The origins of collective defence and foreign policy can be traced back to the years following World War II. Indeed, the Treaty of Brussels of 1948, implemented by the new military organization, the Western European Union (WEU), enshrined the idea of coming to the aid of another contracting party if under attack. In the late 1960s, the European Community began to explore ways to harmonize Member States’ foreign policies. The concept of European Political Cooperation was presented in the 1970 Davignon Report, which created specific processes aimed at facilitating cooperation between states. Then, a set of legal rules concerning political cooperation between Member States was introduced in the Maastricht Treaty in 1992, based on the WEU as the military arm of the EU. However, at this stage collective defence and foreign policy remained largely theoretical.
It was not until the 2009 Lisbon Treaty that things really kicked off. With its entry into force, the Common Security and Defense Policy (CFSP) and the post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy were established. Eventually, a series of pivotal tasks were formally endorsed by the Union. Among them, there are “joint disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks conflict prevention”.
A single voice for Europe?
In recent years, we have had some good examples of a coordinated, common approach to foreign policy issues under the leadership of Federica Mogherini, who was mandated to prepare a new global strategy on foreign policy, with the perspective and focus to promote EU external action. One of her main achievements was, without a doubt, the nuclear deal with Iran. The High Representative, representing the EU as a whole, played a crucial role in the making of this agreement, alongside the P5 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council).
However, in many other situations, the EU’s reaction has been weak. In the case of Ukraine, for example, the EU failed to take a clear stance on the annexation of Crimea, which is considered to be the most serious violation of a European state’s borders and integrity since WW2. The EU was and remains a “passive bystander” in many international conflicts. Rapid, concerted action tends to be the exception.
A single voice for Europe in the current globalized and challenging context – where populist stances are gaining momentum – is needed more than ever. The EU, more than European states alone, can be influential, and perhaps in some spheres leading, in the international arena. Moreover, the majority of today’s hurdles are global, and cannot be dealt with fully or effectively from a position of national sovereignty. The EU, as a global actor, has the fundamental responsibility to act in the face of ongoing problems and conflicts.