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

Giselle Bosse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


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 ergo 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16-25
Number of pages10
JournalPolitics and Governance
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • European Union
  • Habermas
  • deliberative legitimacy
  • foreign policy
  • sanctions
  • theory of communicative action

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