Common Foreign and Security Policy

Table of Contents:

Common Foreign and Security Policy

Outline of the Community (European Union) legislation about Common Foreign and Security Policy


These categories group together and put in context the legislative and non-legislative initiatives which deal with the same topic.

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Common Foreign and Security Policy

One of the main purposes of the inter-Governmental Conference which led to the signature of the draft Amsterdam Treaty was to make common foreign and security policy (CFSP) more effective and to equip the Union better for its role in international politics.

The reform seemed particularly urgent after the disintegration of former Yugoslavia. The tragic course of events there made it clear that the Union needed to be able to act to avert disaster and not merely react after the event. The Yugoslav crisis also threw into relief the weakness of uncoordinated Member State reactions.

The Amsterdam Treaty aims to overcome contradictions between the particularly ambitious objectives of the CFSP and the means available to the Union for achieving those objectives, which did not live up to expectations or provide adequately for the matters at stake.


Throughout the successive stages of the construction of a European Community, the issues of political union, common foreign policy and common defence policy have regularly been put on the agenda by a series of policy proposals.
In 1950, the Pléven plan (named after the French Prime Minister) was to create an integrated European army under joint command. This plan was the subject of negotiation between Member States of the European Coal and Steel Community from 1950 to 1952, and led to the signature of the Treaty establishing the European Defence Community. (EDC). The corollary of the EDC was a political project, presented in 1953, for creating a federal or confederative structure. The “European Political Community” would have created a two-house Parliamentary assembly, a European executive Council, a Council of Ministers and a Court of Justice. The political Community was to have very wide powers and responsibilities and was, in the long run, to absorb the ECSC and the EDC. However, it never came to fruition, since it was rejected by the French National Assembly on 30 August 1954.

In the early sixties, tough negotiations were conducted on the basis of the two Fouchet plans presented one after the other in France, calling for closer political cooperation, a Union of States and common foreign and defence policies. A Committee established to draft specific proposals produced difficult, but nevertheless ambitious, compromises such as setting up an independent Secretariat and the introduction of qualified majority decisions on certain issues as a long-term goal. Unfortunately agreement could not be reached on the proposals of the Fouchet Committee and negotiations between the Member States foundered in 1962.

In response to calls by Heads of State and Government for a study of possible ways of moving forward on the political level, the “Davignon report” was presented in 1970 at the Luxembourg Summit. This was the starting point for European Political Cooperation (EPC), launched informally in 1970 before being formally enshrined in the Single European Act (SEA) in 1987. The main feature of EPC was consultation among the Member States on foreign policy issues.

Three years later, the Copenhagen Summit presented a report on how EPC was working. Subsequently, meetings of Foreign Ministers and the Political Committee (made up of national political directors) were held more frequently. At the same time, a group of “European correspondents” was set up to monitor EPC in each Member State. Political cooperation was also assisted by access to COREU, the new telex network linking the Member States.

The establishment of the European Council in 1974 contributed to better coordination of EPC because of the role it gave to Heads of State and Government in defining the general orientation of Community policy. From that point the role of the Presidency and the publicity given to the work of the EPC reinforced each other through official Community statements of position.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Islamic revolution in Iran brought home to the Member States the growing impotence of the European Community on the international scene. Determined to strengthen EPC, in 1981 they adopted the London Report which required prior consultation by Member States of each other and the European Commission on all foreign policy matters affecting all Member States. In 1982, prompted by the same concern to affirm the international position of the Community, the Genscher-Colombo initiative proposed a draft “European Act” and led, in 1983, to the Stuttgart “Solemn Declaration on European Union”.

In 1985 the Dooge Committee Report, drawn up in preparation for the inter-Governmental Conference which was to lead to the Single European Act, contained a number of proposals concerning foreign policy, in particular for greater concertation of policy on matters concerning security, and for cooperation in the armaments sector. It also called for the creation of a permanent Secretariat. In the end, the provisions introduced by the Single European Act did not go as far as the Dooge Committee proposals, but they did establish an institutional basis for EPC, the group of European correspondents and a Secretariat working under the direct authority of the Presidency. The objectives of EPC were also extended to all foreign policy issues of general interest.

The intergovernmental conference on political union led to the inclusion in the EU Treaty of a specific Title on a common foreign and security policy (CFSP). With the Treaty’s entry into force in 1993, the CFSP replaced EPC and a separate inter-Governmental pillar was created in the Community structure. This expressed the will of the Union to assert its identity on the international scene.


Common foreign and security policy (CFSP) is governed by the provisions of Title V of the Treaty on European Union. The CFSP is also addressed in Article 2 (ex Article B) of the Common Provisions, which states that one of the objectives of the Union is to “assert its identity on the international scene, in particular through the implementation of a common foreign and security policy, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence”.

The CFSP was introduced as the result of a desire to equip the Union better for the many challenges facing it at international level, by providing it with new means of taking action in areas of foreign relations other than the traditional Community ones (mainly trade policy and development cooperation).

Title V constitutes a separate pillar of the European Union, since the way it operates and its inter-Governmental nature distinguish it from the traditional pillars of the Community, such as the single market and trade policy. This difference is most striking in the decision-making procedures, which require Member State consensus, whereas in traditional Community areas a majority vote suffices. Other differences are the less important roles played by the Commission, the European Parliament and the Court of Justice in matters falling under Title V. The backgrounding of these institutions under the CFSP is in stark contrast with their powers and responsibilities in traditional spheres of Community competence.

To achieve harmony and avoid contradictions between these two types of activity (Community and inter-Governmental), Article 3 (ex Article C) provides that: “The Union shall ensure (…) the consistency of its external activities as a whole in the context of its external relations, security, economic and development policies. The Council and the Commission shall be responsible for ensuring such consistency. The shall assure the implementation of these policies, each in accordance with its respective powers.”

Nevertheless, in the first years after its introduction, Member States’ joint action under Title V did not work as satisfactorily as they might have hoped. It was against this relatively unsatisfactory background that the negotiations at the 1996 inter-Governmental Conference aimed to introduce in the new Treaty the institutional reforms needed to make the CFSP effective.


First and foremost, the CFSP’s capacity for action has been reinforced through the introduction of more coherent instruments and more efficient decision-making. It is now possible to adopt measures by a qualified majority vote, with the dual safeguards of “constructive abstention” and the possibility of referring a decision to the European Council if a member state resorts to a veto. The Commission, for its part, is also more involved both on the representative side and in implementation.

Common strategies

The Amsterdam Treaty has added a new foreign policy instrument to the existing ones (joint action and common position), namely common strategies.

The European Council, the body that defines the principles and general guidelines of the CFSP, now has the right to define, by consensus, common strategies in areas where the Member States have important interests in common. The objectives, duration, and means to be made available by the Union and Member States for such common strategies must be specified.

The Council is responsible for implementing common strategies through joint actions and common positions adopted by a qualified majority. It also recommends common strategies to the European Council.


The general rule remains that CFSP decisions always require a unanimous vote in their favour. However, Member States can exercise “constructive abstention”, i.e. an abstention which does not block the adoption of the decision. If they qualify their abstention by a formal declaration, they are not obliged to apply the decision; but they must accept, in a spirit of solidarity, that the decision commits the Union as a whole and must agree to abstain from any action that might conflict with the Union’s action under that decision.

This mechanism does not apply if the Member States abstaining in this way account for more than one third of Council votes weighted in accordance with the Treaty.

The amended Title V of the EU Treaty does, however, allow for adoption by a qualified majority in two cases:

  • for decisions applying a common strategy defined by the European Council;
  • for any decisions implementing a joint action or common position already adopted by the Council.

There is a safeguard clause enabling member states to block majority voting for important reasons of national policy. In such cases, when the Member State concerned has stated its reasons, the Council may decide by a qualified majority to refer the matter to the European Council for a unanimous decision by heads of state and government.

The High Representative for the CFSP

The new Article 26 (ex Article J.16) of the EU Treaty introduces a new post intended to give the CFSP a higher profile and make it more coherent:

The Secretary-General of the Council has been assigned the role of High Representative for the CFSP. He is responsible for assisting the Council in CFSP-related matters by contributing to the formulation, preparation, and implementation of decisions. At the request of the Presidency he acts on behalf of the Council in conducting political dialogue with third parties.

Because of this new role, the Secretary-General’s administrative tasks have been transferred to the deputy Secretary-General. It does not, however, stop the Council appointing special representatives with mandates covering specific political issues whenever it sees fit, as has already been done in the case of former Yugoslavia.

As regards the logistics of the new position, the High Representative is supported by a policy planning and early warning unit set up in the General Secretariat of the Council and placed under his responsibility.

The policy planning and early warning unit

The coherence of common foreign and security policy depends how Member States react to international developments. Past experience has shown that if reactions are uncoordinated, the position of the European Union and its Member States on the international scene is weakened. Joint analysis of international issues and their impact, and pooling of information should help the Union produce effective reactions to international developments.

With this in mind, it was agreed in a declaration annexed to the Treaty of Amsterdam to set up a policy planning and early warning unit in the General Secretariat of the Council under the authority of the High Representative for the CFSP. Comprising specialists drawn from the General Secretariat, the member states, the Commission and the Western European Union (WEU), its tasks include:

  • monitoring and analysing developments in areas relevant to the CFSP;
  • providing assessments of the Union’s foreign and security policy interests and identifying areas on which the CFSP could focus in future;
  • providing timely assessments and early warning of events, potential political crises and situations that might have significant repercussions on the CFSP;
  • producing, at the request of either the Council or the Presidency, or on its own initiative, reasoned policy option papers for the Council.

The “Petersberg tasks”, security and the Western European Union

The “Petersberg tasks” have been incorporated into Title V of the EU Treaty. This is a crucial step forward at a time when there has been a resurgence of local conflicts posing a real threat to European security (for example, former Yugoslavia), even though the risk of large-scale conflicts has fallen significantly compared to the Cold War period. The “Petersberg tasks” represent a very fitting response by the Union, embodying as they do the Member States’ shared determination to safeguard European security through operations such as humanitarian and peace-making missions.

On the security front, the new Article 17 (ex Article J.7) of the EU Treaty also opens up prospects for two new developments, although neither seems imminent:

  • common defence; and
  • the integration of the Western European Union (WEU) into the European Union.

Specifically, the new text states that the CFSP covers all questions relating to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to common defence, should the European Council so decide. Similarly, as regards rapprochement of the EU and the WEU, provision is made for the Union fostering closer institutional relations with the WEU with a view to the possible integration of the WEU into the European Union, should the European Council so decide.

Financing of CFSP operational expenditure

Under the EU Treaty, CFSP operations were financed either from the Community budget or by the Member States, applying a scale to be decided case by case. This system gave rise to some criticism, particularly from the Commission, because of its complexity and inefficiency.

The Treaty of Amsterdam has addressed the problem, providing for expenditure on CFSP operations to be financed from the Community budget. The only exceptions are operations with military or defence implications, or if the Council unanimously decides otherwise. In this case, Member States that abstain and issue a formal declaration are not obliged to contribute to the financing of the operation.

Where expenditure is charged to the Member States, the cost is divided according to gross national product, unless the Council unanimously decides otherwise.

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