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close this bookThe Courier N 145 - May - June 1994- Dossier : European Union: the Way forward - Country Report: Ethiopia (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)
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View the documentEuropean Union: the way forward
View the documentEurope makes its way: from Rome to Maastricht
View the documentEconomic and Monetary Union - Major features of the Maastricht Treaty
View the documentThe European Monetary Institute - The tasks ahead
View the documentThe Courier surveys the scene with the help of Egon Klepsch, President of the European Parliament
View the documentThe challenge for 1996 - A people's Europe
View the documentTowards enlargement of the European Union
View the documentPHARE-TACIS: EU cooperation with its Eastern neighbours
View the documentWhat future for the CFSP?
View the documentThe European Union's development cooperation policy
View the documentThe challenges and ways forward into the 21st century
View the documentThe GATT exception for cultural products and the European creative imagination
View the documentImages of Europe

What future for the CFSP?

by Philippe Willaert

There have been many bids to bring diplomacy and defence into the construction of Europe and these attempts, some timid, some bold, light the way from an essentially economic undertaking to. wards a political Union in which the common foreign and security policy will loom large.

There was already a hint of a political vocation in the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty, whose very subject matter made it tantamount to a European security treaty at the time. The collapse of the European Defence Community in 1953 took the designs for a political Community with it and, in 196162, the Fouchet plan failed too. Some people had felt that the Defence Community went too far, others that the Fouchet plan did not go far enough and the net result was that no-one went anywhere.

The idea was floated again when European political cooperation saw the light of day in 1970 (following the first Davignon report). This was gradually developed and was set down officially in the Single European Act in 1987. Major political upheavals in Europe of course ended with a new political thrust forward being announced loud and clear at the Dublin summit in June 1990, but it would be wrong to underestimate the vital part played by the unofficial cooperation which has grown up alongside European Community action proper over the past 20 years - although that cooperation has gradually revealed its limitations.

External policy cooperation was chosen as the basis for the political integration of the European Communities. The idea was to phase in the political cooperation machinery, first, by creating a community of information with a series of organic links and agreed practices and second, by building a community of views, aimed at consensus, on the basis of that information. The third step, to be taken when the partners felt that the time was right, was to turn that community of views into common measures and common declarations - i.e. common action.

However, the rules were such that external policy cooperation was designed to react rather than to anticipate. Its limited field of action and its separation from the European Communities per se prevented it from having a major impact on international crises. A qualitative leap forward was needed after the Berlin Wall came down to provide the right institutional framework for the new political ambitions of the Community and its Member States. For two decades, this cooperation contrived to be a modest driving force in external relations - particularly as compared to the trade policy and the associations and cooperation which the EC was able to develop under the Treaty of Rome - until the Treaty of Maastricht replaced it and set up the common foreign and security policy (CFSP). The decline in the individual capacities of even the biggest States, the practical need for joint consultation and the realisation that economic and monetary integration could not be increased for ever without a firmer move towards political union all helped arouse the awareness that the gap had to be narrowed, if not completely closed.

The snowball effect of the single market and the establishment of Economic and Monetary Union, combined with a few years of high-speed, far-reaching transformation of the continent of Europe and its effect on international relations, made it vital and urgent to have a proper CFSP to boost the Community's potential for external action.

The Treaty on European Union, which was signed in Maastricht in February 1992 and took effect on 1 November 1993, turned the Community into a political entity and set up a European Union. The basis is the European Communities ('the European Economic Community' became the 'European Community'), supplemented by the policies and cooperation making up the CFSP and cooperation in home affairs and justice - the three 'pillars' of the European Union. Alongside this vertical 'pillar' structure, the Treaty also has common provisions, focusing on consistency and a single institutional framework (the European Council and the Community institutions - Parliament, the Council and the Commission), and the whole enterprise is geared to maintaining Community achievements - the acquis communautaire.

The European Union is an increasingly political entity and the substance of the European Communities which form the hard core will not make it any easier to present that entity to partners in third countries. The CFSP is the expression of a shared aspiration. It is not yet rid of all the weaknesses of European political cooperation, but Maastricht is a step forward, as Article 1 of the Treaty itself makes clear.

Clearly, it takes more than a dash of the pen to justify a common policy, but the Treaty on European Union lays down rules which should encourage its gradual development. As the text indeed says, the Treaty undeniably constitutes progress along the path to political Union.

The main thrust of the CFSP

The European Council in Brussels on 29 October 1993 pointed the way by stressing the main lines in a first report on the implementation of the CFSP adopted when the Treaty on European Union came into force. They are as follows.

Foreign policy must be active rather than reactive

With greater potential for analysis, the aims of the Union in essential fields can be planned and systematically appraised and the means made available to achieve them. Reaction must be kept fast and consistent by ensuring a consensus beforehand. Prevention is better than cure, it is said, and it would be wise to go for preventive diplomacy rather than crisis management.

The Union must ensure unity and consistency in its external action

It will take a global approach to all the Union's external action - i.e. to all the policies of the Community and those based on Titles V and VI of the Treaty on European Union - to ensure unity and consistency.

In pursuing its external aims, the Union will often be led to combine diplomatic action with commercial and development policy action and with cooperation in home affairs and justice. It will exploit its full foreign relations potential in a consistent approach embracing diplomacy, security (CFSP contribution), the economy, trade and development (Community contribution). This approach, which comes from Article C of the Treaty on European Union and has been confirmed by the European Council, makes CFSP action part of a general Union effort and is usually backed up by Community support measures.

So any Union action on a potential dispute could combine an economic cooperation agreement, political dialogue, good offices, a development cooperation scheme or financial support. CFSP action can also generate action by the Union as a whole. The opposite - a Community policy backed up by external Union support measures - is also possible.

Under the Treaty, the Union's external action has to be consistent and the Council and the Commission are responsible for making it so.

A single institutional framework (the CFSP bodies and decision-making)

The Union's single institutional framework is an innovation and a contrast with the previous approach and, despite the difficulties inherent in the pillar structure, represents a great stride forward in the decompartmentalisation of political cooperation and Community action.

The Community institutions perform their duties in all areas of Union activity, although procedures and competences vary from one area to another.

Decision-making especially is a unified process, in which the general affairs Council and the European Council have a central role to play.

The European Council agrees on the political guidelines in all fields of Union activity and special guidelines are needed for CFSP operations.

The Council of Foreign Ministers of the Union, which does the groundwork for the European Council, is the body which takes the decisions, particularly for the CFSP, and it plays a major part in CFSP action, since it decides on the principle, lays down the content and fixes any changes here. It also takes all decisions required to define and ensure the implementation of the common policy.

Its decisions are generally unanimous, but only a majority is required for matters of procedure. The Council may also decide that some joint measures should be voted through by a qualified majority, but this possibility, which does not extend to defence issues, has not been used so far.

The Presidency of the Council has its own responsibilities, i.e. representing and handling the everyday running of the CFSP with the help of the Secretariat General of the Council and in association with the Commission.

The groundwork is done by the Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) and the Political Committee. COREPER, which is familiar with all the dossiers, prepares the Council's discussions and carries out its mandates. The Political Committee, comprising the political heads of the Member States and the Commission, monitors the international situation and helps define the CFSP, in particular by issuing opinions for the Council.

Alongside these two committees, which are very close to the Ministers, work in specialised fields is prepared by groups of experts (from the Member States and the Commission) handling particular subjects or geographical areas. Some political cooperation groups are gradually being merged with corresponding Council groups, while others maintain their independence, but they will all now become Council groups and be available to COREPER and the Political Committee, according to their particular skills.

The Secretariat-General of the Council assists the Council with all duties incumbent upon it under the Treaty - this includes the CFSP. It gives particular help to the President of the Council and the preparatory bodies. A declaration attached to the Final Act of the intergovernmental conference at Maastricht said that the Secretariat and the Commission should collaborate under the CFSP.

With its full involvement in all CFSP activity, the Commission must help design and implement that policy, from the political evaluation through to the diplomatic stages. So it is fully associated with the work of the Presidency, which represents the Union for the CFSP and implements common action.

One important innovation in the Maastricht Treaty is that the Commission has a right of initiative in foreign and security policy, so it is a full partner with the Member States and can make proposals on all the Union's external relations in accordance with its CFSP and Community responsibilities.

It ensures that the Union is consistent in its external action, i.e. in all its external relations, security, economic affairs and development policies. In development, it is specifically responsible for promoting coordination between Community and national policies. Consistency in the policy towards the developing countries, for example, comes into play at various levels - between the development policy instruments, between the development policy of the Union and the Member States, between the Union's development policy and its other external policies and with the Union's internal policies. Lastly, of course, Union action has to be internationally consistent.

The Commission is the guardian of the Treaties and must, as such, ensure that Community responsibilities and procedures are adhered to and make for greater efficiency by seeking opportunities for synergy between Union policies and national policies.

Lastly, delegations in third countries and international organisations have a major responsibility vis-a-vis the CFSP in that they cooperate with the Member States' missions to ensure that the policy is properly respected and implemented.

The European Parliament exercises a monitoring function. The Presidency and the Commission have to supply it with regular information on developments in the CFSP and the Presidency now also has to consult Parliament on the main aspects and basic choices of the CFSP, in particular when common action is being decided on. Dialogue between Parliament and the Council-Commission will have to be stepped up here.

The pre-Maastricht arrangements included ways of informing Parliament about European political cooperation, but the Presidency and the Commission now have new commitments on top of that and they have more contact with Parliament, in particular during plenary sittings and in the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which the member of the Commission responsible for external political relations attends regularly.

The CFSP covers all areas of foreign and security policy. There are five basic objectives and two ways of achieving them.

These objectives, which reflect the reasonable policy aims of a State committed to the rule of law, are to:

- safeguard shared values and common interests and the Union's independence;

- improve all forms of common and national security (i.e. global security in all its aspects);

- keep the peace and improve international security, in accordance with international law (UN and CSCE);

- promote international cooperation (also a Community objective);

- strengthen democracy and human rights (also a Community objective).

The five objectives of the Union (Article B) and those of the Community should be added to these to ensure unity and consistency in external action. One of the aims of the Union is to maintain and develop the Community's achievements and another is to assert its identity, through the CFSP, on the international scene.

The two ways of achieving the objectives (i.e. the instruments of the CFSP) are through:

- systematic political cooperation (mutual information, consultation, and convergence of national action) on all foreign and security policy matters of general interest and a common position whenever the Council feels this is required. The only restriction on this vast field of CFSP application is that cooperation does not include areas of specific interest to each Member State. The CFSP does not cover the Member States' foreign policies (there is no single foreign policy in the Union), but the national foreign policies have to be in line with the common policy);

- joint action in areas in which the Member States share major interests. The finding that such interests exist constitutes justification for joint action - that is the only criterion. Not all action under the CFSP entails taking joint action.

The Council may confine its involvement in this systematic cooperation to the coordination of national foreign and security policy activities, in which case it must attempt to ensure their convergence.

This is enough in most cases. The European Council has agreed on five joint operations so far - support for parliamentary elections in Russia, backing for the peace process in the Middle East, the Stability Pact plan in Central Europe, the delivery of aid in Bosnia and support for the democratic transition in South Africa.

In principle, common action has to be substantial and of considerable political importance (often with Community support schemes) and may involve devising a long-term political strategy. The importance of such action is confirmed by the fact that it is the European Council which lays down the guidelines for it. The Treaty on European Union also allows for one-off, short-term joint action (a sign of the flexibility of the Treaty) to help at election time. But the joint action being taken in South Africa and with the Stability Pact is intended to develop further.

The Treaty makes for tighter discipline between the Member States

Union decisions bind the Member States

This means Union decisions in the form of common positions - i.e. national policies must be in line with common positions. The constraint is even stronger with joint action, which binds the Member States when they take up positions and embark on action of their own.

The Member States are committed to providing information and ensuring systematic consultation in areas of general interest, to mobilising the resources required for joint action and to cooperating in international organisations. Direct involvement by the European Council, which lays down the general guidelines for joint action, increases the weight of these decisions and commits the highest political authorities in the Union. The Council has said that decisions which formally commit the Member States have to be worded very precisely, which is why joint action decisions are set out officially (i.e. the Council decides and lays down the main components of the joint action, which can then be published in the Official Journal).

General duty to support and abstain

The Member States undertake to provide active and unreserved support for Union policy. The Community principles of loyal cooperation and mutual solidarity are included in the CFSP and they also apply in third countries and international bodies.

Cooperation in international bodies

The Member States have to coordinate their action in international organisations and conferences. This commitment to cooperation applies across the board, for the Treaty on European Union demands a systematic drive to make the various national actions-converge.

The Commission is fully associated with this work and also has to take part in the international coordination.

In the case of international organisations or conferences in which not all Member States are involved, those which are involved must defend the common positions. They must also inform the other Member States about any question of common interest beforehand (systematic cooperation). They are bound by any decision to take joint action.

Member States which are permanent members of the UN Security Council have special obligations. The Treaty recognises their special quality, but they have to defend the interests of the Union and undertake to defend its policies in that Council.

The Union has to ensure unity in the presentation and conduct of its external action

The Union must speak with one voice on the international stage, a basic principle, laid down by the European Council, which goes far beyond mere representation. The first concern here is the substance of the policy - which is why tighter discipline is called for among the Member States. The political will to put the principle into practice will emerge when Member States come up with similar analyses of the interest and the extent of external challenges.

The principle is also good grounds for systematising the already well established diplomatic coordination practice of 12 + 1 in international circles.

The 'S' in CFSP - the common security policy

When it comes to application of the CFSP, a major innovation is that the Treaty disposes of the taboos about security. Defence had not been mentioned since the unsuccessful bid for a European Defence Community in 1954.

The concept of security is global. It is not confined to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, for the environment, development, drugs and energy are related to security too. The military aspects of security have been far less important since the cold war ended.

The CFSP covers all aspects of security, including military aspects, whereas the Single Act limited European political cooperation to the political and economic aspects of security.

Defence, which is part of the CFSP and of the political purpose of the Union, is approached in three ways.

First, the CFSP has a military instrument, the Western European Union (WEU), which is an integral part of the development of the European Union and the European pillar of NATO. The Treaty gives the CFSP the scope of the WEU (which is to be enhanced). So close collaboration between the Union and the WEU is of fundamental importance to the development of a CFSP. The Union can ask the WEU to devise and implement defence-related decisions, i.e. usually in situations involving military personnel and possibly other means, such as logistical support for humanitarian relief, military observers to support Union policy, peace keeping or the monitoring of sanctions. The WEU, a separate, relatively independent organisation, has its own decisionmaking procedures, but will draw up and implement Union decisions. It will formulate a common European defence policy as part of a much wider security policy which remains the prerogative of the Union. It will develop its operational role and bring joint positions into matters of common interest in the course of the NATO consultation process.

This WEU activity must fit in with the policy of the Union. Information and consultation will ensure that action is consistent.

The links between the EU and the WEU, and the latter's operational potential, are being shaped gradually. There are plans to ensure practical cooperation between the Presidencies and Secretariats General of the two organisations and to involve the Commission and synchronise the meetings.

Second, a common defence policy has to be defined gradually. At this stage, the CFSP work is to identify common security interests.

Last, the possibility of a common defence system has yet to be negotiated. A potential common defence system is one of the basic aims of the Union (Article B). The next occasion on which the Treaty's sights can be adjusted to its aim (of an ever-closer Union) is in 1996, when defence provisions will be on the table. The Twelve have not made a commitment to mutual security as it appears in the WEU and NATO Treaties.

The policy is extended into international organisations too, particularly the UN, the CSCE and the Council of Europe. Security cooperation has been set up with NATO, whose own tasks have been redefined, and the Treaty on European Union establishes the principle of compatibility of the CFSP and NATO's security policy.

The next stage

What we have to do now is apply the Treaty of European Union and fill any gaps where this is possible without revision. The first six months after ratification of the Treaty were a period of running in. Maastricht's targets are very ambitious ones and, despite all the work, the achievements are still small; the Treaty itself only fulfils half the hopes invested in the 1991-92 negotiations which were supposed to move the Union closer to political unity.

It is too early to see how far the CFSP will be realised. The Treaty has an as yet unexploited potential - and already noticeable shortcomings. The emphasis between now and the next intergovernmental conference in 1996 must be on gradually defining the European Union's foreign and security policy, designing ways of implementing it and deciding how the present instruments can be practically improved to make them more effective.


The new aspects of the Treaty - the single institutional framework of the European Union, extension of the CFSP's field of action to cover all security matters and the notion of joint action included in the global action of the Union - do not meet the ambitious targets currently set for the CFSP. Forward momentum, the resources for completing the task and the policy's power of integration will all depend on the European Community pillar of the Union.

The CFSP can be a means of boosting the drive for political integration once economic integration is complete.

It will of course take time to build a CFSP. What we have done so far, above all, is develop a consistent approach and clarify new ideas.

The fate of the CFSP depends to a very great extent on how far the Member States can define their common interests and act in the light of them. The Commission helps promote the policy, but it is still handicapped by three major shortcomings - a poor level of common analysis, unreliable political will and limited means of action. And the old intergovernmental method makes for a loss of collective efficiency.

A lot should be done to deal with these shortcomings in 1994. If there is to be a CFSP, then we need respect for universally accepted discipline and a system of systematic political and strategic analysis of the common interests of the Union, which will ensure that the Member States, the Commission, the Secretariat-General of the Council and the WEU are all thinking along the same lines.

The Union's decision-making process has to be geared to the results of this analysis and European decision-makers have to be given the benefit of all the expertise available on given areas of foreign and security policy.

In conclusion, ambiguities abound and the approach has serious limitations in these sensitive areas, but the Maastricht system features a will to create a real European political identity on the international scene and it is evident in a mixed structure, the CFSP, which reflects the Community spirit and cooperation between States.

The Treaty is only a first step. It has set political dynamics in motion. And the Treaty itself can change because it include a clause on a special CFSP review in 1996.

These dual - political and legal - dynamics are not without their uncertainties. An imperfect machine cannot be a substitute for political will. Can the Union come up with a consistent response to the many pressing expectations it arouses and the increasing tension it create, and can it do so in time? That is the question.

Let us hope that the Member States will create an ever-closer Union between the peoples of Europe, step up their practical solidarity and broaden their shared experience, so that the CFSP can come into being and enable a united Europe to promote its values and help ensure peace and security in the world. P.W.