The Common Foreign and Security Policy

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The member states of the European Union (EU) coordinate, define, and implement foreign policy in the context of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). This policy area, often referred to as EU foreign policy, has a broad scope covering all areas of foreign policy and all questions relating to security and defense. The CFSP is supported by a unique institutional framework, in which member states diplomats and officials from the EU institutions jointly make policy. It is led by the High Representative, who is the “face and voice” of EU foreign policy, and supported by the substantial European External Action Service and 140 EU delegations in other countries and international organizations. Because foreign policy is normally the business of sovereign states, the exceptional nature of the CFSP has long been a subject of inquiry. The CFSP has particularly puzzled advocates of the traditional theories of European integration and international relations, who have failed to appreciate what the EU does in the field of high politics. Given the absence of formal diplomatic recognition and a strong reliance on the resources of the member states, the EU is still not a full-fledged actor, yet it has a strong international presence nonetheless. Its presence and the gradual increase in “actorness” have also raised questions about whether the EU presents a different type of actor, a civilian or normative power, which derives its influence from non-traditional sources of power.

Under the assumption that the EU has some actorness, the Europeanization of foreign policy has become an area of interest. Member states can act through the EU structure to achieve more impact internationally, can adjust national foreign policy on the basis of EU positions, and are socialized into greater European coordination. The relationship between national and EU foreign policy is thus a significant topic of debate. Finally, governance perspectives increasingly provide insight into the organization of the CFSP. How the member states and the EU institutions collectively coordinate, define, and implement EU foreign policy is not only an important question in itself but also matters for policy outcomes.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages20
JournalOxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017

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