Foreign Relations of the European Union: Issues, Policies & Committees

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will study the European Union's foreign relations. We will explore the EU's most pressing foreign issues, the policies it sets to address them, and the people in charge of the EU's interactions with the rest of the world.

The Foreign Scene

The world sometimes seems like a scary place, doesn't it? Threats lurk on all sides. Disasters erupt suddenly. Conflicts explode, sometimes with little or no warning. Danger and chaos appear almost normal. Peace seems far away.

The European Union faces the constant challenge of dealing effectively with this frightening foreign scene. It begins by examining its position in the world and identifying the issues it must address. In a document entitled A Secure Europe in a Better World, the EU identifies five major foreign policy challenges:

  1. Terrorism
  2. Organized crime
  3. Regional conflicts
  4. State failures
  5. Weapons of mass destruction

The document also recognizes the EU's pressing need to cooperate peacefully and effectively with nations in its immediate neighborhood and to offer humanitarian aid, peacekeeping services, and crisis management to nations in need. The EU, the document concludes, must take an active role in the international community if it is to promote a safer, more harmonious world.

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  • 0:01 The Foreign Scene
  • 1:14 Foreign & Security Policy
  • 3:31 Neighbourhood Policy
  • 4:18 People in Charge
  • 5:36 Lesson Summary
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The Common Foreign and Security Policy

In order to vigorously engage the challenges and needs of the foreign scene and to reach out to a sometimes scary, confusing, and complex world, the European Union has created the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). Carried out under the auspices of the European Union's External Action department, the CFSP has four primary goals:

  1. To bolster international stability, security, peace, and cooperation
  2. To encourage democracy and advocate human rights
  3. To stimulate prosperity
  4. To support good government and enforce the rule of law

To meet these goals, the CFSP uses four tools. First, the EU employs sanctions and restrictive measures. Sanctions are economic constraints employed in response to human rights or international law violations. Restrictive measures include embargoes, financial controls, travel bans, and other regulations designed to prevent illegal activities by governments, organizations, or individuals.

Second, the EU works hard at conflict prevention, mediation, and peacebuilding. The EU tries to identify potential conflicts before they get started and then attempts to address their causes and participants through dialogue and diplomacy led by trained mediators. It also supports peacebuilding and security organizations, both financially and through direct participation.

Third, the EU seeks to control violence by controlling weapons. It helps countries to eliminate the dangers of landmines and to restrict trafficking in small arms, explosives, and illegal weapons.

Fourth and finally, the EU takes an active part in crisis management throughout the world. The Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) is the European Union's international crisis management tool. It employs civilian resources, like police forces, security teams, and experts in law and civil administration, but it also deploys the military as necessary. Under the CSDP, civilians and the armed forces work together to prevent conflicts, support fragile states, staff peacekeeping operations, assist in humanitarian efforts, and strengthen international security.

The European Neighbourhood Policy

Sometimes the EU must cope with challenges a bit closer to home. To better cooperate with its neighbors, the EU has developed the European Neighbourhood Policy. The policy invites and encourages nations in close proximity to the EU to work toward political and economic partnerships, bolster democracy, and respect international law and human rights. The EU provides partner nations with financial assistance; market access; lightened travel restrictions; and civil, policy, and technical support.

So far, 12 nations, including the Ukraine, Morocco, Armenia, Israel, and Egypt, have accepted the European Neighbourhood Policy and embarked on the process of creating action plans that will set priorities and guide economic and political reforms over a three- to five-year cycle.

The People in Charge

To successfully carry out its foreign policy goals and programs, the EU relies on a highly trained foreign policy staff. At the top stands the High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy. The holder of this important position coordinates the EU's foreign policy by practicing diplomacy, monitoring the use of foreign policy tools, meeting with EU leaders and the foreign ministers of EU member nations, and representing the EU internationally.

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