Common Foreign and Security Policy

What is the Common Foreign and Security Policy?

The Maastricht Treaty of 1993 allows the EU to develop a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), covering all areas of foreign and security policy, with the following objectives:

To safeguard the common values, interests, independence and integrity of the EU, in conformity with the UN Charter.
To protect the security of the EU.
To preserve peace and international security, in accordance with international agreements.
To promote international co-operation.
To consolidate democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

The Maastricht Treaty (as amended by the Amsterdam Treaty) declares that these will be achieved by:

Defining general principles and guidelines for CFSP.
Deciding on common strategies.
Adopting joint actions.
Adopting common positions.
Strengthening systematic co-operation between member states in the conduct of policy.

Policy objectives and instruments (common strategies, joint actions and common positions) are decided primarily by the European Council – the body that brings together the heads of member state Governments – and the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAC), which brings together their foreign ministers.

A Common Foreign and Security Policy is then conducted on a primarily intergovernmental basis, mainly because of the politically sensitive nature of foreign and security policy.

The European Council is responsible for setting general principles and guidelines for the conduct of CFSP and decides common strategies.

Within this framework, the GAC is the principal decision-making body for CFSP, which implements the common strategies of the European Council through joint actions and common positions. All Common Foreign and Security Policy decisions are made solely on the basis of unanimity.


Foreign policy co-ordination within the EU first began to emerge in the 1970s, under the name European Political Co-operation (EPC) and outside the framework of the Treaties.

EPC was largely an informal process of co-operation, which no member state could be made to participate in, and although it was given a specific title in the Single European Act, it was not incorporated into the Treaties.

The idea of CFSP was introduced by the Maastricht Treaty and was considerably reinforced by the Amsterdam and Nice Treaties of 1999 and 2001. It was conceived as a second primarily intergovernmental 'pillar' of the EU, in contrast to the first pillar common policies, in which member states are subject to the governance of EU institutions.

Since its formation, the EU had developed strong international trade and aid links with other countries, but lacked a consistent and unified voice with which to speak on political matters.

The Cold War and its bipolar world generated little enthusiasm for an EU international identity distinct from the USA and 'the West' in parts of Europe dependent on NATO for security.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire in Eastern Europe ended the prospect of a major attack on Western Europe and also removed the long-term rationale for a major US military presence in Europe.

The reunification of Germany in 1990, and the concern to ensure a 'European Germany' emerged, rather than a 'German Europe', was another stimulating factor.

Perhaps more importantly, the outbreak of war in former Yugoslavia, and what was widely regarded as the EU's confused, divided and often impotent response to it, not only illustrated the weakness of the EU's political present, but also indicated that regional conflicts had replaced large-scale territorial war as the principal security threat.

EPC was criticised as excessively reactive and declaratory – lacking in proactivity and instruments with which to follow up announcements. CFSP was designed to tackle these weaknesses.

Since then, the EU has taken action under CFSP on areas including Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Nigeria, human rights and democracy, the Middle East Peace Process, Afghanistan and the Taliban, non-proliferation, and Burma. In December 2003, an EU Security Strategy was adopted under CFSP procedures.

A key step in the development of CFSP was the appointment of a High Representative for CFSP in 1999. Under the Treaty of Lisbon, which amends the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community, the two posts of High Representative for CFSP and the Commissioner for External Affairs are merged to create a High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy. The treaty was ratified by all 27 member states and came into force in December 2009.


CFSP is one of the most controversial areas of EU activity. This is partly because of the close association of foreign policy and defence with national sovereignty, the long histories of many member states as world powers in their own rights, and the wide range of bilateral relationships between member states and other parts of the world.

The EU's foreign policy is also hampered by its lack of many of the organs of a conventional state – most fundamentally, the lack of national territory, interests and culture to promote.

Although the replacement of EPC with CFSP attempted to address many of these problems, the retention of foreign policy as a 'non-Community' matter based on unanimous decisions makes it a still highly 'intergovernmental' area. This failure to agree common CFSP principles is in marked contrast to the EU's economic evolution, with the single European currency and market.

The EU has tried to reform voting procedures to facilitate common agreement, but member states have proved reluctant to relinquish this feature of their national sovereignty.

Indeed, the Commission and European Parliament have very limited roles in CFSP. The European Parliament has a right to be consulted on the main aspects and basic choices of CFSP, but the Council is not usually obliged to take account of its views.

The conflicting roles of the External Affairs Commissioner and the High Representative, based in the European Council, emphasises the tensions between the EU's supranational and intergovernmental elements. The Commission's influence is limited when a large member state occupies the EU Presidency.

The EU has progressed with its plans for a European Security and Defence Force in recent years, and in 2003 despatched police and military missions to the Balkans.

The war in Iraq in 2003 illustrated the difficulties the EU faces in developing a coherent CFSP. The sharp divisions at the UN Security Council were characterised, by US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, as a split between 'New' Europe (UK, Spain, Portugal) and 'Old' Europe (France, Germany), and again highlighted the fractious nature of European foreign policy.

The expansion of the EU to 27 member states, including many from the former Soviet Bloc, may reinforce the EU's international political potential, but is likely to make decision-making under CFSP even harder.


The current EU Financial Perspective (2007-13) allocates 1.74 billion euros from the EC budget to the CFSP Budget. This was agreed at the European Council on 15-16 December 2005. The UK contributes approximately 17% to the CFSP Budget; this equates to 295.8 million euros over the seven years.

Source: European Scrutiny Committee


"The basis for the EU's common foreign and security policy (CFSP) remains 'soft' power: the use of diplomacy – backed where necessary by trade, aid and peacekeepers – to resolve conflicts and bring about international understanding."