Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Does the EU Have Moral Authority? A Communicative Action Perspective on Sanctions

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Abstract:  The European Union (EU) states in its 2016 Global Strategy that it intends to be a “responsible global stakeholder” and to “act worldwide to address the core causes of war and poverty, as well as to promote the indivisibility and universality of human rights” (European Union Global Strategy, 2016, pp. 5–8, 18). However, the Global Strategy is silent on the credentials or prerequisites that give the EU the authority to act globally and address conflicts and violations of human rights, including through the use of sanctions against non-EU states. How far the EU has the authority to use sanctions, which are essentially coercive measures, is especially relevant when the EU resorts to unilateral sanctions based on obligations owed erga omnes, namely measures without explicit United Nations Security Council authorisation and based on obligations owed to the international community as a whole. Drawing on Habermas’s theory of communicative action, this article introduces an analytical framework—the “moral dimension” of EU authority—which maps the substantive and procedural standards to guide the assessment of whether the EU has the appropriate credentials to qualify as an authority with the right to intervene forcibly into the internal affairs of non-EU states. The analytical value of the framework is examined empirically in the case study of the EU’s restrictive measures (sanctions) imposed in response to state violence against anti-government protests in Uzbekistan in 2005.

Keywords:  deliberative legitimacy; European Union; foreign policy; Habermas; sanctions; theory of communicative action



© Giselle Bosse. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.