The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)

Speaking with one voice

The European Union has its own foreign and security policy, enabling it to speak – and act – as one in world affairs. In an international and globalised world the 28 countries that are members of the EU have greater weight and influence when they act together as the European Union rather than 28 individual players. 

This has been given impetus by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty which created the post of High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy who is also a Vice-President of the European Commission, as well as the creation of a European Diplomatic Service – the European External Action Service (EEAS).

The role of the EU's Foreign and Security Policy is to preserve peace and strengthen international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter; to promote international co-operation; and to develop and consolidate democracy and the rule of law and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Decisive diplomacy

The EU is a key player in international issues ranging from global warming to the conflict in the Middle East. The basis for the EU’s foreign and security policy remains the use of diplomacy – backed where necessary by trade, aid and security and defence – to resolve conflicts and bring about international understanding.

The sheer size of the 28-nation EU – in economic, trade and financial terms – makes it a major force in the world.. It plays an important role in global affairs – and its weight is growing as EU countries increasingly make collective foreign policy decisions.

The EU maintains partnerships with all the world's key players – including new ones – each with their own world views and interests. It seeks to ensure that its partnerships are based on mutual interests and benefits, in which both parties have rights as well as duties. The EU holds regular summits with the United States, Japan, Canada, Russia, India and China. Its relations with these and other countries span many fields, including education, the environment, security and defence, crime and human rights.

Peace-keeping and stabilisation

The EU has sent peacekeeping missions to several of the world’s trouble spots, such as Georgia in 2008.The EU monitoring mission Georgia observed the situation and provided humanitarian aid to people displaced by the fighting. In Kosovo, the EU deployed a 1 900-strong police and justice force in December 2008 to help ensure law and order (EULEX Kosovo).

The means to intervene

The EU has no standing army. Instead, under its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), it relies on forces put at the disposal of the EU for:

  • joint disarmament operations
  • humanitarian and rescue tasks
  • military advice and assistance
  • conflict prevention and peace-keeping
  • tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace-making and post-conflict stabilisation.

All these tasks may contribute to the fight against terrorism, including by supporting third countries in combating terrorism in their territories.

Over the last decade, the EU has launched 23 civilian missions and military operations on 3 continents deployed in response to crises, ranging from post-tsunami peace building in Aceh, to protecting refugees in Chad and the fight against piracy off Somalia and the Horn of Africa. The EU's role as a security player is expanding.

If approved by the Council of the EU, the EU may alsoundertake rapid response operations with two concurrent 1 500-strong single-battle groups.

Reaching out

As with Russia, the EU is moving to strengthen ties with Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine. The EU offers considerable funding for these countries, as well as the prospect of free-trade agreements if they undertake political and economic reforms to strengthen democracy.

In the wake of the Arab Spring in 2011, the EU re-launched its European Neighbourhood Policy to express its solidarity with those calling for democracy. Designed to strengthen the EU’s relations with its neighbours to the east and south, the policy offers political association, economic integration and increased mobility. The EU is providing support of a different kind to international efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. A two-state arrangement in which the Palestinian state lives side-by-side with Israel is the EU’s objective, and it is working with the UN, the US and Russia (together comprising the ‘Quartet’) to encourage both sides to reach an agreement.

The EU has an equally active role with Iran, where it is leading negotiations aimed at encouraging Iran to scale back its nuclear programme. The EU is also intensifying relations with regional groups, particularly in Asia and Latin America. ‘Enhanced partnerships’ balance the economic, political, social and cultural elements of the relationships.

Decision making in EU Foreign Policy

The ultimate decision making body in the European Union is the European Council of the 28 EU Heads of State and Government, which meets four times a year. The members of the European Council define the principles and general guidelines of policy.

The role of High Representative Federica Mogherini is to bring more coherence to the EU's foreign policies. She chairs the monthly meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council where the 28 European Union Foreign Ministers meet and also attends the European Council and reports on foreign affairs issues.

Most decisions in Foreign and Security Policy are taken by unanimity – that is a by a unanimous majority of European Union countries (and their respective voting weights in the Foreign Affairs Council).

The role of the External Action Service (EEAS) is to support the High Representative; it is also the Diplomatic Service of the European Union. It has a network of over 130 Delegations and Offices around the world responsible for promoting and protecting Europe's interests. It works closely with the European Commission and the Foreign Ministries of EU countries