Book Review By Eleni Xiarchogiannopoulou, Institute for European Studies

The global role of the EU in the post-Lisbon Treaty era and in a multi-polar world has been the focus of numerous academic and policymaking debates. This is exactly the topic of the timely volume The EU‘s Foreign Policy: What Kind of Power and Diplomatic Action? The themes of power and coherence are central to the volume chapters. In terms of coherence, the emphasis is placed on the horizontal and internal levels. Horizontal coherence refers to the absence of contradictions and presence of positive synergies between the policy objectives of different EU policy areas, as well as the compatibility of the supranational and intergovernmental decision-making and implementation processes. Internal coherence refers to the presence or absence of positive synergies between the policy instruments/initiatives used in the same policy area as well as the presence of an integrated bureaucratic and decision-making system in a given policy area.

Not surprisingly, both of the themes of coherence and power are core elements of the Lisbon Treaty. According to Article 23(3) of the Lisbon Treaty,‘the Union shall ensure consistency between the different areas of its external action and between these and its other policies’ (Lisbon Treaty, second paragraph of Article 21(3)).The volume offers an original and comprehensive overview of EU’s external action and critical insights to various aspects of EU’s external affairs and diplomatic machinery. It analyses and discusses the changes the Lisbon Treaty introduced to the EU constitutional architecture, the principles and objectives, and the institutional framework of the EU external action.

More specifically, in terms of constitutional architecture, the Treaty replaces the pillar structure in favour of a single legal personality for the EU that enables it to act as a single entity and thus join international organisations and sign international agreements (Teló, Introduction). Even though the EU already had an implicit international legal personality, this change resolves issues of international representation particularly in the eyes of the EU international partners. In terms of the objectives and the principles of the EU external action, the Treaty brings together the different strands of the EU external policy, such as trade, diplomacy, security, development, international negotiations and humanitarian aid. In this way, it allows the EU to express a single and clearer voice in its relations with its partner countries or other international organisations (Teló, Introduction). Finally, the Treaty introduces two new institutions of external action: the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is also the Vice-president of the Commission, and the European External Action Service (EEAS), which is ‘set-up to reduce the transaction costs between the multiple actors of the EU foreign policy-making’ (Lequesne 2013: 80).

The volume raises a number of academic and political cutting-edge issues. The main observation that cuts across all chapters is that, although the Treaty constitutes an important step towards a coherent external action, it also suffers from a number of limitations that eventually compromise this effort. To begin, the Treaty fosters dualities between the external policy areas with a strong internal dimension, the Common Foreign and Security and the Common Security and Defence Policies. As a result, the institutional structure of external action remains complex and is not completely integrated while coherence between policies is unsettled (Teló, chapter 2).

On the top of this, the Lisbon Treaty fails to resolve issues of competence between the Commission and the member states. In this context, EU’s international performance and its relations with other global powers areeventually compromised.For instance, in the case of the EU strategic partnerships (SPs), the lack of coordination between the EU institutions and the EU member states, poor information flow within and between EU institutions and the member states, and the lack of real strategic purpose for the SPs limit their effectiveness in promoting the EU interests externally and mobilising cooperation in a multilateral, rule-based environment (Grevi 2013). Similarly, in the area of the CFSP, the labourious internal negotiations, the lack of clarity about the roles of the EEAS political figures and the lack of a broader crisis management strategy within the context of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) compromised the effectiveness of the EU foreign policy in the Arab world (Gillespie 2013). Finally, the lack of leadership and internal incoherence with regards to CDSP priorities were also the factors that compromised the effectiveness of the EU as a security actor in the case of the Libyan crisis and eventually undermined the autonomy of the CDSP from NATO (Howarth, chapter 3).

Policy coherence, the institutional structure and a conflict of competences between the Commission and the member states matter greatly when it comes to the EU relations and strategic partnerships with other global powers as well. For instance, although EU-India relations have resulted in a strategic partnership that seeks to create a positive-sum game for both partners and advance effective cooperation, India insists on perceiving the EU as a weak actor in terms of security and political matters due to its institutional complexity and lack of political unity (Bava, chapter 12). Similarly, partnership building between the EU and China has proven to be difficult due to the fact that the EU is a two-level system that lacks political unity (Zhimin, chapter 10). In this context, China prefers bilateral strategic partnerships with member states rather than the EU as a single entity. Finally, although EU-Japan relations have spread across a number of economic, political and military issues, the lack of sophisticated policy instruments and a framework of action undermined the long-term effectiveness of EU’s diplomacy (Nakamura, chapter 11).

The volume raises the question of ‘how the EU can retain its international influence within the context of the ongoing financial crisis and an excessively multipolar world?’. This is a crucial question to answer if the EU is to bypass its limitations and evolve to an influential actor in a dynamic global world. According to Teló (chapter 2), in order for the EU to remain a civilian power in the changing multipolar international context, its external action must be improved in three distinct ways: (a) by increasing the horizontal and internal coherence of external policies (EU’s multilaterability and international procedural identity); (b) by improving EU’s position in the UN system and building alliances within different regionalisms; (c) by advancing close cooperation within a hard core of states and, hence, by advancing the process of European integration. Ponjaert (chapter 8) claims that EU must balance its actions with its discourse, but it must also enhance the coherence between its bilateral and multilateral relations. Finally, Gamble (chapter 1) asserts that whether the EU will retain and enhance is power depends on the world order and international economic system that will eventually prevail. Given that the EU is not a great power in the sense that the U.S. is, it is expected to thrive best in a multipolar/multilateral world order and in a world economy that is either booming or is less interdependent. In these cases, the EU can be a microcosm within the wider system of global governance with an enhanced bargaining power.

Overall, this volume contains a number of thoughtful and provocative chapters written by world-renowned scholars and policy experts. For those interested in EU’s foreign policy and its role as global power in the 21st century, this may be an indispensable read. It may also be of interest to those studying the relations of the internal and external dimensions of EU’s foreign policy.

The EU‘s Foreign Policy: What Kind of Power and Diplomatic Action? is edited by Mario Telò and Frederik Ponjaert, (Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Ltd), 2013, ISBN: 9781409464525. For questions about this blog post, please contact:

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