United States often looks to Europe as its partner of choice in addressing
important global challenges. Given the extent of the transatlantic
relationship, congressional foreign policy activities and interests
frequently involve Europe. The relationship between the United States and the
European Union (EU) has become increasingly significant in recent years, and it
is likely to grow even more important. In this context, Members of
Congress often have an interest in understanding the complexities of EU
policy making, assessing the compatibility and effectiveness of U.S. and
EU policy approaches, or exploring the long-term implications of changing
The EU As a Global Actor
Seeking to play a more active role in global affairs, the EU has developed a
Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and a Common Security and
Defense Policy (CSDP). On many foreign policy and security issues, the 27
EU member states exert a powerful collective influence. On the other hand,
some critics assert that on the whole the EU remains an economic power only,
and that its foreign and security policies have little global impact. Some
of the shortcomings in the EU’s external policies stem from the inherent
difficulties of reaching a complete consensus among the member state
governments. Moreover, past institutional arrangements have often failed
to coordinate the EU’s full range of resources.
Elements of EU External Policy
The Common Foreign and Security Policy is based on unanimous consensus among
the member states. CFSP is a mechanism for adopting common principles and
guidelines on political and security issues, committing to common
diplomatic approaches, and undertaking joint actions. Many analysts argue
that Europe’s relevance in world affairs increasingly depends on its ability to speak
and act as one.
The EU is currently conducting 12 operations under its Common Security and
Defense Policy. To establish a more robust CSDP, EU member states have been
exploring ways to increase their military capabilities and promote greater
defense integration. These efforts have met with limited success thus far.
Civilian missions and capabilities, however, are also central components of CSDP;
the majority of CSDP missions have been civilian operations in areas such as
police training and rule of law.
External policies in technical areas such as trade, humanitarian aid,
development assistance, enlargement, and neighborhood policy are
formulated and managed through a “community” process at the level of the
EU institutions. (The European Neighborhood Policy seeks to deepen the EU’s
relations with its southern and eastern neighbors while encouraging them to
pursue governance and economic reforms.) These are the EU’s most deeply
integrated external policies. Given events in North Africa, the Middle
East, and some of the former Soviet states, EU policymakers have been
rethinking how such external policy tools might be used to better effect.
The United States, the EU, and NATO
Although some observers remain concerned that a strong EU might act as a
counterweight to U.S. power, others maintain that an assertive and capable
EU is very much in the interest of the United States. The focus of the transatlantic
relationship has changed since the end of the Cold War: it is now largely
about the United States and Europe working together to manage a range of global problems.
According to some experts, U.S.-EU cooperation holds the greatest potential for successfully
tackling many of today’s emergent threats and concerns.
Nevertheless, NATO remains the dominant institutional foundation for
transatlantic security affairs. U.S. policymakers have supported efforts
to develop EU security policies on the condition that they do not weaken
NATO, where the United States has a strong voice on European security issues.
Despite their overlapping membership, the EU and NATO have struggled to work
out an effective cooperative relationship. Analysts suggest that sorting out
the dynamics of the U.S.-EUNATO relationship to allow for a comprehensive
and effective use of Euro-Atlantic resources and capabilities will be a
key challenge for U.S. and European policymakers in the years ahead.
Date of Report: July 11, 2012
Number of Pages: 29 Order Number: R41959 Price: $29.95
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