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Common Foreign and Security Policy

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The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) tries to enable EU member states to act in a unified way on foreign policy and security affairs. According to advocates, acting together gives member states more influence compared to acting alone, pursuing their own policies. Because member states can have different foreign policy agendas, progress in setting a clear direction for CFSP has been slow, although important changes have occurred.

Before the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, the EU had no official role in foreign affairs. The treaty committed EU member states to develop a common foreign policy. It also allowed the EU to speak with a single voice on foreign policy issues. In 1997 the Amsterdam Treaty solidified this agenda into the CFSP. The treaty created the EU High Representative for the CFSP, who represented the European Council abroad.

In 1999, the Cologne European Council expanded the EU’s foreign policy powers. It asked the EU to develop the ability to take independent military action. The EU’s military capability was strengthened in 2003 through the Berlin Plus Agreement. This allowed the EU to use NATO assets and capabilities for EU-led crisis management operations. The development of the EU’s military capability was pursued by the High Representative under the European Security and Defence Policy. Since 2003, the EU has deployed international observers and peacekeeping forces to many different conflict zones, including Chad in 2003 and Georgia in 2008.

In 2007 the Lisbon Treaty drastically altered the CFSP. It combined the positions of High Representative for the CFSP and the External Affairs Commissioner into one EU foreign policy position: the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The treaty also created the European External Action Service (EEAS). It acts as the EU’s diplomatic service and brings diplomatic missions together under the authority of the High Representative. Whilst qualified majority voting became more prominent after the Lisbon Treaty, member states retain the right to veto all EU foreign policy decisions and defence strategies.

How does the CFSP work?

The High Representative coordinates the EU’s foreign policy, common defence policy and builds consensus between member states. The High Representative’s powers are largely undefined. The EEAS can also make recommendations on defence and security, but final decisions rest with the European Council. Under EU rules decisions made in the council have to be unanimous, and every member state retains the power of veto.

It was agreement in the council that led to EU peacekeeping missions in Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Congo in 2003. In 2007, following Iran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment, EU foreign ministers agreed to implement sanctions. Following a violent and undemocratic presidential election, sanctions were imposed against Zimbabwe in 2008, and the EU launched its first maritime operation to prevent piracy off the coast of Somalia.

The European Council issues common strategies. Most of them are part of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). This strategy aims to strengthen economic and political cooperation between the EU and its neighbours to the east and south. The Eastern Partnership, launched in 2009, tries to deepen relations between the EU and six eastern neighbours: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova, and Ukraine. After the Arab Spring, the EU relaunched the ENP to support partners instituting reforms that favour human rights, democracy and the rule of law.

Member states still have the freedom to pursue their own foreign policy agenda. Britain did this in 2003 when it decided to join the US-led invasion of Iraq, despite the opposition of other EU member states. In 2011 the EU was criticised for its fragmented response to the uprisings in Libya. Whilst Germany opposed a no-fly zone, France and the UK took military action. Following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Germany opposed sanctions whereas some Eastern European countries supported sanctions. The EU eventually imposed sanctions on Russia, including asset freezes and visa bans for some individuals, and a trade and investment ban against Crimea.