External relations

In brief

The Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on 1 December 2009, the appointment of a High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (who is also Vice-President of the European Commission) and the establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS) have profoundly reshaped the external relations of the European Union, endowing it with a real capacity for action. This action is notably driven by the principles underlying its own creation and which the EU strives to promote throughout the world: peace, democracy, the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.. The adoption of a Global Strategy in 2016 (updated in 2019) has enabled European priorities to be defined within an increasingly complex international context, to intervene more rapidly and effectively and to adopt a structured approach founded on an explicit link between the EU's internal and external policies. The Union has identified 5 priority areas for action: security, the resilience of the state and societies in its eastern and southern borders, an integrated approach to conflicts and crises, regional orders of cooperation and global governance in the 21st century.

Trade, humanitarian aid and development cooperation also play an important role in the EU's action at international level.

The EU has built partnerships with key global players, including emerging powers and regional organisations. It ensures that these relationships are based on mutual interests and benefits.

The EU does not have a standing army of its own. It relies on military forces provided by its member states on an ad hoc basis . It may send missions to conflict regions in the world for the purpose of monitoring and maintaining law and order, participating in peace-keeping or providing humanitarian aid to populations in distress. The European Defence Fund, initiated in 2017, complements and reinforces national defence investment to increase production and develop technologies and equipment that meet current and future security needs.

Objectives for Belgium

As one of the founding members of the European Union, Belgium considers that the EU is also a political project and that it can and must play an important role with regard to external relations. The European Union has a key role to play in the protection of its citizens and in the global promotion of its interests in the world.

Belgian foreign policy is firmly embedded in European policy. In response to increasingly complex global challenges, Belgium considers the European approach essential when it comes to defending our values, our interests and shaping our future. Consequently, the interplay between Belgian and European foreign policies operates continuously. For Belgium, the fundamental values embodied by the EU - such as human rights, democracy, good governance and the rule of law, among others - should remain the guiding principles for the EU’s external action. The EU has to promote these values in its foreign policy, defend them in its dialogues at bilateral and multilateral levels and include them as a key element in its legal and institutional ties with other countries, regions or sub-regions in the world.

Belgium considers that, geographically speaking, the European Union should primarily focus its attention on its neighbouring countries, both in the East and in the South. Developments in those regions have direct consequences on the European Union and its Member States and therefore require special consideration. Considering the global interdependence at the core of international relations in the 21st century, the attention of the European Union cannot be limited to this geographical area, and the Union must also be informed and active throughout the world

Belgium also attaches high importance to the commitment of the European Union to effective multilateralism, focused on the United Nations, an essential global forum for addressing global challenges, within the general framework of the UN 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (link is external). The EU global strategy includes strengthening multilateral processes where they already exist (e.g. trade, maritime security or marine resources) and extending emerging international regimes in areas such as disarmament, arms control or international criminal law. Furthermore, the EU intends to play a leading role in supporting the emerging multilateral governance, in particular in areas such as cyber security, healthcare, space or digital economy.

Current global developments show quite clearly how closely intertwined internal and external evolutions are. Belgium therefore urges the EU to adopt a comprehensive approach when it comes to its external action pursuing a coherent policy with mutually reinforcing internal and external poles. Major global challenges such as climate change, the fight against terrorism, securing energy supply in the long run, migration are only a few areas where the EU has to take coordinated and coherent action. As a founding member, Belgium behaves as a reliable partner and is actively involved in shaping the EU external action.

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