DOI: 10.1093/fpa/orad022 ISSN:

Role Spillover: Roles’ Impacts across Contexts and the EU’s Struggle for Arctic Council Observer Status

Aslak Veierud Busch
  • Political Science and International Relations


The way an international actor acts in one context impacts its ability to play a role in other contexts. Expanding on role theoretical insights, I develop a concept of role spillover to account for the ways in which roles interact across contexts. Acting in accordance with expectations in one context might not benefit an actor in another context; it can either support or impede an actor’s ability to play its preferred role elsewhere. I demonstrate this through a case study of the European Union (EU)’s bid for observer status at the Arctic Council, which has been left in limbo despite observing the Council’s work de facto for over 15 years. The EU’s issues with achieving permanent observer status can be explained by spillover from the EU’s role in animal welfare debates and its role as a strategic competitor to Russia. In both cases, the EU’s ability to take on its preferred role in the Arctic was hindered by role play elsewhere.

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