General Affairs and External Relations

European policy in the field of important foreign affairs is shaped by the General Affairs and External Relations Council. This Council brings together foreign ministers on a regular basis (roughly once a month).

Common Foreign and Security Policy

The Presidency’s main tasks related to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (the second pillar of the European Union) include coordination with the other 26 Member States of the European Union, with the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and with the European Commission.

Since 1 November 1993, when the Treaty of Maastricht entered into force, the European Union has been able to operate on the international stage within the scope of the CFSP structures. It adopts opinions on armed conflicts, human rights and other issues relating to guiding principles and shared values. Under the CFSP, Member States work on an intergovernmental basis and use three main instruments: joint actions, common positions and common strategies. A number of foreign issues can be tackled only by close cooperation between EU Member States, and therefore such issues are increasingly discussed in Brussels. Through the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the European Union wants to contribute to international peace and promote international security, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

High Representative

The position of High Representative for the CFSP was established under the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997. The High Representative helps the Council Presidency (which represents the EU in external matters) in CFSP matters; contributes to the formulation, preparation and implementation of policy decisions; and at the Presidency’s request engages in political dialogue with third parties. Since 18 October 1999, this office has been held by Javier Solana.


The Treaty of Nice, which entered into force on 1 February 2003, established the Political and Security Committee (PSC). This Committee typically meets twice a week; it takes decisions on CFSP issues and monitors the management of operations under the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP).

CFSP policy instruments

The conclusions of the General Affairs and External Relations Council, which are shaped and finalised during intensive consultations between the EU Member States, are a key policy instrument. The Presidency engages in political dialogue with third countries through the Troika, composed of a representative of the Presidency, the European Commission and the High Representative for the CFSP (or his representative). It may also issue statements on current affairs in third countries on behalf of the EU.

EU Special Representatives (EUSR) are another important CFSP instrument. The EU currently has Special Representatives for Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Kosovo, the Middle East peace process, the Great Lakes region, Sudan, the South Caucasus, Central Asia, the Georgia crisis and Moldova.

CFSP priorities

The territorial priorities of the CFSP include the Western Balkans, the European Neighbourhood Policy, the Middle East, the South Caucasus and conflict zones in Africa. The thematic priorities encompass human rights, conflict prevention, the struggle against terrorism, non-proliferation and the strengthening of effective multilateralism.

Another important part of the CFSP is the European Security and Defence Policy.

Last update: 16.8.2011 16:02

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