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Seeking Unity On Security

December 16, 2011

From the original European Coal and Steel Community through to the present European Union, the post-war European integration project has primarily been an economic affair. The single market has strove to eliminate barriers to the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor. The adoption of a single currency strengthened monetary integration. The vast majority of discussions in ministerial meetings, European Commission working groups, and European Parliament committee hearings pertain to economic and monetary regulations and rules. On the economic front, the European Union has achieved a degree of integration and cooperation unique in the history of international relations.

Although different European leaders at various times have expressed the desire to expand that integration to new policy arenas such as foreign policy, defense policy, judicial affairs, criminal justice, and others, until recently those wishes were not manifested in the EU’s actual operations. Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) was first formally integrated into the EU’s policy purview with the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 (see One State, One World blog post here). This treaty created the so-called pillared structure of the EU. The first pillar, or European Community, was comprised of the economic, agricultural, environmental, and other policies that the EU had long dealt with. CFSP fell under the second pillar, while the third pillar was Police and Judicial Cooperation.

The policy areas under the second and third pillars were ones in which the member states had resisted giving too much authority to supranational institutions such as the EU. While states had eagerly ceded some of their economic sovereignty to reap the benefits of trade and open markets, they still jealously protected their rights to manage their relations with other states, to react unimpeded against threats to their security, and to manage their criminal justice systems according to their own national norms.

The particular sensitivities that states have towards these policy areas is reflected in how the EU makes decisions in different policy domains. For first pillar policies, the European Commission and the European Parliament, both of which are supposed to represent European, and not national interests, have a great deal of authority. Voting in the Council of Ministers is done by qualified majority, not unanimity, making it easier for the EU to pass policies. For second and third pillar policies, however, the European Parliament does not have veto power over policy proposals, and the decisions in the Council must be reached by unanimity, giving each state a veto (although the recently enacted Lisbon Treaty changed this pillar structure and made some policy areas in justice and home affairs subject to qualified majority voting).

The 2009 Lisbon Treaty attempted to enable the EU to speak with a more unified voice on the world stage, with the creation of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. This post, currently occupied by Catherine Ashton of the UK, is akin to the American Secretary of State. It is difficult to quantify whether these efforts to create a more unified EU foreign policy have succeeded. Ashton has come under criticism for being insufficiently assertive on important foreign policy questions. Some have argued that her task is an impossible one, given that countries simply have divergent foreign policy preferences that no rhetoric about a unified EU can conceal.

What do the EU’s efforts to create a more robust, unified foreign policy mean for the US and American-EU relations? As we discuss in another post, some worry that EU forays into the military and defense arenas could make NATO increasingly irrelevant. However, former Indiana Congressman Lee H. Hamilton wrote in 1999 that is in the U.S.’s interests to see a “Europe that can act with the United States as a partner on a number of challenges with which none of us, acting alone can cope—a Europe that, in partnership with the United States, will work to find solutions to global challenges and a be a leading force for world progress.” (Brookings Review; Summer 1999, Vol. 17 Issue 3, p. 2)

For more information on the One State, One World series, please visit  This episode of One State One World is produced in partnership of WFIU Public Radio and the EU Center at Indiana University through a grant from the European Union.

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