Danish ECSA 2011: EU's 'external action' post-Lisbon

Danish ECSA 2011: EU's 'external action' post-Lisbon


The Lisbon Treaty formally abolished the pillar structure introduced by the Maastricht Treaty and gives the whole union legal personality. It also has a section on ‘external action’ in the part referred to as the Treaty on European Union (Title V, TEU). This part includes general provisions on ‘external action’ but is most specific on Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), including Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union also has a section on ‘External Action by the Union’ (Part Five, TFEU). This section has general provisions as well as more specific provisions on common commercial policy, cooperation with third countries and humanitarian aid, restrictive measures, international agreements, the Union’s relations with international organisations and third countries as well as a solidarity clause.So it quickly appears that the old distinction between external economic relations (pillar 1) and CFSP (pillar 2) is still there despite the abolition of the pillars.

The treaty creates a new position of High Representative (HR) for Foreign and Security Policy who will chair the Foreign Affairs Council and be a Vice-President of the Commission (Art. 27 TEU). The HR will be assisted by a new European External Action Service (EEAS), a kind of diplomatic service. But there will still be Commissioners dealing with some important aspects of external action, such as trade, development and neighbourhood policies. How can such a mixed bag of institutional changes be explained?

It will be argued that the Lisbon Treaty is the outcome of a difficult interstate bargaining process, where power mattered. Various bargaining exchanges have created a very complex system. The state actors were constrained by previous decisions, including the outcome of the Convention on the Future of Europe (2002-03), but they made the final decisions, first in the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), 2003-04, which followed the Convention, and subsequently at the European Council meeting in June 2007 during the German Presidency which outlined the mandate for the ensuing IGCwhich produced the final version of the Lisbon Treaty.

Despite novel provisions the Lisbon Treaty is in reality a relatively minor reform when it comes to CFSP.CFSP, including CSDP,was ring-fenced by the minimalist member states, Britain in particular. There was no breakthrough for a more communautaire foreign policy. Despite all the rhetoric about the EU playing a more efficient and coherent international role CFSP remains intergovernmental cooperation based on consensus among the 27 member states.

Existing studies of EU treaties have tended to be legal (ex. Piris 2010) or based on specific political science approaches, such as liberal intergovernmentalism (Moravcsik 1998), rational choice institutionalism (ex. Beach 2005) or social constructivism (ex. Christiansen and Reh 2009). This chapter argues that a fuller understanding of EU treaties require a combination of different approaches using comparisons over time as well as across policy areas. On the latter point the way CFSP has been treated differs fundamentally from external economic relations, and yet both are part of what the Lisbon Treaty calls ‘external action’.

After looking at the making of the Lisbon Treaty and its ‘external action’ provisions I shall discuss how we can explain the Lisbon Treaty by combining approaches in a novel way.


[1]This chapter relies on earlier writings on the Lisbon Treaty by the author, especially the introductory and concluding chapters of two forthcoming books that he has edited. One on the TheMaking of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty will be published by PIE Peter Lang in Brussels in November 2011. The other on The Lisbon Treaty: Institutional Choices and Implementation will be published by Ashgate in early 2012.
Dr. Finn Laursen