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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The European Union: Foreign and Security Policy


Derek E. Mix
Analyst in European Affairs

The 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 transatlantic dynamics. 

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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