The European Union’s Myanmar Policy: Focused or Directionless?

Jörn Dosch, Jatswan S. Sidhu


What is the European Union (EU) trying to achieve in Myanmar? Is the EU speaking with one voice and acting collectively (and does it really matter)? Were the sanctions lifted too early? These are some of the key questions surrounding the current role of the EU in relation to Myanmar. A close analysis of the EU’s Myanmar policy demonstrates that, while clearly driven by normative convictions, the EU’s approach and posture vis-à-vis Myanmar since 1988 has been more reactive than carefully planned and strategised. Whereas in the period from 1988 until early 2011 the EU’s Myanmar policy frequently fluctuated between a “carrot” and a “stick” approach, depending on the circumstances, since 2011 the emphasis has been on carrots, which signifies an important shift in the application of normative power. The EU has generously provided large amounts of aid intended mainly to assist Myanmar in its transition. This approach does not seem to factor in the possibility of backward steps and is based on a scenario of ongoing, linear political and economic reforms. This optimism is shared by both the European Commission and most EU member states. However, the similar perceptions and compatible normative foundations on which their policies are based have so far not translated into well-coordinated and coherent strategies and development cooperation programmes.

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