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What accounts for the variation in EU actorness in cases of contested statehood in the European Neighbourhood? A comparative analysis of the EU’s policies vis-à-vis three territorial conflicts – Kosovo, Abkhazia and Western Sahara – demonstrates the intricate relationship between external conditions and internal EU capability leading to substantial involvement, partial involvement or non-involvement in conflict management. Using insights from the EU actorness debate and the literatures on contested statehood and EU external governance, the paper offers a conceptualisation of the EU’s conflict management role and a contingent explanation of the EU’s varying commitment to managing conflicts in three cases of contested statehood. The paper finds that external determinants have a considerable weight in EU’s policies which existing research tends to overlook owing to its predominant focus on EU’s internal institutional procedures and instruments. It teases out the external action-enabling and action-hindering factors, in particular the external structural constraints arising from the nature of statehood contestation and the agency of other international and local players in the three conflicts in the European Neighbourhood.