionally, I combined my research stay in Brussels with the participation in the sixth European Union in International Affairs (EUIA) conference at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. This provided me with the opportunity to present my PhD project and to exchange with other scholars studying the EU political conditionality and sanctioning policy.

The resources provided by the UACES scholarship helped to cover costs of travel, accommodation, and daily food expenses.

Reflection on the fieldwork

The purpose of my field trip was to understand when, why, and how the EU sanctions the violation of norms by third party countries. International and bilateral agreements nowadays include a variety of norms such as human rights, democracy, the rule of law, free and fair trade, and environmental protection. Compliance to those norms may condition the persistence of political and trade partnerships between the EU and third countries and may build the legal basis for EU sanctioning. Yet, empirics show that in some cases the EU sanctions the violation of those norms, while in others it does not.

In order to address this puzzle and to explore the determinants of EU sanctioning, I analyze a novel and comprehensive dataset on violations of EU norms by third parties since the 1990s. I specify which of these norms were sanctioned by the EU, and how, and which were not.

Conducting interviews with policy-makers in Brussels was useful to gain crucial background knowledge in order to realize this endeavor. First, it allowed me to discuss the definition of sanctions, a muchdebated issue in sanctions research.

Second, it served as an opportunity for me to learn about factors that enable but also hamper the use of sanctions by the EU. Notably, there is little knowledge on the influence of the individual member states on EU sanctioning.

Third and last, the interviews helped me to gain insights on the process of sanctioning. In the interviews, we talked about EU-internal and external cooperation in the decision-making as well as implementation of sanctions. The EU’s member states, but also governmental and non-governable actors, such as other states, organizations and NGOs, seem to have a big influence on when and how the EU sanctions the violation of norms.


Applications are now open for the 2019 UACES Scholarships. UACES is offering 4 Scholarships for a fixed amount of 1,500 GBP, to support PhD students undertaking essential fieldwork in contemporary European Studies. 


PhD Scholarship European StudiesMartina Fürrutter is a PhD Candidate in International Affairs at the University of St.Gallen, Switzerland. She is also a Fellow of the Doctoral Program in Democracy Studies at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. Her research focuses on the European Union’s sanctioning policy.



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