The new EU Conflict Minerals Regulation: Normative Power in International Relations?

Image credit: Julien Harneis via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Over the last few years, European NGOs were very successful in raising awareness about international trade in minerals funding armed conflicts around the world. In May 2017, after more than three years of negotiation, the European Union signed the new Conflict Minerals Regulation. At first glance, this Regulation demonstrates ‘ethical’ or ‘normative’ power: The EU uses its commercial power to promote norms of international peace and security, accepting prospectively higher prices for imports of minerals. The Regulation also supports a re‐centring of the state after two and a half decades of economic liberalization. However, the EU only follows and lags behind the 2010 US Dodd‐Frank Act section 1502. The article shows that the EU does not reject collective norms, but is incapable or unwilling to put a tight rein on domestic businesses. The new EU Conflict Minerals Regulation stands only for symbolic normative power.

Policy implications

  • European policy‐makers should ensure that international trade in minerals does not finance armed groups in conflict regions.
  • The new EU Conflict Minerals Regulation represents only a first step towards implementing a new norm of foreign accountability.
  • Extractive industries and all companies using (processed) minerals should more rigorously commit to emerging private standards.
  • Individual consumers can contribute to ‘raising the bar’ by purchasing ‘ethical’ products.
  • Eventually, the EU needs to adopt binding regulations that allow holding European businesses legally accountable for violations of fundamental rights in their global supply chains.
  • Exporting countries should cooperate with the EU on changing the rules of the game and establishing conflict‐free and fair trade standards.


This article is open access.