From Contestation to Buy-In: the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy as seen from European Capitals

on 24.05.2021

National Approaches to the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy

Though the European Union (EU) is a global actor in areas like trade and climate, the bloc has struggled to develop a coherent common foreign and security policy (CFSP). EU external action is rather often plagued by institutional inefficiencies and a lack of shared strategy. Recognizing these shortcomings, member states have agitated for the EU to become a more responsive and coherent actor and to acquire a more prominent international role.

Strategic coherence provides one vehicle to strengthen the EU CFSP through shared goals that are attentive to different national interests and contexts. Broader changes in the institutional framework of the EU (e.g. the extension of qualified majority voting in foreign and security policy), meanwhile, are considered unnecessary and unwelcome by the vast majority of the national capitals. Instead, available mechanisms (e.g. coalitions of the willing and constructive abstentions) are deemed preferable for overcoming divides between national governments.

Areas of convergence

  • EU member states perceive the role of the bloc in global affairs, firstly, as an important multiplier of their own external activities.
  • A second consensus point is reflected in the emphasis placed on the benefits of strategic coherence rather than an entire overhaul of the EU Global Strategy.
  • Most member states, thirdly, share a hesitancy towards the establishment of a novel CFSP legal and institutional framework – this is especially true with respect to the expansion of qualified majority voting (QMV).

Points of divergence

Member states are meticulously guarding their national interests and holding firm to threat perception formulations based on the peculiarities of their histories, cultures, economies, societies and surroundings.

Significant issue-specific divergences:

  • How to deal with Russia
  • How to deal with China
  • How to deal with Turkey
  • How to resolve the migration challenge
  • How to balance Strategic Autonomy ambition and transatlantic relations
  • How to ensure stability in the neighbourhood

Strengthening the CFSP will necessitate the devising of a comprehensive strategic outlook incorporating shared threat perceptions and priorities. This entails the development of a strategy that is ambitious, providing clear guidelines for future EU external action.

Implementation will also be paramount. The gradual expansion of already available instruments, including constructive abstention and coalitions of the willing, presents one viable path forward.

*This collaborative report includes 15 country chapters based on the responses of distinguished experts to four questions collected March-May 2021 and it has been edited by Vladislava Gubalova.

*The report is published withinGLOBSEC GEOPE—Geopolitical Europe: Are the Member States Ready for It? Project supported byJean Monnet Actionsof the EU’s Erasmus+ program.

*The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.

GEOPE - “Geopolitical Europe: Are the EU Member-states Ready for It?”


Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Global Europe


Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Global Europe