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The Heart of Europe

Politics, economics and international affairs

EU’s Foreign Policy


Since the establishment of the United Nations, there were attempts of European countries to coordinate their positions in the United Nations. Starting with regular consultations. The first actual forum of foreign policy coordination is in what then was the European Community was in 1970 when European Political Cooperation or EPC was established. EPC relied on intergovernmental processes of coordination. mAnd could, of course, not always lead to member states really speaking this one voice.

In 1973 it was declared that the nine, so the nine member states of the community at the time, would aim, when ever possible, to adopt common positions within international organizations such as the United Nations. In 1974, the community obtained what is called observer status in the United Nations General Assembly, or UNGA. This implies that it got the right to speak a an entity at UNGA meetings. But it could not vote on its resolutions.

In 2011 the European Union obtained what’s called, enhanced observer status. Meaning that now it can, for example, submit proposals or make amendments. And speak among the representatives of major groups in UNG debates.

In 1986, the so called Single European Act or SEA was signed. It created the foundation for the internal markets. So, the free movement of goods, services, person, and capital. Regarding European political cooperation, the SEA also provided for a further step, at least on paper. It established that when al European community states were members of a specific internationa organization, they would have to endeavor to speak this one voice.

In 1992, the Treaty on European Union, TEU, sometimes also called The Maastricht Treaty, was signed. It essentially created the EU’s Monetary Union. But in terms of foreign policy it also initiated Europe’s Common Foreign and Security Policy or CFSP. This is, the community committed itself to ensuring overall consistency in all of its external activities.It also obligated EU member states in the Security Council to inform other EU members and the permanent members to defend the interests of the EU an this institution. Did these provisions enhance the extents to which EU states have coordinated their positions, for example, in the UNGA? An analysis that ha looked at this has been co-authored by Scheon, who holds a 2014 PhD here from Leyden University and myself.

A later treaty, the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam, ensured that a High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy would be appointed. The first person holding this position was Javier Solana, who had been the secretary general o NATO between 1995 and 1999.

In 2004, in what was called the Draft Constitutional Treaty, there were quite ambition plans to establish a position of what would essentially be an EU foreign minister. But the constitutional treaty was not accepted in the referendums in France, and in the Netherlands.

The 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which is currently the basis on which the European Union operates, made this function actually somewhat more modest than had originally been envisioned. In a sense, this also shows how reluctant governments, but also citizens, across the European Union, sometimes are when it gets to transferring competencies, in foreign policy, to the collective level. The new position, created by the Lisbon Treaty, is called High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The first person appointed to this function, was Baroness Catherine Ashton. The function of the high representative is a somewhat challenging one because of the need to coordinate the preferences and priorities of different EU institutions, and of course, of its member states.

In foreign policy, larger states sometimes have an important say, and this can not be ignored in practice. For example, when the EU tried to come up with a common approach as how to react to the crisis in Libya, member states had different visions on this matter. Before this, they were highly divided as regards to best reactions to take in view o the war in Iraq. So, finding common positions can be very challenging.

In December 2010, the European External Action Service, or EEAS, wa launched. It is headed by the High Representative. And in essence, it can be seen as a gradually evolving EU diplomatic service. It also actively deals with crisis management.

Currently, European delegations exist in almost all of the United Nation’s member states. And they are headed by what now are EU Ambassadors. The extends to which competencies are transferred to the EEAS, however, very much depends o the willingness of the member states to actually delegate such competences.

The EEAS is still young, but it is in constant development. In terms of polic priorities so far, the high representative has put much emphasis on what could be called the use of soft power. High on the agenda are, for example, foreign aid, support for citizens in crisis situations, development and human rights. In th reading list, you have some work that looks at the creation and the activities of the external action service.

In terms of the EU’s external representation, there are also two other important functions. The President of the European Commission and the President of the European Council. For example, in terms of taking policy initiatives to combat diverse effects when the global financial crisis hit, the President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, has played a very active role in terms of trying to get member states to agree on new measures and initiatives.

Similarly, the European commission and its President Jose Manuel Barroso laid the foundations for several agreements that are now in place for enhanced stability in the future. Sometimes in an era of Euro skepticism, these persons have also been criticized. But we have to keep in mind that the actions of institutions and their responses to the crisis can often only be taken if there actually is inter governmental agreement to take these steps.

Given the large number of EU states, 28 since 2014, this can be rather difficult to achieve. So, in the process of European integration, member states by incremental steps, have started to coordinate their actions in the domain of foreign affairs. And agreed on the establishment of new positions.

This is trying to increasingly speak with one voice. But there is still reluctance to do so since foreign policy is often regarded as a core domain of a state’ competencies.

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