The European Union in International Affairs edition:IV location:Brussels date:22-24 May 2014
While the past decade has seen a remarkable growth in research on external perceptions of the EU, this literature remains characterized by three important gaps: highly uneven geographical coverage, lack of comparisons between the EU and other actors, and a near-exclusive focus on description to the detriment of explanation. This article introduces a novel explanatory framework for perceptions research and applies this to popular perceptions of the EU and China in 19 Sub-Saharan African countries, shedding light on a neglected dimension of the ‘traditional’ versus ‘emerging donors’ debate. It finds, first, that China has quickly succeeded in becoming more well-known among African populations than the EU. Second, popular perceptions do not reflect the antagonism pervading the discourse on ‘emerging donors’, with both the EU and China enjoying broad-based popular support. Finally, preferences are a function primarily of individual experiences and outlooks, refuting earlier claims on the importance of national-level factors.