EU Foreign Policy (CFSP)

An important responsibility of the Austrian Foreign and European Policy is to contribute to and to implement the so-called Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). It is the political pillar of the external action of the EU. The EU accession process (preceding the entry of new Member States into the EU), the European Neighbourhood policy, External Trade, Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid are also part of the EU’s external action.

Within the framework of CFSP, the EU Member States cooperate on an intergovernmental basis, i.e. they agree on common policy positions by unanimity. Since the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty on 1 November 1993, the EU as such may act on the international stage and express the EU position on armed conflicts, human rights issues or other matters in coherence with EU basic principles and common values which it is obliged to uphold.

To achieve greater efficiency and visibility of EU foreign policy, the position of High Representative for CFSP was created by the Amsterdam Treaty. The CFSP provisions were revised in the Treaty of Nice which entered into force on 1 February 2003. The Treaty of Nice extended the number of areas within CFSP where decisions by majority voting are possible. In addition, the Political and Security Committee (PSC) was created. It normally meets twice per week to prepare decisions on CFSP issues and to monitor the implementation of operations and missions within the framework of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).

The Treaty of Lisbon (in force since 1 December 2009) brought significant reforms to CFSP structures (cf. Title V, Articles 21-46 of the Treaty on European Union). It introduced the European External Action Service (EEAS), which is headed by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. In order to ensure a maximum of coherence in the European Union’s external action the High Representative is also Commissioner for External Action and one of the four Vice-Presidents of the Commission, coordinating the CFSP and external relations of the Commission. Federica Mogherini has held this position since November 2014. Her term of office will expire in October 2019.

The High Representative chairs the Foreign Affairs Council which is comprised of the foreign ministers of the EU Member States and which normally meets at least once per month. The Council is the central decision-making body for CFSP and CSDP.

There are several CFSP instruments which are regularly applied:

As the member states’ supreme decision-making body, the European Council determines strategic objectives and general guidelines for CFSP (cf. Article 26 of the Treaty on European Union). The European Council’s decisions are not legally, but “politically” binding for the EU Member States. Implementation is the responsibility of the Council.

The Council adopts legal acts which establish actions to be undertaken by the EU (e.g. CSDP operations and missions) as well as positions to be adopted by the EU (e.g. imposing restrictive measures on a particular country). (cf. Article 25 of the Treaty on European Union).

In pursuit of its political objectives, the EU makes use of restrictive measures (sanctions), which the Council imposes principally on representatives of third states’ governments but also on state enterprises and other legal and natural persons. A distinction is drawn here between sanctions which the EU adopts “autonomously” and those which it is obliged to adopt on the basis of a UN Security Council resolution.

The conclusions on CFSP of meetings of the Foreign Affairs Councils and the European Council, finalised following consultations of EU Member States and EEAS, are a key political instrument.

Also of political importance is the possibility of making EU statements and undertaking démarches to government representatives in non-member countries.

Decision-making in the CFSP is in principle unanimous with the possibility of "constructive abstention". In that case member states must make a formal statement on the reasons for their abstention and are therewith not obliged to implement the decision, but accept that the decision is binding for the Union. 

Political dialogue with non-member states (and groups of states or organizations) has developed into an important and frequently used instrument. The institutional framework for political dialogue is established in agreements (e.g. association, partnership or cooperation agreements), joint declarations or exchanges of letters. At the Heads of State and Government level, the EU is represented by the President of the European Council; at foreign ministers level, the High Representative takes on that role.

EU Special Representatives (EUSR) also work towards implementing the EU’s CFSP. There are EUSRs for geographic issues such as, Bosnia and Herzegovina or the Horn of Africa as well as for thematic one such as the EUSR for Human Rights

An essential part of the CFSP is the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).