The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)


The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)

Belgium has always is advocated a Europe that is geared towards looking after its economic and commercial interests, achieving greater stability and living up to its own democratic values. Belgium believes that Europe’s foreign and security policy must foster internal cohesion within the Union and also enable the EU to exert a positive influence in the international arena. This commitment may be expressed in various ways, for example through economic development, humanitarian aid, political cooperation, cultural cooperation, and efforts to bolster human rights and shore up democracy. However, it must also find some expression in the domain of security, through concrete measures to prevent conflicts, swift responses to natural disasters, crisis management and peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts.

The CFSP – a brief overview

The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), first introduced by the Maastricht Treaty, followed on from European Political Cooperation (EPC), which was launched by the Member States of the European Economic Community (EEC) in the 1970s.

The Amsterdam and Nice Treaties strengthened CFSP, which was then further complemented by a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), deemed necessary to boost the European Union’s credibility as a security policy actor and full security partner on the international stage.

The remarkable development of the CFSP and ESDP since 2000 is borne out by the proliferation of initiatives and actions during several crises and conflicts, the adoption of policies that are becoming increasingly operational, the advent an autonomous sanctions policy, the development of joint approaches and action plans vis-à-vis third countries, the consolidation of cooperation in international organisations like the United Nations, the development of joint strategies to combat terrorism, the spread of small arms and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the endorsement of detailed guidelines on issues to do with the promotion and defence of human rights.

The European Security Strategy, which defines the main political and security priorities of the EU and its Member States, is pivotal in this development process. The ARTEMIS operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and the PROXIMA operation in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), run under the ESDP, fostered and were testing grounds for the development of crisis management tools and capacities. Since then, military operations and European civil and police missions have taken place in Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe.

The aim of the European Constitution was to increase the efficiency of EU institutions whilst at the same time making them function even more democratically. Following the deadlock in the ratification process resulting from the ‘no’ votes in France and the Netherlands, an Intergovernmental Conference was mandated to modify and amend the existing treaties.

In October 2007, the 27 EU Member States reached an agreement and signed the Treaty of Lisbon which retained the majority of provisions contained in the Constitution, including those connected with the CFSP and ESDP, especially the President of the European Council, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the European External Action Service (EEAS), stronger CFSP and ESDP institutions (though the ESDP acronym has now been supplanted by CSDP, which stands for Common Security and Defence Policy) and closer cooperation on defence matters.

The Treaty of Lisbon entered into force on 1 December 2009. It provides the EU with modern institutions and optimal working methods for efficiently and effectively tackling the challenges in today's world, and it also gives Europe a clear voice in relations with its partners worldwide, harnessing the EU’s economic, political, diplomatic and humanitarian strengths to promote European interests and values worldwide, while also respecting the particular foreign policy interests of the Member States.

Foreign policy instruments are now bundled together, both in the development and adoption of new policies:

• The EU’s new High Representative for the Union in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is also Vice-President of the European Commission, gives the Union greater clout the impact in the international arena as well as enhancing its coherence and visibility. The incumbent of this post since 1 December 2009 has been Catherine Ashton.

• The new European External Action Service (EEAS) provides the High Representative with back up and support.

• The EU’s single legal personality for the Union strengthens its leverage in negotiations, making it more effective on the world stage and a more visible partner for third countries and international organisations.

• In his or her sphere and capacity as the Union’s external representative on CFSP-related matters, the President of the European Council serves as the Union’s external representative, without encroaching on the powers assigned to the High Representative for the Union in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

CFSP institutions and bodies

The High Representative for the Union in Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

The mission of the person appointed to this office is to boost the effectiveness and visibility of the Union’s CFSP and to create cohesion among the various types of initiative in EU foreign policy, as well as to ensure greater unity in activities outside Europe at international level. The High Representative is nominated by the European Council and that nomination is subsequently authorised by the European Parliament. The High Representative acts is a Vice-President of the European Commission and also presides over the Foreign Affairs Council and the Council of Ministers, represents the European Union abroad and runs a European diplomatic service, dubbed the European External Action Service (EEAS).

Political and Security Committee (PSC)

The central body for the CFSP and CSDP (former ESDP) is the Political and Security Committee (PSC), which keeps its finger on the pulse of current affairs, helps to define policies by issuing opinions for the attention of the European Council, monitors the implementation of policies agreed by the EU, and is at the same time responsible for exercising political control and determining strategic direction of crisis management operations within the CSDP framework.  

European Correspondents

European Correspondents serve as points of contact between the EU’s capital cities and act as facilitators in the quest for common positions on CFSP issues. They also liaise between their respective administration and the PSC, the European Commission’s DG RELEX and the working groups covering the same issues at EU level.   

Group of RELEX Advisors

The Group of RELEX Advisors prepares the legal, institutional and budgetary aspects of CFSP/CSDP decisions, common positions and joint actions.   

CFSP Working Groups

Set up to cover a geographical area or specific issue, these working groups bring together directors and/or experts from the respect seats of government or delegates from the Member States' permanent representations to the EU. They report on and draft opinions and proposals for the PSC regarding the CFSP issues they are dealing with.  

EU communication network (COREU)

This is an encrypted network that links the Member States’ ministries of foreign affairs, the Commission, and the General Secretariat of the EU Council. It is used to disseminate information on the CFSP, to draw up CFSP decisions and conclusions for the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) and to adopt EU declarations or approaches taken by the Union.

Joint Situation Centre (SITCEN)

The Joint Situation Centre (SITCEN) is a permanent monitoring, analysis and response instrument.  

CFSP instruments


The Council adopts decisions that determine the positions and action to be taken by the Union and how they will be implemented:

• Positions
Positions are defined by the Council and are binding on the Member States and must be defended by them under all circumstances, including vis-à-vis international organisations and at international conferences.

• Actions
Actions are adopted by the Council and enable material and Financial resources to be freed up for a joint action.

Declarations by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union

The EU uses this instrument to take up public positions and express its assessment of a given situation. The 27 Member States of the European Union must approve the content of such declarations.

Approaches to foreign governments

These approaches are intended to convince a foreign government to review its opinion or desist from a certain action. In this respect they underpin decisions taken by the European Union. Such approaches may be discrete, confidential or public and are implemented by the head of the respective EU delegation.

Political dialogue with third countries or regional organisations

The High Representative conducts a regular dialogue with around 50 countries and around 10 regional organisations. The EU prefers political dialogue with to help certain third countries as make the transition towards democracy and the rule of law. 
EU presence on the ground

The Treaty of Lisbon equipped the EU with its own diplomatic network, comprising over 100 EU delegations, which represent the Union in third countries and regional organisations.
In addition, the actions taken by Special Envoys and Representatives secure the EU’s presence on the ground and ensure that the Union is fully aware of what is happening there. 

Adopted in response to violations of international law, human rights or policies that are incompatible with the law or democratic principles, sanctions are applied in accordance with provisions set out in the EU Treaty or resolutions issued by the UN Security Council. These sanctions (which include embargos, trade restrictions, limited access to the European Union and the freezing of assets) can be used against third countries, non-state entities and individual subjects from third countries. 

Useful links:

Gateway to the European Union

Common Foreign and Security Policy

High Representative for CFSP

EU presence on the ground: Representatives and Envoys

CFSP declarations