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The Protean and Control Powers of the four European Unions

A reliable access to undisrupted and affordable energy supplies is crucial to guarantee the competitiveness of the EU’s economy and ensure the welfare of its citizens. In addition to strong dependency of importing energy sources, in particularly natural gas, the EU has recently been even more often confronted with rising international instability triggered by assertive, if not altogether adversarial actors who use energy to exert their influence. Thus, the EU has been compelled to use its power to safeguard energy supplies under the conditions of continuously growing uncertainty.

In The Protean and Control Powers of the four European Unions. The EU’s External Natural Gas Policy, Grzegorz Krzyżanowski contends that there is not a single EU. The EU acts externally in four different yet complementary forms, hence the four EUs: the EU as Geoeconomic Power, the EU as Occasional Geopolitical Power, the EU as Constrained Underachieving Power, the EU as Broker of the Strongest. Krzyżanowski constructs these models by examining the EU’s external gas policy from 2006 until 2021 by breaking it down into thirteen cases.

The author examines how the four EUs function by drawing from the theory of protean and control power formulated by Peter Katzenstein and Lucia Seybert. The notion of protean and control powers combines the logic of risk and uncertainty that exist simultaneously. Hence, the analysis of the EU’s natural gas external policy brings together risk-based perspective (calculable and manageable), attributed mainly to control power, and uncertainty-based perspectives (difficult to control and unpredictable), which is typical for protean power. Each of the EUs is shaped by a combination of protean and control power and possess relevant properties.

Moreover, Krzyżanowski’s thesis provides an assessment on how effective the EU is in exercising its influence externally and translates it into policy recommendations. Krzyżanowski argues that acting to varying degrees of effectiveness in the external gas policy is strongly correlated with the four types of the EU. The research shows that EUs acting predominantly as control (the Geoeconomic Power) or protean power (the Occasional Geopolitical Actor) exercise the most effective power projection. On the other hand, the EUs representing other combinations of these powers produced mixed results. The findings in the thesis indicate that there are several conditions for the EU to exert power more effectively. They involve such factors as the EU’s ability to differentiate whether it copes with risk-dominant or uncertainty-dominant issue, the EU’s choice of appropriate foreign policy tools and policy practices, and the EU’s ability to timely forge a joint position on a given policy issue.

Overall, the EU external gas policy can be understood as an endeavor of turning uncertainty into risk and, in effect, to use more control power instead of protean power. Yet, protean power is indispensable for converting uncertainty-based politics to risk-based policy. Moreover, the EU must become more aware of its context-specific (risk or uncertainty) power capabilities and explore this potential by more effectively using its strengths.

Read Grzegorz Krzyżanowski's thesis in Cadmus.

Grzegorz Krzyzanowski has defended his PhD at the EUI in November 2022. He had obtained a Master’s degree in International Relations from the Jagiellonian University in Kraków. His research interests include the foreign and security policy of the European Union and the EU's external energy policy. He currently works at the European Parliament.