External Relations

External Relations

European Union General Affairs and External Relations

The General Affairs and External Relations Council is the main decision-making body of the European Union. It represents the Member States and comprises a minister from each European Union (EU) Member State. The council meets in nine different compositions. The areas of action of the nine councils are listed in the menu on the left.

The council is made up of the ministers for foreign affairs of the Member States and a representative of the European Commission. The president of the council is the minister for foreign affairs of the country that holds the Presidency of the EU. For Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn holds this post. The council meets once a month.

The council is responsible for institutional aspects such as enlargement of the Union. It also plays a coordinating role and ensures that the work of the other formations in which the Council of Ministers meets is coherent. In this capacity, it prepares the European Council meetings. The council also takes care of the horizontal programmes of the Community, since they affect all matters dealt with by the Union.

In addition, the General Affairs and External Relations Council is responsible for the external relations of the EU. Its tasks mainly concern Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), trade between Member States and third countries, development cooperation and humanitarian aid. Moreover, the council is responsible for coordinating national policies in these fields.

Tasks of the President of the Council

The President of the General Affairs and External Relations Council represents the European Union and coordinates EU foreign policy. He cooperates closely with the High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy as well as with the European Commissioner in charge of external relations. Furthermore he ensures the continuity and coherence of EU foreign policy.

Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)

Since the Maastricht Treaty (1993), common foreign policy has become an objective of the EU. The CFSP forms the second pillar of the EU, which means that most decisions need to be taken unanimously. The Commission participates fully in the CFSP, without however enjoying the exclusive right of initiative. Indeed initiatives are taken by the President of the Council, the Member States or the High Representative. The President of the Council consults the European Parliament (EP) on key decisions facing the CFSP and informs the EP of developments in the sector.

Objectives of the CFSP

The Treaty of European Union specifies the principles and objectives of the CFSP, which aim to:

safeguard the common values, fundamental interests and independence and integrity of the Union in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter;
strengthen the security of the Union in every respect;
preserve peace and strengthen international security, in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter as well as the principles of the Helsinki Final Act and the objectives of the Paris Charter, including those relating to external borders;
promote international cooperation;
develop and consolidate democracy and the rule of law as well as respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Political instruments of the CFSP

The three most important strategic instruments of the CFSP are:

common strategies. At the recommendation of the (GAERC) council, the European Council decides on the common strategies in those sectors where Member States have important common interests;
joint actions. The council decides on joint actions. These concern situations where an operational action of the Union is deemed necessary.
common positions. The council decides on common positions. These outline the Union’s position on a particular geographical or thematic issue in relation to a third country. The Member States ensure the conformity of their national policies with the common positions.

High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy

The Treaty of Amsterdam introduced the office of High Representative for the CFSP. The treaty stipulates that the High Representative also holds the office of Secretary-General of the Council. The position is currently held by Javier Solana. The High Representative also helps formulate, prepare and implement policy decisions taken by the Council.

European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP)

The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) forms an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The ESDP is aimed primarily at carrying out humanitarian, peacekeeping and crisis management missions.

In June 1999, the Cologne European Summit sought to strengthen the ESDP and underlined the importance of the combat force’s tasks in crisis management. Moreover, the Union decided to develop and coordinate the civilian aspects of crisis management, based on the four priorities defined by the Feira European Council in June 2000: police, strengthening the rule of law, strengthening civil administration and civilian protection.

In 2000, the Nice European Council approved the setting up of the following new political and military bodies:

the Political and Security Committee;
the European Union Military Committee;
the Military “Staff” of the European Union;

Development cooperation

The main objective of the European development cooperation policy is lasting poverty reduction.

The European Union (Commission and Member States) spends EUR 30 billion per year on development cooperation, which is more than half the amount of aid granted globally. With a budget of EUR 7 billion per year, the Commission is the world’s largest donor. A large proportion of the aid granted by the Union (EUR 2.43 billion) is channelled through the European Development Fund (EDF).

The principles of the current development cooperation policy of the EU are laid down in the Maastricht Treaty. Article 177 sets out the general objectives and stipulates that the actions of the Community must be complementary to those of the Member States. Article 178 stipulates that actions undertaken in other sectors (agriculture, fisheries and trade) must take into account development objectives, while Article 180 includes the provisions on coordination between Community and Member States.

External trade relations

The European Union, which represents 20 per cent of the world’s total imports and exports, occupies a clear first place in world trade.

In the area of trade policy, the European Community enjoys almost exclusive power. This means that the Community, and not the individual Member States, is competent to negotiate and conclude multilateral trade agreements, including with third countries. However, this power still allows for exceptions: to conclude trade agreements in educational, cultural and audiovisual as well as health and social services, the Community shares power with the Member States.

The EU is a leading trade partner within the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The European Community is a member of the WTO, as are its Member States. At the moment, the Doha Development Round is being held within the framework of the WTO. Its , aim is to ease international restrictions on industrial goods, services and agricultural products, so as to give the world economy the boost it so desperately needs. In other respects, the Doha Round is seeking to strengthen the multilateral trade system and encourage the developing countries to participate more, especially the most underdeveloped ones.

External Relations Law Contents

External Relations Law analysis include the following topics:

Constitutional foundations, including:

  • The European Union legal order.
  • International legal personality.
  • Express competence.
  • Implied competence.

International law and European Community law, including:

  • Negotiation, conclusion and implementation of international agreements.
  • Mixed agreements.
  • Effects of international law in European Community legal order.
  • Relationship between World Trade Organisation and European Community law.

External economic relations, including:

  • Autonomous measures – Common Commercial policy.
  • International Agreements: European Economic Area, Partnership and Cooperation agreements, Stabilisation and Association agreements, Euro-Mediterranean agreements.
  • European neighbourhood policy.

External political relations, including:

  • Common Foreign and Security Policy, including Common Security and Defence Policy.
  • Relationship between European Union and Common Foreign and Security Policy (sanctions, exports of dual-use goods).

Further Reading

  • Panos Koutrakos, EU International Relations Law (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2006)
  • Nigel Foster, Blackstone’s EU Treaties and Legislation 2010-2011 21st ed (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

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