Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) – Players


The European Council

The European Council convenes twice a year for formal meetings, and determines the principles and general guidelines of the CFSP. It consists of the Heads of State and Government of the 27 EU Member States, the President of the European Council (Charles Michel) and the President of the Commission (Ursula von der Leyen).

The External Relations Council

The External Relations Council is comprised of the foreign ministers of the EU Member States and its meetings are chaired by Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. In the Common Foreign and Security Policy there is no rotating presidency as in other EU policy areas. The Council is the central decision-making body for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, including the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). It bases its decisions on the general guidelines laid down by the European Council. As a rule it convenes once a month, except for the August recess. In April, June and October it meets in Luxembourg, otherwise in Brussels. Every six months the defence, development and trade ministers hold meetings under the auspices of the External Relations Council.

The Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER)

The coordination of CFSP measures within the EU prior to a Council decision takes place in the “CFSP Council working groups”. Any proposal to the Council must be submitted to the Permanent Representatives Committee (COREPER II), in which every Member State is represented by its EU ambassador, before being considered by the ministers or Heads of State and Government.

The Political and Security Committee (PSC)

The Political and Security Committee (PSC), which always meets in Brussels (typically twice a week), keeps track of the international situation in the areas falling within the CFSP and assists the External Relations Council (see Article 38, Treaty of the European Union). It is the Member States’ operational steering and controlling body, in other words the “engine room” of the CFSP; it is also the most important instrument for establishing common EU positions in the CFSP area as well as for preparing Council decisions and Council Conclusions. In accordance with Article 38 of the Treaty of the European Union, the PSC has a special role when it comes to crisis management (CSDP): under the responsibility of the Council and the High Representative, it assumes political control and strategic leadership of crisis management operations. The regional and thematic Council working groups prepare the work of the PSC, while the PSC provides the Council working groups with political guidelines. The PSC is chaired by a representative of the EEAS, and the Member States are represented by an ambassador to the PSC.

The Council working groups

More than 20 working groups support the PSC in the CFSP area. The “horizontal” groups – RELEX, CIVCOM, PMG and Nicolaidis – deal with cross-sectoral CFSP issues. Alongside these, there are also groups with a specific topical or regional focus (e.g. COAFR, COWEB, COTER). Roughly half of these working groups are what is known as “merged” groups – that is, they handle not only CFSP issues but also first pillar issues such as facets of external economic relations or European Neighbourhood Policy issues. The respective Council Presidency’s chair of the Council working groups was abolished with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and replaced with a permanent chair held by an official from either the EEAS or a Member State, who is appointed by the High Representative (exceptions are made for the chairs of working groups which deal with trade and development issues as well as for six of the horizontal groups, RELEX, COTER, COCOP, COCON, COJUR and COMAR, which continue to be chaired by the rotating Presidency). In the CFSP area the tasks of Council working groups include drafting analyses and evaluations of political situations in countries outside the EU, as well as agreeing on shared positions. They draft proposals for joint action – for example, for demarches and declarations by the High Representative on behalf the EU. Finally, the working groups prepare Council decisions by, for instance, coordinating the content of Joint Actions and Common Positions as well as seeking consensus on draft Council conclusions. The PSC often specifically charges the working groups with the drafting of a recommendation for action.

The High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy

The post of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy was created with the 1999 Treaty of Amsterdam, according to which the High Representative also acted as the Council Secretary-General. Javier Solana of Spain held this position from 1999 to 2009. As the chair and the Council Presidency rotated among the Member States on a semi-annual basis during this period, the High Representative was supposed to ensure continuity and coherence in the CFSP as well as to make the CFSP shaped by the Member States more visible in the figure of one person (the answer to the question of who to call when it came to EU foreign policy). The Lisbon Treaty of 2009 brought significant reforms to CFSP structures, especially in respect to the role of the High Representative. The Treaty separated the High Representative from the structures of the General Secretariat of the Council. The European External Action Service (EEAS) was created under the High Representative as a new European Union institution. At the same time, the dual role of the High Representative as Vice-President of the Commission responsible for both CFSP and the external actions of the Commission brings these duties together in one coordinating figure in order to make the EU’s external action as coherent as possible. The High Representative’s role in the CFSP has thereby become significantly stronger. Josep Borrell of Spain has served as High Representative for the CFSP since December 2019.

According to Articles 18, 22, 26, 27 and 36 of the Treaty of the European Union:

  • The High Representative (HR) works with the Council to ensure the consistency, coherence and efficacy of the Union’s external action.

  • The HR represents the Union in the area of the CFSP.

  • The HR chairs the External Relations Council (but has no vote, which is of little relevance as the External Relations Council operates on a principle of consent and thus does not engage in traditional voting), contributes to the formation of the CFSP through her proposals, and ensures that decisions made by the External Relations Council and the European Council are carried out.

  • The HR conducts political dialogue with third countries on the EU’s behalf and expresses the Union’s position at international organizations and conferences.

  • In carrying out her duties, the HR relies on a European External Action Service, which works in cooperation with the diplomatic services of the Member States and comprises officials from relevant departments of the General Secretariat of the Council (GSC) and of the Commission, as well as staff seconded from national diplomatic services of the Member States.

  • The HR is one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission and is responsible for the Commission’s duties in the area of external relations as well as for coordinating other aspects of the Union’s external action.

  • The HR can make proposals to the Council along with the Commission; here the HR is responsible for the CFSP, while the Commission is responsible for other areas of external action.

  • The HR regularly hears and instructs the European Parliament on the most important aspects and fundamental directions of the CFSP and the CSDP.

Information about the HR’s schedule, upcoming appointments, visits, speeches, press releases, etc. is available on the website of the EEAS:


The European External Action Service (EEAS)

The European External Action Service is a functionally independent institution of the European Union; it is separate from the Council Secretariat and the Commission, and has its own legal capacity. The EEAS is comprised of a central administration in Brussels and EU delegations (“EU embassies”) in third states and at international organizations. It assists the HR in the fulfilment of her duties – for example, in overseeing and shaping the CFSP, and in her capacities as President of the External Relations Council and Vice-President of the Commission. The EEAS also supports the President of the European Council, the Commission and President of the Commission in the fulfilment of their duties in the area of EU external relations. The EEAS had a staff of 1700 as of 2011. In the future one third of its staff is to come from the Commission, one third from the Council Secretariat and one third from the Member States.

Additional content

The European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) is an autonomous Paris-based agency of the European Union with full intellectual freedom. It is an integral part of the new structures that will support the further development of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The Institute's core goals are to help develop and project the CFSP, to provide analyses and recommendations that can be of use and relevance to the formulation of the CFSP, and to enrich Europe's strategic debate. In carrying out its mission, it also acts as an interface between European experts and decision-makers at all levels.

EUISS website

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