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Foreign & Security Policy

EU foreign and security policy, which has developed gradually over many years, enables the EU to speak and act as one in world affairs. Acting together gives the EU's 28 members far greater clout than they would have if each pursued its own policies.

The 2009 Lisbon Treaty strengthened this policy area by creating

Peace & security

EU foreign and security policy seeks to

  • preserve peace & strengthen international security
  • promote international cooperation
  • develop & consolidate
    • democracy
    • the rule of law
    • respect for human rights & fundamental freedoms.

Diplomacy & partnership

The EU is a key player on issues ranging from Iran's nuclear programme and stabilising Somalia and the wider Horn of Africa to fighting global warming. Its joint foreign and security policy, designed to resolve conflicts and foster international understanding, is based on diplomacy; trade, humanitarian aid, security and defence often play a complementary role.

As the world's largest donor of development finance, the EU is uniquely placed for cooperation with developing countries.

The sheer demographic and economic weight of the 28-nation bloc makes it a major power. It is the world’s biggest trader, with the world’s second currency, the euro. The trend towards joint foreign policy decisions strengthens its arm.

The EU maintains partnerships with the world's key players, including emerging powers. It seeks to ensure that these relationships are based on mutual interests and benefits. The EU holds regular summits with Canada, China, India, Japan, Russia and the United States. Its international relations encompass:

  • education
  • the environment
  • security & defence
  • crime
  • human rights.

Peacekeeping missions

The EU has sent peacekeeping missions to several of the world’s trouble spots. In August 2008, it helped broker a ceasefire between Georgia and Russia, deployed EU observers to monitor the situation (EU monitoring mission in Georgia) and provided humanitarian aid to people displaced by the fighting.

In Kosovo, a strong police and justice force (EULEX Kosovo) is in place to help ensure law and order.

The means to intervene

The EU has no standing army. Instead, under its common security and defence policy (CSDP), it relies on ad hoc forces contributed by EU countries for:

  • joint disarmament operations
  • humanitarian & rescue tasks
  • military advice & assistance
  • conflict prevention & peacekeeping
  • crisis management, e.g. peacemaking & post-conflict stabilisation.

Since 2003 the EU has carried out some 30 civilian missions and military operations on 3 continents. They have all been responses to crises:

  • post-tsunami peace-building in Indonesia
  • protecting refugees in Mali & the Central African Republic
  • fighting piracy off Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

The EU now plays an important role as a security provider.

Since January 2007, the EU has been able to carry out rapid-response operations with 2 concurrent single-battle groups, each comprising 1500 soldiers. If necessary, 2 operations can be launched almost simultaneously. Deployment decisions are taken by national ministers from EU countries meeting in the Council of the EU.

Closer ties with our neighbours: European Neighbourhood Policy

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) governs the EU's relations with 16 of its southern and eastern neighbours.

To the south: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine (this designation does not entail any recognition of Palestine as a state and is without prejudice to positions on the recognition of Palestine as a state), Syria and Tunisia.

To the east: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

Designed to strengthen the EU’s relations with its neighbours, the policy offers:

  • political association
  • economic integration
  • increased mobility for people.

As the EU has grown, the countries of eastern Europe and the southern Caucasus have become our closer neighbours. Increasingly, their security, stability and prosperity affect ours. A joint policy initiative – the Eastern Partnership – was launched in 2009 to deepen relations between the EU and its 6 eastern neighbours. Closer cooperation between the EU and its eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine – is a key element in EU foreign relations.

In the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings, the EU relaunched its European Neighbourhood Policy to provide better support for partners instituting reforms that favour democracy, the rule of law and human rights. It seeks to encourage inclusive economic development in these countries and to promote partnership with a variety of groups and organisations, in parallel to EU relations with governments.

The EU also supports neighbouring countries facing conflict and crisis. It is the leading donor of support for the victims of the crisis in Syria, having contributed over €3.2 bn since 2011. The EU is also seeking to assist Libya in the current difficult political and security situation.

The EU continues to support international efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. It supports a 2-state solution with a Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel. The EU, the UN, the US and Russia (the 'Quartet') are working together to encourage both sides to reach an agreement. They are also working closely with regional partners on a peaceful solution to the conflict.

The Iranian nuclear programme has been one of the most pressing sources of tension internationally. The landmark agreement reached in November 2013 with the international community was a first step towards resolving the issue. This was a tribute to the EU's role in leading peace talks on behalf of the international community.

Asia & Latin America

The EU is stepping up relations with regional groups in Asia and Latin America. With its fast-developing Asian partners, it has created ‘enhanced partnerships’ – agreements combining economic, political, social and cultural elements. It is also a firm supporter of regional integration in both regions.

Western Balkans

The countries of the western Balkans have an interest in EU membership.

Country Status
Croatia Joined EU as 28th member in July 2013
Montenegro, Serbia Engaged in membership negotiations
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Commission has recommended starting negotiations
Albania Council has approved application, making Albania a 'candidate country'
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo Potential applicants

Though Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, its international status remains undecided. Thanks to the EU's commitment to brokering talks, the 2 parties reached a landmark agreement in April 2013. This was a testament to the dedication of their prime ministers and the former High Representative, Catherine Ashton, to normalising relations. It also demonstrates the EU's firm commitment to reconciliation in the western Balkans.

Decision-making in EU foreign policy

The EU's ultimate decision-making body is the European Council, which comprises heads of state and government from the bloc's 28 countries. It meets 4 times a year to define policy principles and general guidelines.

The High Representative's role is to make EU foreign and security policy more consistent. She chairs the monthly meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council (comprising the EU's 28 Foreign Ministers). She also attends the European Council and reports on foreign affairs issues.

Most foreign and security policy decisions require the agreement of all EU countries.

The role of the External Action Service (EEAS) is to support the High Representative. It acts as the EU's diplomatic service. A network of over 139 Delegations and Offices around the world promotes and protects Europe's values and interests.