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EUTM Mali is the military pillar of the EUs strategy in Mali, launched in 2013 in order to “strengthen the capabilities of the Malian Armed forces” (EUTM Mali, 2019) as a reaction to the 2012 Northern Mali conflict. Its approval was prompted by the French military Operation ‘Serval’, which was launched a few days earlier (Dicke, 2014, p98) and was which was itself intended to prevent the creation of a “terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe” (BBC, 2013).

However, the EUTM Mali mission was not formally launched until 13 February 2013, due to the need for a formal legal act and a direct request to the EU from the Malian government. (Dicke, 2014, p98)

It’s important to note that EUTM “is a ‘non-executive mission’, meaning that deployed servicemen and women do not participate in combat activities and do not accompany the Malian units in operations.” (EUTM, n/a), meaning that military agency continues to rest with the Malian military forces, and the EU servicemen are purely there as training teams and, in some ways, as supervisors.

In order to analyse the EU’s behaviour, we will be looking at it through the lenses of Normative Power, Market Power, and Empire in order to analyse the European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali).

Normative power is defined by Ian Manners as the use of “normative justification rather than the use of material incentives or physical force” (Manners, 2009, p2), and “the ability to define what passes for ‘normal’ in world politics”. (Manners, 2002, p. 253) He notes that the “the central component of normative power Europe is that it exists as being different to pre-existing political forms, and that this particular difference pre-disposes it to act in a normative way” (Manners, 2002, p. 242)

Source: Palm and Crum, 2019, p6

Palm and Crum approach from a different angle and split the idea of ‘Normative Power Europe’ into a ‘classical, pacifist NPE’ and an ‘Interventionist NPE’ due to difficulty of reconciling NPE theory with “the use of military power” (Palm & Crum, 2019, p.4), with some scholars such as Stavridis and Sjursen arguing that “military force may be an essential instrument to effectively propagate the universal values at the heart of NPE across the world” (Palm & Crum, 2019, p.4).

While EUTM Mali does not have a strict market component to it, we can still use the lens of Market Power Europe (MPE) in order to observe general EU behaviour as a power (Damro, 2012, p.696) both through the EU’s market relations within Mali, but particularly through using the included concept of externalisation.

For Damro, Externalisation captures “a phenomenon through which the EU may exercise power on potentially all other types of public and private actors in the international system.” (Damro, 2015, p.1344) and highlights “the EU intentionally [undertaking] an effort to get other actors to adhere to or behave in a way that generally satisfies its market-related policies and regulatory measures.” (Damro, 2015, p.1344)

While this may not outright seem like a relevant lens to view the EU’s actions in Mali, the EU had very explicit trade concerns not only within the country, but within the region, which we will be exploring, and which led the EU to not only get involved, but impose itself normatively and work to strengthen the Malian military forces.

Magali Gravier defines the concept of empire “as a hub-like polity comprising a core and peripheries, experiencing territorial instability due to the succession of phases of expansion and shrinkage, and using a two-level identity policy made of a mission of civilization at the top level and of a more or less tolerant attitude vis-à-vis at the local level.”(Gravier, 2011, p.418) and highlights that “empires are characterized by a high level of asymmetry” (Gravier, 2011, p.423).

The above description is something that can be seen in the majority of the EU’s foreign actions, particularly within the European Neighbourhood, as well as in the way the EU uses Normative power in order to exert it’s influence across the global stage.

Jan Zielonka adds to this by highlighting that the EU “looks and acts like an empire because it tries to assert political and economic control over various peripheral actors through formal annexations or various forms of economic and political domination” (Zielonka, 2006, p. 475). Those who take a highly critical view of the EU’s foreign policy would likely scoff at the idea of the EU being able to assert any form of control over another state, let alone act in any way to ‘formally annex’ any state, however,

Del Sarto adds another layer to this description by underlining that “traditionally, empires have sought to stabilise the periphery, to draw economic advantages from it, to export the imperial order and cultivate elites” (Del Sarto, 2016,  p. 216)and describes how the EU cultivates “political, administrative, and economic elites which share the interests of their European counterparts; a classical aspect of imperial relations” (Del Sarto , 2016, 222) in peripheral states.

I will be exploring EUTM Mali through these lenses as these will help us to explore this mission as well as the relationship between the EU and Mali, how the EUTM functioned, and why the EU felt motivated to get involved.

I will argue that the concept of the EU as an Imperial power provides us with the best lens to view the situation, and the best explanation of the EUs motivations in engaging within Mali.

Normative Power

In order to analyse the EUTM Mali mission through a normative power lens, we need to look at what ways the EU led by example, how able it was to transfer norms and ideas to Mali through this programme.

Regarding the European ability to lead by example, we can argue that through the projection of its image as a highly democratic actor that it does this by default, and this can also be extended to the way in the military forces of EU member states (e.g. France) behave on the battlefield.

Throughout multiple mandates, the EU worked to transfer European ideals in regard to leadership, International Humanitarian law, and Education of the soldiers taking part in the programme (EUTM, N/A).

Jayasundara-Smits discusses how the EUTM Mali mission was used to help the development of the EUCAP Sahel training mission through helping to “socialise the Malian security forces in terms of the international system, doctrines and the international norms” (Jayasundara-Smits, 2018, p.233) while simultaneous distancing them from “local communities, their realities and assessments of security threats at everyday level” (Jayasundara-Smits, 2018, p.233) by enforcing systems that may not take these into account, and likely by

EUTM Mali worked alongside French civil society organisation ‘Beyond Peace’, international human rights organisations such as the ICRC and UN women, as well as the MINUSMA and EUCAP missions in order to deliver HR training (Jayasundara-Smits, 2018, p.243), with the EU member states taking a primary role in delivering the programme.

For Trineke Palm and Ben Crum “utility-based considerations [featured] prominently besides more value-based concerns” (Palm & Crum, 2019, p.13) when the mission was launched to defend against “threats to the EU’s own strategic interests” (Palm & Crum, 2019, p.13), and they argue that the EU is progressive acting less in a normative manner when they engaged in the military program precisely because the mission have to be “characterised by the presence of utility-based considerations in combination with an ever more systematic embedding of the military instrument in a broader foreign policy repertoire” (Palm & Crum, 2019, p.15-16)

Viewing EUTM Mali through a normative lens shows us in what ways the EU have attempted to influence the Malian military forces in a normative manner to move them towards European ideals and standards. However, as Palm and Crum argue “the EU has come to be increasingly removed from any pretension to be a Normative Power” (Palm & Crum, 2019, p.16) which can be seen as a transformation of European global power.

Market Power

As above, we cannot directly apply the lens of MPE due to the lack of a market component to EUTF Mali, however, we will use the theory of externalisation to why the EU chose to externalise its internal standards and regulations, in this case, in a military sense.

To begin with, the EU and West Africa have signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), and West Africa is both the EU’s largest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa and the most important investment destination for the EU in Africa, while the EU being West Africa’s biggest trading partner. (EU Commission, 2019)

With the goal of this EPA being to help West Africa to “to integrate better into the global trading system” (EU Commission, 2019), presumably through ensuring that it meets European regulatory standards, this provides the EU with a reason to get involved within West African affairs, particularly Mali, which helps explain why EUTM Mali was launched and why the EU has invested significant sums of money into it, with the most recent 2018-2020 mission budget totalling 59.700.000€ (EUTM Mali, 2019, p1)

We should also take into account EU-Mali economic relations outside of the EUTM Mali mission, as this will help us to better understand the investment that the EU is making.

Outside of the EUTM, the EU provides €500,000 to support the Monitoring Committee for the Peace Agreement (EEAS, 2019, p1) and the EU are “mobilising some EUR 2 billion for the period 2014-2018 and about EUR 400 million per year in Mali (EEAS, 2019, p2) for development cooperation. 12 projects have also been approved in Mali, totalling at over €209.5 million. (EEAS, 2019, p2)

Palm and Crum note that “in operations like EUNAVFOR Atalanta, EUTM Mali and EUNAVFOR Med Sophia – we find that utility-based concerns like trade interests…and border control have increasingly come to the fore.” (Palm & Crum, 2019, p15) and Weibezahl highlights that EU action in Mali was “a matter of drying up breeding grounds for international terrorism, securing trade routes and helping to make West Africa a region where people have a chance of living in dignity. The protection of Mali’s natural resources and people’s livelihoods is therefore also in the vital self-interests of…Europe.” (Weibezahl, 2018, p.31)

As stated above, the EU acts as a market power through the externalisation of internal regulations, which, unfortunately, is not explicitly visible in the case of EUTM Mali due to it being an administrative and military training mission. However, the level of economic connection between the EU, Mali, and greater western Africa can go some way in explaining why the EU launched the project in the first place, and multiple academic sources confirm to us that utility-based concerns like Trade Interests have taken a key role in the EU action. 


For Zielonka, the EU looks and acts like an empire as it attempts to “assert political and economic control over various peripheral actors through formal annexations or various forms of economic and political domination” (Zielonka, 2008, p.  475) and according to Magalie Gravier, “In order to foster their legitimacy, empires worked on developing a common identity throughout their territory and justified it as a mission of civilization in their peripheries” (Gravier, 2011, p417)

We see this in the case of the EUTM Mali, which is an EU effort to safeguard its periphery, build its legitimacy as a global actor, and influence a neighbouring state.

It can be argued that, through a form of ‘Regulatory imperialism’, the EU has taken action in Mali and imposed its own standards because “they are at root designed to protect and promote EU interests” (Zielonka, 2008, p480). As we see with the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), “The EU tries to make these countries look more like the Union itself’ (Zielonka, 2008, p. 476) by “gradually [transforming] the neighbourhood into EU borderlands” (Del Sarto, 2016, p. 221) and morphing their processes so they function in what we may call ‘the European way’.

The mission goals detailed on the website highlights that it provides advice “at all levels to the Malian Armed Forces” and contributes “to the improvement of the Military Education System, from schools to ministerial level” (EUTM, 2019)

This is clear in the way in which the EUTM had a focus on “train the trainers” (Müller, 2018), training the elites within the Malian military and having them transmit this European way of doing things. For example, Colonel Busch, former Deputy Commander of the EUTM Mali stated that “The challenge is to make Western leadership principles, such as independent thinking and acting among soldiers, effective in Mali’s army. Here they often have a very rigid pattern, where each step is dictated by the supervisor,” (Müller, 2018)

There is a clear asymmetry between the EU and Mali, described by Gravier and Del Sarto as a key part of an Empire, with Mali having a total GDP of $44.329 billion in 2018 (IMF, 2019) compared to the EU’s $22.0 trillion (IMF, 2019). Militarily, Mali is estimated to have around 7,350 active military personnel with an additional 4,800 paramilitary forces, compared to France’s 202,700 and 32,300 reserve forces (The Military Balance, p.102) and a budget of $63.8 billion (Tian et al., 2019, p.2)

However, it should be noted that compared to the US approach, where ten Malian officers were taken to be educated at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, in order to become “core members of a Malian National Security Staff… instrumental in developing Mali’s future National Security Strategy” (Müller, 2018) that the EU is still not acting in an imperial manner quite like the USA.

With the EU, and France in particular, seeing its action in Mali as “protecting its doorstep”, it is clear that EU intervention in Mali was aimed at protecting European interests. Palm and Crum note that the EEAS highlighted “the threats to the EU’s own strategic interests (EEAS 2016). Thus, while the focus is first of all on Malian territory and its integrity, the threat that is referred to also concerns the EU’s own security” (Palm & Crum, 2019, p13)

Due to the above, we can argue that the EU does act in an imperial manner as discussed by Del Sarto, as the EU is working to “stabilise the periphery…[and] export the imperial order and cultivate elites” (Del Sarto, 2016,  p. 216), and we can argue that by securing a country with which it has a developing trade relationship, the EU is extracting some form of economic gain from the situation.


All three lenses provide us with key insights into the way in which the EU acts as global power, particularly in the case of EUTM Mali. However, while they are all helpful, I believe that the concept of the European Union as an Empire is the most helpful in understanding its behaviour within Mali.

The EU has acted in a way that is explicitly in its interest, launching EUTM army to protect its “doorstep”, exporting European Norms and values to the elite within the Malian military, spreading European civic ideals within this societal group, and effectively rebuilding and aligning a foreign military power to match its norms and values.

We should note that none of this would be entirely isolated within the Malian military grouping either, as these civic ideals would spread from within this grouping to those with connections to it, and it would likely be hoped that these normative efforts would radiate into wider Malian society and affect the country as a whole, which is a key part of European efforts to build its normative influence on a global level.

While utilising the market power lens was not particularly useful in this circumstance, and had to be twisted to take the form of externalised Military values and policies. However, we should take into account that the EU involved itself, in part, due to its economic interests within the region and in order to prevent any possible economic damages that could have been caused by a “terrorist state” at its doorstep.




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