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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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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The U.S. Congress and the European Parliament: Evolving Transatlantic Legislative Cooperation


Kristin Archick
Specialist in European Affairs

Vincent Morelli
Section Research Manager

The United States and the European Union (EU) share an extensive, dynamic, and for many a mutually beneficial political and economic partnership. A growing element of that relationship is the role that the U.S. Congress and the European Parliament (EP)—a key EU institution—have begun to play, including in areas ranging from foreign and economic policy to regulatory reform. Proponents of establishing closer relations between the U.S. Congress and the EP point to the Parliament’s growing influence as a result of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which took effect in December 2009. The Lisbon Treaty has increased the relative power of the EP within the EU, and in some cases, with significant implications for U.S. interests. Consequently, some officials and experts on both sides of the Atlantic have asked whether it would be beneficial for Congress and the EP to strengthen institutional ties further and to explore the possibility of coordinating efforts to develop more complementary approaches to policies in areas of mutual interest.

The Transatlantic Legislators’ Dialogue (TLD), the formal exchange between Congress (actually the House of Representatives) and the European Parliament, was launched in 1999, although semi-annual meetings between Congress and the EP date back to 1972. The TLD’s visibility increased somewhat following the 2007 decision to name it as an advisor to the Transatlantic Economic Council (TEC), which seeks to “advance the work of reducing or eliminating non-tariff barriers to transatlantic commerce and trade.”

In response to the TLD’s new TEC-related responsibilities, some Members of Congress suggested that there was a need for more cooperation with the EP, and raised questions with respect to how this might best be accomplished. For those Members and outside advocates of closer relations, questions have surfaced about whether the TLD itself was organized in a way that would facilitate such relations, how the standing committees in both institutions might interact, and what role, if any, for the U.S. Senate. Since 2010, regular contacts between Congress and the Parliament, including at the committee level, have fluctuated in frequency. However, many observers note that the EP has been far out in front of Congress in pursuit of a stronger relationship mostly through the many EP delegations traveling to Washington to meet their counterparts. In 2010, the Parliament opened a liaison office in Washington that was charged with keeping the EP better informed of legislative activity in Congress and vice-versa. In addition, each EP standing committee has named a “TLD Administrator” on its staff to act as a contact point between the committee and the TLD, as well as between the committee and its counterpart committee in the U.S. Congress.

While there appears to be no formal objection within Congress to increasing contacts with the European Parliament, some point out that with the exception of a few Members with previous experience in the TLD, Congress as a whole has been seen at best as ambivalent to such efforts and has not demonstrated as much enthusiasm as the EP about forging closer relations. This observation had been noted by the EP itself when at the beginning of the 112th Congress neither the new chair nor the vice chair of the USTLD were appointed until early June.

This report provides background on the Congress–EP relationship and the role of the TLD. It also explores potential future options should an effort to strengthen ties between the two bodies gain momentum. For additional information, see CRS Report RS21998, The European Parliament, by Kristin Archick.


Date of Report: July 12, 2012
Number of Pages: 32
Order Number: R41552
Price: $29.95

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Monday, July 9, 2012

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child: Background and Policy Issues


Luisa Blanchfield
Specialist in International Relations

U.S. ratification of the United Nations (U.N.) Convention on the Rights of the Child (hereafter referred to as CRC or the Convention) may be a key area of focus during the 112th Congress, particularly if the Barack Obama Administration seeks the advice and consent of the Senate. CRC is an international treaty that aims to protect the rights of children worldwide. It defines a child as any human being under the age of 18, and calls on States Parties to take all appropriate measures to ensure that children’s rights are protected—including the right to a name and nationality; freedom of speech and thought; access to healthcare and education; and freedom from exploitation, torture, and abuse. CRC entered into force in September 1990, and has been ratified by 193 countries, making it the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. Two countries, the United States and Somalia, have not ratified the Convention. The President has not transmitted CRC to the Senate for its advice and consent to ratification.

Despite widespread U.S. support for the overall objectives of the Convention, policymakers have raised concerns as to whether it is an effective mechanism for protecting children’s rights. The Clinton Administration signed the Convention in February 1995, but did not submit it to the Senate primarily because of strong opposition from several Members of Congress. The George W. Bush Administration opposed CRC and expressed serious political and legal concerns with the treaty, arguing that it conflicted with U.S. laws regarding privacy and family rights. The election of President Barack Obama in 2008 focused renewed attention on the possibility of U.S. ratification. The Administration has stated that it supports the goals of the Convention and that any decision to pursue ratification of CRC will be determined through an interagency policy review. Perhaps more than other human rights treaties, CRC addresses areas that are usually considered to be primarily or exclusively under the jurisdiction of state or local governments, including education, juvenile justice, and access to healthcare. Some of these conflicting areas will likely need to be resolved by the executive branch and the Senate before the United States ratifies the Convention.

The question of U.S. ratification of CRC has generated contentious debate. Opponents argue that ratification would undermine U.S. sovereignty by giving the United Nations authority to determine the best interests of U.S. children. Some are also concerned that CRC could interfere in the private lives of families, particularly the rights of parents to educate and discipline their children. Moreover, some contend that CRC is an ineffective mechanism for protecting children’s rights. They emphasize that countries that are widely regarded as abusers of children’s rights, including China and Sudan, are party to the Convention. Supporters of U.S. ratification, on the other hand, hold that CRC’s intention is not to circumvent the role of parents but to protect children against government intrusion and abuse. Proponents emphasize what they view as CRC’s strong support for the role of parents and the family structure. Additionally, supporters hold that U.S. federal and state laws generally meet the requirements of CRC, and that U.S. ratification would strengthen the United States’ credibility when advocating children’s rights abroad.

This report provides an overview of CRC’s background and structure and examines evolving U.S. policy toward the Convention, including past and current Administration positions and congressional perspectives. It also highlights issues for the 112th Congress, including the Convention’s possible impact on federal and state laws, U.S. sovereignty, parental rights, and U.S. family planning and abortion policy. In addition, the report addresses the effectiveness of CRC in protecting the rights of children internationally and its potential use as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy.


Date of Report: June 2, 2012
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: R40484
Price: $29.95


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