The EU has been called the “soft power” because, unlike the United States, it primarily makes civilian efforts internationally, rather than militarily. European foreign policy is also weakened by the fact that EU countries have reserved the right to take national positions.
The EU’s foreign and security policy is only common in the sense that the member states are bound not to pursue a foreign policy that runs counter to the common position that the EU manages to agree on.
Since 2009, the Union has had a “Foreign Minister” (currently the Italian Federica Mogherini) who represents the EU externally and leads the Foreign Ministers’ deliberations. Operational decisions in foreign policy are made by a qualified majority, while unanimity applies to overall decisions.
However, the agreement may be difficult to capture, such as how EU countries should act against Russia, which is increasingly perceived as a security threat since President Vladimir Putin annexed the Ukrainian Crimean peninsula in 2014 and the Russian military intervened in the fighting in eastern Ukraine. Russia has fueled unrest by funding certain right-wing extremist movements and trying to influence political elections in EU countries. However, some EU countries are close to the government in Moscow and it has not always been easy to agree on, for example, economic sanctions against Russia.
However, there is an emerging foreign policy consensus in the EU, which can be seen in relations with Iran, Israel and China, where Europeans tend to pursue their own policies.
According to photionary, EU countries have long had exchanges and co-operation in security and defense policy, but this has usually taken place at intergovernmental level, which in practice leaves the European Commission, the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice without influence.
The defense of the national territory of each Member State has, above all, remained a purely national issue. The EU can therefore have non-aligned countries (Sweden, Finland, Malta, Austria and Ireland) side by side with countries that are part of a military alliance (NATO with, among others, the USA, Canada and Turkey).
During the 2000’s, however, new steps have been taken with regard to military cooperation. Since 2003, the EU countries in various groups have carried out a dozen peacekeeping missions internationally. This has happened, for example, in Mali, the Central African Republic and Bosnia, as well as to stop pirates outside Somalia.
Peacekeeping operations are always voluntary for member states. However, a country that has chosen not to participate cannot put a stop to the effort itself. Sweden has participated several times.
Since 2007, the EU has also had a rapid reaction force of around 1,500 soldiers who were basically ready to pull out in ten days. The opportunity has never been used.
Calling the EU the “soft power” is not wrong, however, because the Union has given priority to using trade, diplomacy and preventive work to influence the outside world. The EU has carried out almost twice as many civilian crisis missions internationally as military. Election monitoring, legal assistance, police training and democracy building are some of the tasks that the EU has assisted countries in crisis with. The EU always strives to act primarily multilaterally and with the support of the UN.
There is a solidarity clause in the EU Treaty which states that each EU country must provide assistance to another EU country that is exposed to a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other disaster. The clause does not specify what form that assistance should take and it does not require any country to send troops in the event of a military attack.
In the summer of 2016, the EU adopted a global security strategy that identified the biggest current threats to Europe’s security. The threats are considered to include: Unstable countries in Europe’s vicinity, terrorism, climate change and unregulated migration. The response to the threats was once again considered to be improved relations through trade, integration and cooperation.
The security strategy also opened up for increased cooperation on defense issues. This coincided in time with US President Trump’s statements that the military alliance NATO has been overplayed and that the country that wants American protection must pay for itself.
EU Heads of State and Government have reacted by deciding to invest in giving Europe a stronger defense capacity through closer cooperation.
The establishment of a joint military command center, Pesco (permanent structured cooperation) with just under twenty defense initiatives, increased coordination in the procurement of defense equipment and more R&D projects in the defense area has already begun.
The European Commission wants to allocate EUR 5.5 billion a year from the budget for these military purposes.