Implications of the referendum on EU membership for the UK's role in the world Contents

2The EU as an international actor

The development of EU common foreign and defence policies

7.It is a commonplace that the UK joined a “Common Market” in 1973, not a much deeper organisation. But the reality is much more complex. The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), European Economic Community (EEC), European Community (EC) and now the EU, has been constant work in progress. EU co-operation on foreign policy matters dates from the establishment of the intergovernmental European Political Cooperation (EPC) mechanism in 1970. This gained legal status in the 1986 Single European Act. In 1992, the Treaty of Maastricht created the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). This allowed Member States to adopt common positions and take joint actions, voting by unanimity, and also made provision for “the eventual framing of a common defence policy, which might in time lead to a common defence.”6 To bolster the profile of the CFSP, the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam established the post of High Representative for CFSP.

8.The 2008 Treaty of Lisbon introduced a number of provisions designed to strengthen the CFSP. Two of the two most far-reaching were:


9.In December 1998, the British and French Governments agreed bilaterally to create the European Security and Defence Policy (later renamed the Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP), which aimed to enable EU Member States to prevent or intervene in conflicts where NATO as a whole chose not to become involved.8 To date, EU Member States have launched over 35 military, civilian and hybrid civil-military operations under the aegis of CSDP, most of them in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood. These range from small scale rule-of-law missions such as EUJUST Themis, which sent judges and rule-of-law experts to advise the Georgian government, to the long-running military peacekeeping operation in Bosnia-Herzegovina, to the Operation Atalanta anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia.9

10.The development of an effective EU defence identity is beset by difficulty. The UK has a long-established preference for developing a European identity within NATO and its long-established military interoperability standards. This though competes with a firm view, particularly promoted by Germany, France and Spain, that the EU should acquire a defence dimension. This also poses problems for those states which adopt positions of military neutrality.10 The relationship between the EU and NATO has also been made more difficult and complex by the dispute between NATO member Turkey and EU member Cyprus.

11.The UK conceded the possibility of common defence in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, to accommodate our partners’ aspirations, but remains anxious about duplicating military command and capabilities with NATO, and a separate EU defence capability leading to potential disengagement by the USA from European security. These contradictions are unresolved, and the impossible challenge of progressing this has been given to the current HR/VP, Federica Mogherini. This is well explained in a piece by Michael Leigh, Senior Fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.11

Decision-making and powers

12.EU “external relations” includes two different decision-making structures, illustrated in Figure 1 below:

a)Foreign policy and defence: Decision-making in CFSP/CSDP is intergovernmental. This system applies primarily to “traditional” aspects of foreign policy, such as adopting common positions and diplomatic approaches, undertaking joint actions, and dispatching military and civilian CSDP operations. Decisions in this field are made by unanimous agreement in the Council of Ministers, and are carried out by the HR/VP and EEAS according to a framework set by Member States. The European Parliament is limited to a “consultative role”, and the European Court of Justice is also excluded. Because of the requirement for unanimity, the EU as a whole cannot undertake any action in CFSP/CSDP if even one Member State dissents. Member States are also free to pursue their own independent foreign policies outside the EU.

b)Trade, aid and sanctions: The policy- and decision-making processes are different in areas such as international trade and EU development policy. In these fields, Member States are not free to pursue alternative policies of their choice, because legal competence rests partially or entirely with the EU. All bilateral or multilateral trading agreements with non-EU countries are negotiated solely by the European Commission, on the basis of a mandate agreed and granted by the Council. These agreements are then subject to the normal EU decision-making procedures, including Qualified Majority Voting in the Council and consent from the European Parliament. Member States cannot negotiate their own trade deals. Decisions on the issuing of sanctions against non-EU countries, meanwhile, follow a two-stage process: first, the Council of Ministers agrees—unanimously—to a framework for sanctions; then, the Commission and the HR/VP together draft more specific proposals, which are eventually agreed by the Council by Qualified Majority Voting.

Figure 1: Division of competences and decision-making in EU external relations

Source: HM Government, Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union: Foreign Policy, July 2013, p. 19

6 Treaty of Maastricht 1992, Title V

7 From 1997 until 2009, the High Representative for CFSP was former NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana. The first holder of the upgraded HR/VP post, from 2009 to 2014, was Baroness Ashton of Upholland. She was succeeded by Federica Mogherini.

9 European External Action Service, “Missions and Operations”, accessed 1 March 2016

10 Sweden, Austria, Ireland and Finland

11 Michael Leigh, “EU Global Strategy”, Paper 20 in Expert Opinion series, European Union Institute for Security Studies, February 2016

© Parliamentary copyright 2015

Prepared xxprepareddatexx