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The Common Foreign and Security Policy and the Challenge of the Eastern Enlargement

Lukáš Holub / Ed. 18. 12. 2015


Each enlargement of the European Union means a change of the Union itself, but it also brings substantial changes to the country joining the EU. This is particularly the case of the Eastern enlargement of the EU.

The Enlargement does not raise only the attention of politicians, elites and of the public in respective countries, but also of academia. One of such issues is the relation between the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the enlargement. The scholarly answers to the question whether the enlargement will or will not pose problems for the CFSP are rather ambiguous. Further, this situation is underlined by the fact that there is practically no literature, which would take the newest developments in international politics (e.g., September 11, enlargement of NATO, etc.) into consideration. Therefore, in my essay I am trying to shed light on the relation between the CFSP and the enlargement while taking new developments and changes in international politics into consideration.

The first part of my essay draws the line form the European Political Cooperation (EPC) to the CFSP and introduces the CFSP. In the following section I identify obstacles in the development of credible and strong CFSP that exist despite the enlargement. The next part of my essay describes possible solutions for increasing the effectiveness of the CFSP. The last section deals with the challenge of enlargement to the CFSP.

1. From European Political Cooperation to Common Foreign and Security Policy

The direct predecessor of the CFSP was the European Political Cooperation established in early 1970’s. The EPC was clearly based on intergovernmentalism and it was not integrated into the Treaty, thus Commission or European Parliament had no influence on the development within the EPC (Allen, 1998: 108). The EPC did not mean real and effective common foreign policy, it remained on the level of consultations, cooperation and coordination of member states’ foreign policies. At the same time, the success of the EPC was rather limited, e.g., EPC played role during the negotiation of the CSCE, later of the OSCE; it increased joint voting of the EC members in the UN General Assembly. Yet, the EPC has not very much influenced, the often different, French and British views of international politics (Dunay, et al., 1997: 317).

The next step in integrating foreign policy within the European Community should have been the Maastricht Treaty, which established the European Union based on three pillars. The second pillar is the CFSP. Even though the name of the EPC was changed to the CFSP the basic idea of cooperation has not changed. The mechanism of the CFSP is still intergovernmentalism, thus the CFSP is based on consensual decision-making and on voluntary submission of issues that raise the common concern of the member states (Dunay et al., 1997: 317). As a result the CFSP can also be seen as a “consolidation of intergovernmentalism and a rejection of further supranationality” (Allen, 1998: 109).

The Treaty of Amsterdam has brought small change into the CFSP although it has not changed the substance of it much. The Treaty has introduced elements of qualified majority voting (QMV) into the second pillar. The principle is that there has to be common agreement among the members on common strategies. Only then “the Council may proceed with majority voting for ‘joint actions’ and ‘common positions’” (Sjursen, 1999: 44). Yet, such process can be opposed by the state “for important and stated reasons of national policy” (Sjursen, 1999: 44). The implications of such wording are that any member state can block common decision and that this wording has incorporated the notion of Luxembourg compromise into the Treaty for the first time.

2. Obstacles in Development of Credible Common Foreign
and Security Policy

Probably the major reason for setbacks in the development of credible and powerful EU’s CFSP is the lack of consensus among the Europeans, which is deeply embedded in European history (for this argument applied to the development of the European forces see Krichner, 1999: 52). In other words, deep tradition of cleavage of interests, views, perceptions, etc. prevents the Europeans from building the CFSP. This argument has been fully underlined by the present day situation in the Iraq crisis where the European positions are very diverse and incompatible. Moreover, the states did not even consult each other’s views (see, e.g., open letter of eight heads of governments and states). This points at the fact that the EU member states are not integrated enough and that they are incapable of taking the responsibility for their own security into their own hands. Therefore, I would say that they still need a third party, the US, acting as a leader or as a guide.

However, there are also other issues that prevent development of credible CFSP. Again, it is the cleavage between the “small” and the “big” states. The “small” states fear that they will be neglected by the powers within the community. This fear is relevant in the sense that the former great powers (such as France and the Great Britain) still have relatively strong position in international relations and they are permanent members of the Security Council. This opens a possibility for a greater maneuverability and independence in their foreign policies to them. In addition to this political advantage they have also capabilities needed for credible international power politics. The second issue is the concern of some member states about their neutrality. It would be the case only if the EU used its (so far non-existing forces) without an appraisal of the UN Security Council (Allen, 1998: 121). As the recent development in the case of Iraq has shown, this situation is rather unlikely and it would cause internal grievances not only in the neutral states, but also in other EU members (e.g., Germany). If we look at this issue from a slightly different perspective, then we can see the elementary problem to be the fact that each state (small, big, neutral or power) wants to preserve its national interests, and thus national foreign policy. This approach is even stronger in the security and defense policies.

Then, the question also is whether the interests of the states are not far too different for finding common positions (e.g., French-British cleavage; recent German, so to speak, special position in the Iraq crisis; neutral states’ considerations; big-small states cleavage). Here, I would say, we are back again at the beginning of this section. We also are back in the historical tradition of European differences of interests, views, perceptions, etc., of international politics.

3. Possible Solutions for Increasing the Effectiveness of the CFSP

One of the solutions for improving the effectiveness of the European foreign policy could be a more “supranationalized” CFSP. This solution is underlined by the fact that intergovernmental feature of the CFSP creates quite a confusion and ambiguity, and stresses the split of interests within the Community. However, at the same time this solution is the least probable due to reasons I have identified above.

The other possible solution, which could be particularly useful after the enlargement, could be the mechanism of “constructive abstention” (Allen, 1998: 111). It means that a state or states that oppose “a particular aspect of CFSP would stand aside and [they would] not prevent others from pursuing it” (Allen, 1998: 111). This mechanism could also be a potential solution for neutral states’ concern how to preserve their neutrality.

Nonetheless, there were also other proposals how to solve the voting problem in the Council, e.g., “variable veto” or “consensus minus one, two or three” (for details see Allen, 1998: 111).[1] The important point is that except the first solution none of the other suggestions in the scholarly literature moves beyond the intergovernmental nature of the CFSP. The implication is that if even the academia is unable to move beyond intergovernmentalism in this sphere, then we cannot expect the politicians to do so.

The short-term answer to the lack of central institution in EU’s foreign policy was the creation of “Mr. CFSP” (Allen, 1998: 119). Nevertheless, the diversity of institutions within the Union dealing with foreign policy has not been solved. There are four Commissionaires involved in external relations. Also the President of the Commission has influence in these issues and finally, presidency of the Union has the decisive say in formation of the CFSP. Although Javier Solana, as the first “Mr. CFSP,” managed to balance the diverse positions of the member states in some cases, recent development has shown that in the major issues, where the interests of the states are too diverse, he remains rather neglected and has no say.

4. Eastern Enlargement: Challenge to the CFSP?

If we look at this matter from the intergovernmentalist perspective it seems that the enlargement will “atomize” the CFSP because it will be more difficult to find successful inter-state solution (Sjursen, 1999: 40). On the other hand, if we look from the neofunctionalist perspective we get different answer. Neofunctionalists use the concept of “externalization” (Sjursen, 1999: 40). Their argument about relation between foreign policy and enlargement is based on the idea that integration negatively influences actors outside the EU, and thus their application for membership should be seen “as [their] direct fear of exclusion from European cooperation” (Sjursen, 1999: 40). At the same time neofunctionalists expect that increased membership strengthens activities in external relations due to new trade and diplomatic networks brought into the Union by the new members. However, the problem is that it can bring the need for enhanced cooperation in foreign policy, but the development does not inevitably have to follow this path. Additionally, this view takes into consideration only enlargement and countries close to the EU, but it does not deal with broader world politics.

Helene Sjursen expects that the enlargement will further complicate the CFSP because new members will bring new foreign policy interests, relations and perspectives based on their different historical experiences (Sjursen, 1999: 43). However, I would not see it as “dramatically” as Sjursen does because one can find overlaps of the foreign policy interests of the present-day members with the foreign policy interests of the accession countries.

Previously, the concern was also that the “first-comers” into the EU from the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) could block other CEE states on the “waiting list” for accession. The argument was based on the idea that the “first-comers” would forcefully defend their interests in minority rights, economic advantages, etc., and they would “blackmail” other CEECs outside the Union with their interests. Nowadays, it seems that eight CEECs will join the EU together. Therefore I would not expect them to make obstacles against the following round of enlargement. Simply, it would not be politically correct and it would be against the notion of European solidarity if they made such obstacles. On the other hand, it is disputable how deep the notion of political correctness and European solidarity is rooted in the CEECs.

To base my argument on a firmer ground I use Sjursen’s analysis of the EFTA enlargement. Her analysis shows that after the accession the interests of the new members are shaped by the membership (for development of this argument see Sjursen, 1999: 44). This process is called “Brusselization” (Sjursen, 1999: 47). Therefore, I do not see any reason why the CEECs should not undergo the same process as the EFTA countries did. The other implication is that the Eastern enlargement should not cause the CFSP break-down. Yet, national interests and national views will remain the driving force of the relations among the members of the Union in the key issues, such as war and peace, also after the Eastern enlargement.

Concerning the institutional setup of the CFSP, the Eastern enlargement poses problems for the presidency and possibly for consensus finding. In the issue of presidency we have to deal with several problems after the enlargement (see Allen, 1998: 116). The first problem is that the new members have no experience with EU presidency. Yet, all the new members had this problem. Hence, this can be solved. Second, troika has to ensure the continuity of EU’s foreign policy. Thus, it is important to preserve a sensible mix of small and big states within troika. This could be a difficult task after the Eastern enlargement when many small states should join the Union. The final point is related to the previous one. It is the concern about the effectiveness and continuity of the rotating presidency. The point is that the CFSP lacks institutional framework within the Community and it is also heavily dependent on the presidency. Therefore, we can identify several problems related to this issue. First, small states lack authority in foreign policy issues (Allen, 1998: 116). Second, small states do not have capacity to manage the already established CFSP-dialogues with great number of states and other regional organizations (Allen, 1998: 118). The solution could be strengthening the position of the big states in the CFSP, e.g., in the way to assure presidency only for the “big five” (Allen, 1998: 117). Yet, this is very unlikely to be accepted by the small states.

In respect to the consensus finding the main issue after the Eastern enlargement is in the possibility of small states to block common decision. Such development can be frustrating for the big states and can completely block common solution of a problem (Allen, 1998: 117).

To sum up, both issues, presidency and obstacles in consensus finding, underline the fact that the EU misses internal leadership which could provide side payments for the opposing states or push them in the “right” direction. This shows immaturity of Europeans to take over their responsibilities for their security and global issues. Therefore, the involvement of a third party in the European issues is still inevitable.

In addition to these problems, some authors have raised the grievances among the CEECs themselves as possible obstacles for the CFSP, e.g., border disputes, minority rights (see, e.g., Whitman, 1999: 147). However, except Cyprus, I do not see any border disputes among the prospective member states to be really very “hot” nowadays. Yet, some bilateral relations are traditionally sensible, e.g., between Hungary and Slovakia (Whitman, 1999: 148). On the other hand, one can presuppose that the influence of the EU membership and EU’s socialization could help to handle and possibly solve these disputes.

In contrary to the concerns raised above, David Allen sees the challenge of the enlargement in the traditional tensions between deepening and widening (Allen, 1998: 107-108). Here, the concern is that the wider Union means the weaker Union. In our case it is a more integrated foreign policy vs. the enlargement, which can bring setbacks for more integrated cooperation. This view is based on experiences from previous enlargement rounds (e.g., EFTA enlargement, UK accession), which have further complicated integration in the foreign policy sphere. Nevertheless, it is important to raise two substantial points in regard to the Eastern enlargement. First, within the CEECs there is no power equal to Britain when it joined the EC. Second, there is also no neutral state as it was the case of the EFTA enlargement and of Ireland. Therefore in contrast to previous enlargements we could expect less problems created by these states in foreign policy cooperation. Additionally, we have to take into consideration the process of “Brusselization” as I have already pointed out.

Further, if we look at the accession negotiations and we identify the problematic issues, we do not see the CFSP among them. Hence, the question is why the CFSP was not a “hot” issue for the Eastern enlargement. I identify the answer in six points. First, there already exists EU’s cooperation with the CEECs in the field of foreign policy and the CEECs usually comply with EU’s position if there is anything to comply with. Second, the CFSP is still on the intergovernmental level, thus it does not create concerns and questions about state sovereignty. Third, the CFSP does not require enormous budgetary costs on the side of the EU as, e.g., the Common Agricultural Policy does and the CFSP does not need deep and painful transformation of the CEECs’ societies. The fourth point is that there is no thick institutional network in the EU dealing with the CFSP, thus the CFSP does not require EU’s substantial institutional reform. The fifth point is that the aspirations of the current EU members in the CFSP are rather limited (Allen, 1998: 110). Finally, the Eastern enlargement does not bear with itself so strong a security element as was previously planed in the early 1990’s.[2]

The final point concerning the challenge of enlargement to the CFSP is that, according to Allen, the Eastern round of the enlargement will not worsen the problematic and incoherent situation in EU’s foreign policy (Allen, 1998: 109). However, fundamental problem lies already in the present-day membership of the Union, which is reluctant, divided and uncertain about this issue (Allen, 1998: 122).


It is clear that the CFSP is firmly based on intergovernmentalism. Seeing recent development it is also very unlikely that this could change soon. On the other hand, the intergovernmentalist nature of the CFSP is one of the major obstacles in the development of effective and clear CFSP. The problem is that the states themselves “stick” to their sovereignty, which further enhances the lack of consensus among them. Additionally, this diversity of interests, views and perceptions among European states is deeply rooted in history. Therefore, it will be extremely difficult to overcome this cleavage. This points at the fact that the Europeans are still unable to take responsibility for their own security and still need a third party to provide leadership and guidance.

As possible solutions to this situation scholarly literature offers various kinds of mechanisms how to prevent blockade in decision-making (e.g., constructive abstention, variable veto, etc.). Interestingly enough none of the authors proposes to increase the level of supranationalism in the CFSP. Even after such step it would remain difficult to put together all these interests of the EU member states.

The scholars give diverse answers to the question whether the Eastern enlargement will worsen the effectiveness and consensus finding in the CFSP. The opinions range from the view that the Eastern enlargement could “atomize” the CFSP (Sjursen, 1999: 40) to the view that the enlargement will not worsen the situation because the problem lies already in the present membership of the Union (Allen, 1998: 109). I think the latter is more plausible for the present day situation in European politics. The reason is that already now there is a rich diversity of interests within the Union. Therefore, I would say that the Eastern enlargement would not bring many new perspectives on foreign policy issues. Additionally, there exists an overlap of interests between the old and the new members. If we also take into consideration the process of “Brusselization” of the foreign policies of the new members, then it is improbable that the Eastern enlargement would bring decisive setback to the already “malfunctioning” CFSP.


Allen, David. 1998. “Wider but Weaker or the More the Merrier? Enlargement and Foreign Policy Cooperation in the EC/EU” (pp. 107 – 124). In Redmond, John and Glenda Rosenthal, eds., The Expanding European Union. Past, Present, Future. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

Dunay, Pal; Kende, Tamas and Tamas Szucs. 1997. “The Integration of Central and Eastern Europe into the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union” (pp. 316 – 345). In Maresceau, Marc, ed., Enlarging the European Union: Relations between the EU and Central and Eastern Europe. Longman.

EU and NATO adopt framework for co-operation. Available at www.nato.int/docu/update/2002/12-december/e1216a.htm on 29 December 2002).

EU-NATO Declaration on ESDP. Available at www.nato.int/docu/pr/2002 /p02-142e.htm on 29 December 2002.

Ginsberg, Roy. 1998. “The Impact of Enlargement on the Role of the European Union in the World” (pp. 197 – 215). In Redmond, John and Glenda Rosenthal, eds., The Expanding European Union. Past, Present, Future. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

Kenzler, Horst G. and Milada A. Vachudova. 2001. “The European Defense and Security Policy and EU Enlargement to Eastern Europe.” Policy Paper 01/1. The Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies.

Kirchner, Emil. 1999. “Second Pillar and Eastern Enlargement. The Prospects for a European Security and Defense Identity” (pp. 46 – 62). In Sperling, James, ed., Two Tiers or Two Speeds? Manchester University Press.

Sjursen, Helene. 1999. “Enlargement and the Common Foreign and Security Policy: Transforming the EU’s External Policy?” (pp. 37 – 53). In Henderson, Karin, ed., Back to Europe – Central and Eastern Europe and the European Union. UCL Press.

Whitman, Richard G. 1999. “The Common Foreign and Security Policy after Enlargement” (pp. 133 – 160). In Price, Victoria C.; Landau, Alice and Richard Whitman, eds., The Enlargement of the European Union. Issues and Strategies. Routledge.

[1] “Variable veto” introduces the idea that the decision would be taken by QMV and only “EU’s big five” would have veto in all foreign policy areas. The mechanism of the concept – “consensus minus one, two or three” – would allow smaller states not to take part in the particular policies.

[2] The plan was to substitute enlargement of NATO by enlargement of EU and WEU which should guarantee security for the CEECs (see, e.g., Allen, 1998: 110). However, these plans have underestimated the complexity of EU’s enlargement.

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