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The EU Common Foreign and Security Policy

Europe’s global political position has worsened dramatically in recent years. Conflicts are multiplying in the countries neighbouring the EU to the south and the east, while Russia and China are increasingly showing expansive tendencies. In addition, Europe has lost some external support for its foreign policy as the USA has not been a dependable partner for Europe under President Donald Trump. Against this background, an EU with a capacity to act in foreign and security affairs is a paramount goal that has also been addressed by the EU with the central ideas of “strategic autonomy” and “European sovereignty”. Nevertheless, in practice, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is still far behind what you would expect from the EU when you consider the size of its internal market and its economic power.

The CFSP legally rests on the provisions in Title V of the Treaty on European Union (TEU) under the heading “General Provisions on the Union’s External Action and Specific Provisions on the Common Foreign and Security Policy”. The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is an integral part of the CFSP. Both are essentially based on inter-governmental cooperation. All CFSP measures have to be approved unanimously by the member states. The supranational institutions – European Commission and European Parliament – play a subordinate, if increasingly important, role. The CFSP is also becoming more and more intertwined with aspects of EU external relations (such as trade policy, association and cooperation policy, development cooperation and also internal security) that function according to the Community Method. The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is also the Vice-President of the European Commission, is responsible for ensuring and enhancing coherence in external policies.

The political price of the unanimity requirement is high: if the member states do not reach a common position or merely arrive at a formal compromise in a foreign policy crisis, other states will respond without taking EU interests into consideration. Countries like Russia, China and Turkey see the EU as a rival or even as an adversary that stands in the way of their interests – and they try to weaken European integration. A tested and very successful method are efforts to divide the European Union.

This dossier brings together SWP publications and external contributions by SWP staff on the topics of the CFSP and EU external action under the following chapter headings: Institutional Challenges and Reforms, Instruments and Strategic Orientation of the CFSP.