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Britain and the EU: Common Foreign and Security Policy

Britain and the EU: Common Foreign and Security Policy

British official position on CFSP. Reference guideline. Source: FCO, London. June 2000.

The UK fully supports an effective EU foreign policy. On the vast majority of foreign policy issues, UK and EU interests coincide closely. When Member States of the EU are able to speak with one voice on international affairs, they carry more weight than any single Member States could alone. EU membership gives the UK access to the leverage of greater political weight, and greater resources. The UK is committed to playing an active role in the formulation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, and to ensuring that the EU develops the coherent and effective voice it should have in international affairs.

The EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) came into being with the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty on 1 November 1993. This established a three 'Pillar' structure:

  • Pillar I - the Community (based on three original Treaties: EEC, Euratom and ECSC)
  • Pillar II - CFSP
  • Pillar III - Justice and Home Affairs (JHA)

CFSP and Pillar III are intergovernmental 'pillars'. CFSP instruments (Common Strategies, Common Positions and Joint Actions) and Decisions reached under them, are binding in international law. They do not form part of European Community law.

Provisions governing CFSP are contained in Title V (Articles 11 to 28) of the Amsterdam Treaty. Member States act only where they all agree the proposed policy and where they believe that collective action will add value.

Common positions, joint actions and common strategies

The Common Foreign and Security Policy is given effect through non-binding instruments such as common statements, declarations and demarches, and through legally binding Common Positions, Joint Actions and Common Strategies.

Common Positions provide the framework in which the Union and its Member States act collectively and Joint Actions provide the means to do so.

Common Strategies were introduced by the Treaty of Amsterdam, which entered into force on 1 May 1999. The first Common Strategy, on Russia, was adopted by the European Council at Cologne, on 3 June 1999. The next Common Strategies, on Ukraine, the Western Balkans and the Mediterranean region (including the Middle East Process) are likely to be completed under the Finnish Presidency (July-December 1999).

Common Strategies are designed to focus on areas where EU Member States have important interests in common, and set out the objectives, duration and means to be made available to pursue the EU's policy towards those areas. Common Strategies will be decided by unanimity, but Common Positions or Joint Actions arising from them can be decided by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV).

European Defence

Existing Arrangements

Common Foreign and Security Policy with defence implications is decided by unanimity. To elaborate and implement decisions which have defence implications the EU currently turns to the Western European Union (WEU). The WEU gives the Union access to an operational military capacity. The WEU is responsible for the conduct of Petersburg tasks (i.e. humanitarian and rescue tasks, peace-keeping tasks, and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace-making).

UK Initiative on European Defence

The Prime Minister launched an initiative to update the EU's defence capacity towards the end of 1998, on the basis that, if the EU is to play a coherent and effective political role, this needs to be underpinned by an effective and credible European military capacity.

Discussion of the initiative is ongoing. The guiding principles, as set out in the Conclusions of the Cologne European Council on 3-4 June 1999 are that:

  • NATO should remain the key to collective security;
  • The EU should have at its disposal the appropriate capabilities and structures for effective decision-making in crisis management within the scope of the Petersburg tasks;
  • The EU should have the capacity for autonomous action backed up by credible military capabilities and appropriate decision-making bodies, to allow the Council to take decisions on the whole range of political, economic and military instruments at its disposal when responding to crisis situations.

Key Texts:

St Malo Declaration of 4 December 1998

Presidency Conclusions, Cologne European Council, 3-4 June 1999

Entry into force of the Treaty of Amsterdam

The Treaty of Amsterdam, agreed at the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on 17 June 1997, entered into force on 1 May 1999. The key changes to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) machinery are:

  • The appointment of a High Representative to assist with the formulation, preparation and presentation of CFSP policy decisions. Javier Solana, the current Secretary General of NATO, will take up this position in the next few months. The UK actively supported Solana's candidature for the post: he will bring the necessary experience and profile to the job;
  • The establishment of a Policy Planning and Early Warning Unit in the Council Secretariat, under the High Representative, to sharpen the preparation and focus of CFSP decision making. The Unit will be set up in consultation with the High Representative;

The introduction of Common Strategies (see above).

Key Text:

Treaty of Amsterdam

Parliamentary Scrutiny

In line with the recommendations in the 1998 White Paper on the Scrutiny of European Union Business (PDF file, 29K), procedures were introduced in 1998 to ensure that all proposals for Common Foreign and Security Policy Common Strategies, Common Positions, Joint Actions and other politically important documents are submitted for Parliamentary Scrutiny.

Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Associate Countries

The Associate countries of the EU can align themselves with CFSP declarations, demarches and Common Positions, including in international fora such as the UN.


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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).