(2) EU Brief History

Does the EU Have a Foreign Policy? 

The EU has a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), in which member states adopt common policies, undertake joint actions, and pursue coordinated strategies in areas in which they can reach consensus. CFSP was established in 1993; the eruption of hostilities in the Balkans in the early 1990s and the EU’s limited tools for responding to the crisis convinced EU leaders that the Union had to improve its ability to act collectively in the foreign policy realm. Previous EU attempts to further such political integration had foundered for decades on member state concerns about protecting national sovereignty and different foreign policy prerogatives.

CFSP decision-making is dominated by the member states and requires the unanimous agreement of all 28. Member states must also ensure that national policies are in line with agreed EU strategies and positions (e.g., imposing sanctions on a country). However, CFSP does not preclude individual member states pursuing their own national foreign policies or conducting their own national diplomacy.

CFSP remains a work in progress. Although many view the EU as having made considerable strides in forging common policies on a range of international issues, from the Balkans to the Middle East peace process to Iran, others argue that the credibility of CFSP too often suffers from an inability to reach consensus. The launch of the U.S.-led war in Iraq in 2003, for example, was extremely divisive among EU members, and they were unable to agree on a common EU position. Others note that some differences in viewpoint are inevitable among 28 countries that still retain different approaches, cultures, histories, and relationships-and often different national interests-when it comes to foreign policy.

The EU’s Lisbon Treaty seeks to bolster CFSP by increasing the EU’s visibility on the world stage and making the EU a more coherent foreign policy actor. As noted above, the treaty established a High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy to serve essentially as the EU’s chief diplomat. This post combines into one position the former responsibilities of the Council of Ministers’ High Representative for CFSP and the Commissioner for External Relations, who previously managed the European Commission’s diplomatic activities and foreign aid programs. In doing so, the High Representative position aims to marry the EU’s collective political influence with the Commission’s economic weight and development tools. The Lisbon Treaty also created a new EU diplomatic corps (the European External Action Service) to support the High Representative. (8)


Does the EU Have a Defense Policy?


Since 1999, the EU has been working to develop a Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), formerly known as the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). (9) CSDP seeks to improve the EU’s ability to respond to crises, enhance European military capabilities, and give the EU’s common foreign policy a military backbone. The EU has created three defense decision-making bodies, has set targets for improving defense capabilities, and has developed a rapid reaction force and multinational “battle groups.” Such EU forces are not a standing “EU army,” but rather a catalogue of troops and assets at appropriate readiness levels that may be drawn from existing national forces for EU operations.

CSDP operations focus largely on tasks such as peacekeeping, crisis management, and humanitarian assistance. Many CSDP missions to date have been civilian, rather than military, in nature, with objectives such as police and judicial training (“rule of law”) or security sector reform. The EU is or has been engaged in CSDP missions in regions ranging from the Balkans and the Caucasus to Africa and the Middle East.

However, improving European military capabilities has been difficult, especially given flat or declining European defense budgets. Serious capability gaps continue to exist in strategic air- and sealift, command and control systems, intelligence, and other force multipliers. Also, a relatively low percentage of European forces are deployable for expeditionary operations. Some analysts have suggested pooling assets among several member states and the development of national niche capabilities as possible ways to help remedy European military shortfalls. In 2004, the EU established the European Defense Agency to help coordinate defense-industrial and procurement policy in an effort to stretch European defense funds farther.


What Is the Relationship of the EU to NATO?


Since its inception, the EU has asserted that CSDP is intended to allow the EU to make decisions and conduct military operations “where NATO as a whole is not engaged,” and that CSDP is not aimed at usurping NATO’s collective defense role. The United States has supported EU efforts to develop CSDP provided that it remains tied to NATO, does not rival or duplicate NATO structures or resources, and does not weaken the transatlantic alliance. Advocates of CSDP argue that building more robust EU military capabilities will also benefit NATO given that 22 countries belong to both NATO and the EU. (10) The Berlin Plus arrangement-which was finalized in 2003 and allows EU-led military missions access to NATO planning capabilities and common assets- was designed to help ensure close NATO-EU links and prevent a wasteful duplication of European defense resources. Since then, two Berlin Plus missions have been conducted in the Balkans, and NATO and the EU have sought to coordinate their activities on the ground in operations in Afghanistan and various hot spots in Africa.

Nevertheless, NATO-EU relations remain somewhat strained. Closer and more extensive NATO-EU cooperation at the political level on a range of issues-from discussions on countering terrorism or weapons proliferation to improving coordination of crisis management planning and defense policies-has been stymied largely by EU tensions with Turkey (in NATO but not the EU) and the ongoing dispute over the divided island of Cyprus (in the EU but not NATO).(11) Many analysts argue that until a political settlement is reached over Cyprus, enhanced NATO-EU cooperation is unlikely. Others suggest that additional reasons exist for frictions in the NATO-EU relationship, including bureaucratic rivalry and competition between the two organizations and varying views on both sides of the Atlantic regarding the future roles and missions of both NATO and the EU’s CSDP. Some U.S. officials still worry that a minority of EU member states would like to build an EU defense arm more independent from NATO in the longer term.


What Is Justice and Home Affairs (JHA)?


The JHA field seeks to foster common internal security measures while protecting the fundamental rights of EU citizens and promoting the free movement of persons within the EU zone. JHA encompasses police and judicial cooperation, migration and asylum policies, fighting terrorism and other cross-border crimes, and combating racism and xenophobia. JHA also includes border control policies and rules for the Schengen area of free movement.

For many years, EU efforts to harmonize policies in the JHA field were hampered by member states’ concerns that such measures could infringe on their legal systems and national sovereignty The 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the subsequent revelation of Al Qaeda cells in Europe, and the terrorist bombings in Madrid and London in 2004 and 2005, however, helped give new momentum to many initiatives in the JHA area. Among other measures, the EU has established a common definition of terrorism and an EU-wide arrest warrant. Recent terrorist attacks in France, Denmark, and Belgium over the past year and a half have also led the EU to devote significant attention to combating the so-called “foreign fighter phenomenon” and those inspired by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.(12)

The EU’s Lisbon Treaty gave the European Parliament “co-decision” power over the majority of JHA policy areas. The Treaty also made most decisions on JHA issues in the Council of Ministers subject to the qualified majority voting system, rather than unanimity, in a bid to speed EU decision-making. In practice, however, the EU strives for consensus as much as possible on sensitive JHA policies. Moreover, for some issues in the JHA area, the EU added an “emergency brake” that allows any member state to halt a measure it believes could threaten its national legal system and ultimately, to opt out of it. Despite these safeguards, the UK and Ireland negotiated the right to choose those JHA policies they want to take part in and to opt out of all others; Denmark extended its previous opt-out in some JHA areas to all JHA issues. The Lisbon Treaty technically renamed JHA as the “Area of Freedom, Security, and Justice.”


What Is the Schengen Area?


The Schengen area of free movement encompasses 22 EU member states plus four non-EU countries. (13) Within the Schengen area, internal border controls have been eliminated, and individuals may travel without passport checks among participating countries. In effect, Schengen participants share a common external border where immigration checks for individuals entering or leaving the Schengen area are carried out. The Schengen area is founded upon the Schengen Agreement of 1985 (Schengen is the town in Luxembourg where the agreement was signed, originally by five countries). In 1999, the Schengen Agreement was incorporated into EU law. The Schengen Borders Code comprises a detailed set of rules governing both external and internal border controls in the Schengen area, including common rules on visas, asylum requests, and border checks. Provisions also exist that allow participating countries to reintroduce internal border controls for a limited period of time in cases of a serious security threat or exceptional circumstances, such as a conference of world leaders or a major international sporting event.

Along with the abolition of internal borders, Schengen participants agreed to strengthen cooperation and coordination between their police and judicial authorities in order to safeguard internal security and fight organized crime. As part of these efforts, they established the Schengen Information System (SIS), a large-scale information database that enables police, border guards, and other law enforcement and judicial authorities to enter and consult alerts on certain categories of persons and objects. Such categories include persons wanted for arrest, missing persons (including children), criminal suspects, individuals who do not have the right to enter or stay in Schengen territory, stolen vehicles and property, lost or forged identity documents, and firearms.

Four EU countries (Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, and Romania) are not yet full Schengen members, but are bound to join once they meet the required security conditions. EU members Ireland and the UK have opt-outs from the Schengen free movement area but take part in some aspects of the Schengen Agreement related to police and judicial cooperation, including access to the SIS. (14)

Does the EU Have a Trade Policy and Process?


The EU has a common external trade policy, which means that trade policy is an exclusive competence of the EU and no member state can negotiate its own international trade agreement. The EU’s trade policy is one of its most well-developed and integrated policies. It evolved along with the common market-which provides for the free movement of goods within the EU-to prevent one member state from importing foreign goods at cheaper prices due to lower tariffs and then re-exporting the items to another member with higher tariffs. The scope of the common trade policy has been extended partially to include trade in services, the defense of intellectual property rights, and foreign direct investment. The European Commission and the Council of Ministers work together to set the common customs tariff, guide export policy, and decide on trade protection or retaliation measures where necessary. EU rules allow the Council to make trade decisions with qualified majority voting, but in practice the Council tends to employ consensus.

The European Commission negotiates trade agreements with outside countries and trading blocs on behalf of the Union as a whole. As a result of the Lisbon Treaty, both the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament must approve all such trade agreements before they can enter into force. The process for negotiating and concluding a new international trade agreement begins with discussions among all three EU institutions and a Commission impact assessment, including a public consultation on the content and options for any future trade accord. Provided there is a general agreement to proceed, the Commission initiates an informal scoping exercise with the potential partner country or trade bloc on the range and extent of topics to be considered in the negotiations. Following this dialogue, the Commission then formulates what are known as “negotiating directives” (sometimes termed the “negotiating mandate”), which sets out the Commission’s overall objectives for the future agreement. The “directives” are submitted to the Council for its approval, and shared with the European Parliament.

Provided the Council approves the “negotiating directives,” the Commission then launches formal negotiations for the new trade agreement on behalf of the EU. Within the Commission, the department that handles EU trade policy-the Directorate General for Trade (DG Trade)-leads the negotiations but draws on expertise from across the Commission. Typically, there are a series of negotiation rounds; the duration of the negotiations varies but can range from two to three years or longer. During the course of negotiations, the Commission is expected to keep both the Council and the Parliament appraised of its progress. The Parliament may conduct its own oversight hearings through its International Trade Committee (INTA). When negotiations reach the final stage, both parties to the agreement initial the proposed accord. It is then submitted to the Council and the Parliament for review. (15) If the Council approves the accord, it authorizes the Commission to formally sign the agreement.

Once the new trade accord is officially signed by both parties, the Council submits it to the Parliament for its consent. The Parliament reviews the signed agreement both in the INTA Committee and in plenary session. Although the Parliament is limited to voting “yes” or “no” to the new accord, it can ask the Commission to review or address any concerns. If parts of the trade agreement fall under member state competence, all EU countries must also ratify the agreement according to their national ratification procedures. (16) After Parliament gives its consent and following ratification in the member states (if required), the Council adopts the final decision to conclude the agreement. It may then be officially published and enter into force.(17)

How Do EU Countries and Citizens View the EU?


EU member states have long believed that the Union magnifies their political and economic clout (i.e., the sum is greater than the parts). Nevertheless, tensions have always existed within the EU between those members that seek an “ever closer union” through greater integration and those that prefer to keep the Union on a more intergovernmental footing in order to better guard their national sovereignty. As a result, some member states over the years have “opted out” of certain aspects of integration, including the Euro zone and the Schengen area. Another classic divide in the EU falls along big versus small state lines; small members are often cautious of initiatives that they fear could allow larger countries to dominate EU decision-making.

In addition, different histories and geography may influence member states’ policy preferences. The EU’s enlargement to the east has brought in many members with histories of Soviet control, which may color their views on issues ranging from EU reform to relations with Russia to migration; at times, such differences have caused frictions with older EU member states. Meanwhile, southern EU countries that border the Mediterranean may have greater political and economic interests in North Africa than EU members located farther north.

The prevailing view among European publics has likewise been historically favorable toward the EU. Despite the EU’s financial troubles and a drop in public support for the EU’s single currency in recent years, surveys indicate that the majority of EU citizens continue to consider EU membership as good for their countries overall.(18) EU citizens also value the freedom to easily travel, work, and live in other EU countries.

At the same time, there has always been a certain amount of “euro skepticism”-or anti-EU sentiments-among some segments of the European public. Traditionally, such euro skepticism has been driven by fears about the loss of national sovereignty or concerns about what some view as a “democratic deficit” in the EU-a feeling that ordinary citizens have no say over decisions taken in far-away Brussels. Recently, however, Europe’s economic stagnation and the Euro zone crisis, along with fears about immigration and globalization, have contributed to growing support for populist and euro skeptic parties throughout Europe. Such parties, however, are not monolithic. Most are on the far right of the political spectrum, but a few are on the left or far left.

Moreover, they hold a range of views on the future of the EU, with some advocating for EU reforms while others call for an end to the Euro zone or even the EU itself. Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and the United Kingdom are among those EU countries with increasingly successful populist, and to at least some extent, euro skeptic parties. Partly as a result of increasing pressure from hard-line euro skeptics to reconsider the UK’s relationship with the EU, UK Prime Minister David Cameron is seeking to renegotiate the UK’s membership conditions with the EU and to hold an “in-or-out” public referendum by the end of 2017 at the latest (and possibly as early as mid-2016). With current polls indicating an almost even split among voters on staying in or leaving the EU, a British exit from the EU (a so-called “Brexit”) could be a distinct possibility.(19)




(1) The 28 members of the EU are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

(2) The Lisbon Treaty amends, rather than replaces, existing EU treaties. The history of the Lisbon Treaty is replete with contentious negotiations among the member states and numerous ratification hurdles; it evolved from the proposed EU constitutional treaty, which was rejected in French and Dutch national referendums in 2005. Despite the failure of the EU constitutional treaty, experts say the Lisbon Treaty preserves over 90% of the substance of the original treaty. For more information, see CRS Report RS21618, The European Union’s Reform Process: The Lisbon Treaty, by Kristin Archick and Derek E. Mix.

(3) The Lisbon Treaty technically renames the “co-decision” procedure as the “ordinary legislative procedure.”

(4) The 19 members of the EU that use the euro are Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.

(5) For more information, see CRS Report R44155, The Greek Debt Crisis: Overview and Implications for the United States coordinated by Rebecca M. Nelson.

(6) The EU officially continues to recognize Iceland as a candidate for membership, but Iceland’s accession negotiations have been on hold since May 2013, when a new Icelandic coalition government largely opposed to EU membership took office. In March 2015, Iceland’s government requested that Iceland should no longer be regarded as a candidate country, although it did not formally withdraw Iceland’s application for EU membership.

(7) For background, see CRS Report RS21344, European Union Enlargement, by Kristin Archick and Vincent L. Morelli.

(8) For more information, see CRS Report R41959, The European Union: Foreign and Security Policy, by Derek E. Mix.

(9) ESDP was renamed CSDP by the Lisbon Treaty.

(10) Six countries belong to the EU, but not to NATO (Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta, and Sweden); six others currently belong to NATO but not the EU (Albania, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Turkey, and the United States).

(11) Turkey continues to formally object to Cypriot participation in NATO-EU meetings on the grounds that Cyprus is not a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace (PfP) and thus does not have a security relationship with the alliance. The absence of Cyprus from PfP also hinders NATO and the EU from sharing sensitive intelligence information. In the current political climate, Cyprus essentially cannot join PfP because it would require the consent of all NATO allies, including Turkey.

(12) For more information, see CRS Report RS22030, U.S.-EU Cooperation Against Terrorism, by Kristin Archick, and CRS Report R44003, European Fighters in Syria and Iraq: Assessments, Responses, and Issues for the United States, coordinated by Kristin Archick.

(13) The 22 EU members that belong to the Schengen area of free movement are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden. The four non-EU members of the Schengen area are Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland.

(14) For more information, see EUR-Lex, “The Schengen Area” available at http://ec.europa.eu/dgs/home-affairs/e-library/docs/schengen_brochure/schengen_brochure_dr3111126_en.pdf

(15) Some trade agreements submitted for Council and Parliament approval are accompanied by Commission legislative proposals needed to implement the new accord; these legislative proposals must also be adopted by both the Council and the Parliament.

(16) With the entrance into force of the Lisbon Treaty, most policy areas usually included in trade agreements are now considered areas of exclusive EU competence; thus, most experts judge that member state ratification may be unnecessary, or required only for small parts of new EU trade agreements. See Stephen Woolcock, “EU Trade and Investment Policymaking After the Lisbon Treaty,” Intereconomics, 2010.

(17) For more on the EU process for concluding new trade agreements, see European Commission, “Factsheet: Trade Negotiations Step By Step,” September 2013:http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/docs/2012/june/tradoc_149616.pdf

(18) See, for example, German Marshall Fund of the United States, Transatlantic Trends 2014; and Bruce Stokes, “Faith in European Project Reviving,” Pew Research Center, June 2, 2015.

(19) George Parker, “Polls Suggest Potential 50:50 Split on Britain Leaving the EU,” Financial Times, December 16, 2015.



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