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Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)

Informally established by the Member States in 1970, the European Political Cooperation (EPC) was institutionalised under the Single European Act of 1987. It essentially provided mechanisms for consultation among Member States on matters of general foreign policy.

Considering the geopolitical changes underway in Europe in the early 1990s (German reunification, the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the Warsaw Pact), and intensified nationalistic tensions in the Balkans that would later lead to the dismembering of Yugoslavia, the Union’s Member States decided to establish a “common foreign policy” based on the provisions of the Maastricht Treaty (1993), subsequently amended at Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon. The European Union is currently able to implement its own Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), regulated by Title V of the Treaty on European Union.

Within the CFSP, the EU works to ensure a high level of cooperation in all areas of international relations in order to:

  • defend its values, fundamental interests, security, independence and integrity;
  • strengthen and support democracy, the rule of law, human rights and the principles of international law;
  • maintain peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security, in accordance with the objectives and principles of the UN Charter, as well as the Helsinki Final Act and the goals of the Paris Charter, including those concerning external borders;
  • foster sustainable development in developing countries at economic, social and environmental levels, with the main goal of eradicating poverty;
  • encourage the integration of all countries into the world economy through the phasing out of international trade restrictions;
  • contribute to the drafting of international measures aimed at protecting the environment and sustainable management of the world’s natural resources, with a view to ensuring sustainable development;
  • help populations, countries and regions affected by natural or man-made disasters; and
  • promote an international system based on strengthened multilateral cooperation and good world governance.


The Council identifies the UE strategic interests and objectives on the basis of the principles outlined above. The Council develops the Common Foreign and Security Policy and takes decisions necessary to outline and implement it on the basis of the general guidelines and strategic policy lines defined by the European Council. In particular, the Council may initiate EU crisis management actions, both at civilian and military levels, to achieve EU peace and security objectives. It may also adopt measures to implement EU foreign and security policy, including possible sanctions.

The High Representative, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Council, and is at the same time Vice President of the Commission, contributes to drafting foreign and security policy and ensuring implementation of the decisions adopted by the European Council and by the Council itself. The High Representative’s tasks are underpinned by a European External Action Service, which works in collaboration with Member State diplomatic services.


The European Security Strategy

The European Security Strategy (“A Secure Europe in a Better World”), adopted in December 2003, is based on a series of basic assumptions and goes on to identify a series of threats with which Europe is called upon to confront. Working on the assumption that no country is capable on its own of dealing with the current complex problems and that the EU is inevitably a global player, various threats to European security have been identified such as terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts, failed States and organized crime.  On the basis of this scenario, and with a view to the defending its security and promoting its values, the Union has identified three strategic goals:


  • to face threats: the end of the Cold War and the new context of globalization have led to an evolution in the traditional concept of self-defence, which is no longer based on the danger of invasion, but on less visible and often distant threats. This means that the first line of defence often lies abroad. Conflict and threat prevention are taking priority. Since none of the threats is any longer solely military and cannot be confronted with military means alone, there needs to be a combination of military, civilian and political instruments;
  • to build security in nearby areas such as the Balkans, the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Caucasus, in particular;
  • an international order based on effective multilateralism within the fundamental framework of the UN Charter and in respect of institutions such as the WTO, NATO and OSCE.


Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)

The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), formerly the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) and referred to as CSDP in the Treaty of Lisbon, is an integral part of the CFSP. It is an instrument of the Union’s foreign policy, and is aimed at maintaining peace, preventing conflict and strengthening international security.

In keeping with the Treaty on European Union in force, it covers all areas of foreign policy and all matters relating to the EU security and includes the gradual establishment of a common defence policy.

The needs for improved responsiveness and greater consistency in the EU’s external action, with a specific focus also on cost-effectiveness, make it necessary to implement the so-called “comprehensive and integrated approach” in crisis management, centred on closer interaction between civil and military components.

In just a few years ESDP has evolved significantly. From its first civilian and military missions launched in 2003 up to the present day, the EU has proved to be a protagonist on the international scene. The Union has gradually added a capacity for unified action and intervention in crisis management to the possibility of speaking with a single voice on foreign policy.

Compared to the current Treaties, the innovations that the Lisbon Treaty has introduced in relation to defence policy are significant.

In particular, the number of missions in which the Union can use both military and civilian means has been expanded, and the Council has unanimously been given the possibility of entrusting them to a group of Member States (Article 44 TEU).

The ban on creating strengthened cooperation has been eliminated and the possibility is being considered for Member States wishing to do so to undertake more binding commitments in this regard, known as “permanent structured cooperation”, after a qualified majority decision by the Council. Unlike the general provisions for strengthened cooperation, the Treaty of Lisbon does not envisage a minimum number of countries participating in permanent structured cooperation.


The Strategic Compass to strengthen EU security and defence

In March 2022, the EU equipped itself with an ambitious action plan to strengthen the EU security and defence policy by 2030: the so-called “Strategic Compass”.

The Strategic Compass offers for the first time a shared 27-country analysis of the strategic context in which the EU operates and the threats and challenges it has to face. It sets out specific commitments, with a very precise timetable for implementation, to improve the EU’s ability to take decisive action in crisis situations, to defend its security and its citizens. The Compass covers all aspects of security and defence policy and is structured around four pillars: action, investment, partners and security.


Legal reference
EU Treaty: Title V (Articles 21 to 46)