Opportune conflicts : the EU's engagement with de facto states

  • Pengfei Hou

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (PhD)


The thesis examines why and how the European Union (EU) engages with de facto states. Due to the state-centric framework’s structural impotence, de facto states cannot be appropriately understood, and hence tension continues. Although the statist order has been passively sustained, de facto states have not automatically disappeared. Worse, when the embodied conflicts cannot be held any longer or are accidentally triggered, accumulative resentment leads to military confrontations.

Since the state-centric framework enshrining the exclusivity of nation-states is analytically parochial, the thesis takes a sociological turn by employing the anomie theory to understand the otherwise marginalised and biased de facto states. Developed by Émile Durkheim, the anomie theory focuses on collective consciousness and the ramifications resulting from its absence. Without conventional statehood, both the EU and de facto states are anomalies in the international arena. Nevertheless, whereas the EU, as a post-modern force, has been exceptionalised and accommodated, de facto states, as pre-modern social forces, should be, but have not been, eliminated. Given this, by taking de facto states as anomie resulting from the displaced collective consciousness, the thesis studies the EU engagement with them in and beyond the state-centric framework.

To understand the EU’s engagement with de facto states and its engagement without recognition policy, the thesis analyses three case studies: Abkhazia, Somaliland and Taiwan from 1989 to 2019 via document analysis and expert/policy-maker interviews. As will be revealed in the thesis, the engagement policy cannot be fully comprehended by detaching it from the EU’s global ambition and policy innovations. In exercising influence in world politics, the EU follows the normative pathway by making its presence felt. Concerning the opportune dimensions of such engagement, it has not only catalysed the EU’s development of state-like power, but also signposted a possible scenario wherein the debilitating statist order can be transcended, albeit towards a yet-to-be-determined destination.
Date of Award1 Dec 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of St Andrews
SupervisorRick Fawn (Supervisor) & Mateja Peter (Supervisor)


  • EU
  • EU governance
  • External relations
  • De facto states
  • Anomie
  • Conflict
  • Abkhazia
  • Somaliland
  • Taiwan

Access Status

  • Full text embargoed until
  • 11th August 2026

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