CUPRINS nr. 151



The role of the EU as an international actor after the Lisbon treaty



This paper explores the ways in which the role of the European Union as an international actor is affected by provisions of the Lisbon treaty. It will be argued that the adoption of the treaty has the potential of fostering cooperation between the member states and the Union’s institutions towards the creation of a common approach to foreign policy. At the same time, the establishment of new foreign policy positions and institutions are to promote a normative stance for the EU in its international relations.

Keywords: Lisbon treaty, normative, foreign policy, European Union, normative power


Over the last three decades the foreign policy of the European Union has been shaped by the debate around ‘civilian power Europe’ and ‘militarized power Europe’1. This debate reflects the dichotomous relations between the supporters of intergovernmentalism and those of supranationalism within the EU. While both those perspectives strive for the creation of a common foreign policy for the Union, intergovernmentalism stresses that this can only be achieved by building military capabilities2. Such a Realpolitik view of international relations is contrasted by the rather neo-functionalist approach promoted by those who support supranationalism within the EU. They recognize that because the consensus on foreign and security policy between the EU member states has been difficult to forge, the Union must try to construct a common approach to foreign policy based on other principles besides power politics. Thus, the European Union is a normative actor who seeks to promote the norms and values that are found at its base in its external relations. Only after the EU has fully developed its normative role within the international system could the level integration from which it stemmed spill over and create consensus towards acquiring real military capabilities3. The Lisbon treaty fuses and conciliates intergovernmentalist and supranationalist views on foreign policy by subscribing to a normative role of the EU in its international relations while, at the same time transferring from the Commission to the European Council the power to regulate on the EU’s external ‘strategic interests and objectives’. This paper will explore the consequences of the adoption of the Lisbon treaty on the EU’s role as an international actor.

The history of the debate around the role of the European Union as an international actor is not at all new. Duchene4 first introduced the idea of the European Union as a civilian power which is bent not using military means, but by only promoting its norms through civilian means. In contrast, ten years later, in the context of the return to power politics, Hedley Bull5, a representative of the English School, underscored that the EU cannot be perceived as being a regular international actor, and if it were, it would behave like a realist power. More recently the debate has shifted focus from the material side to a more ontological view of the EU. Thus, the EU became to be perceived as a transformative power that had only weak influence in certain areas, but as a hole had the power of shaping norms in the same way a cosmopolitan power behaves6. The counterargument to this perspective was that the EU is actually imposing its own norms, though not in the same way that ancient empires did, but by the power of its example7. The main debate about EU normative power spawned from Ian Manners seminal article8. According to Manners, normative power can be at times reinforced by military means, but the main idea of his argument is that power politics have no normative ends. European power becomes now the direct result of EU normative leadership and persuasion, excluding even power politics based on economic mechanisms9. Additionally, in its relations with the world, the European Union projects itself as a force for good10. This kind of self-description is based on the fact that the EU externalizes its norms through the logic of appropriateness11. Thus, derives „one of Manners’ short hand definitions for normative power, that it is the ability to shape discourses”12. Adrian Hyde-Price offered a structural realist critique to the Normative Power Europe concept, arguing that in its international relations the EU must be viewed as a rational actor bent on interest maximizing and chooses normative gains only within second rate areas, not crucial security issues: human rights or environmental issues13.

The European Union’s self-centered responses to the „Five-Day War” and to the global economic crisis have put in doubt the normative character of the Union as an international actor. These recent developments have confirmed the prediction of the realist approach to international relations that the European Union is meant to act as a normal interest maximizing power. Within the Georgian war, the economic crisis or energy issue areas the member did not seem to find common ground and act unfired to promote a normative EU stance. In such a paradigm, second track issues (promotion of democracy and human rights) are followed only when they produce both relative and absolute gains14. At the same time a realist perspective casts a shadow over what the European Union is and stands for. The foreign policy of the EU is in a much higher degree a product of the interactions between various principles, norms, values and institutional designs within it. Additionally, a normative approach to EU foreign policy posits that the principles which construct it are also promoted through the Union’s external actions. As such, the normative power of the EU resides not from what the European Union says or does, but from what it is. If this statement were to be valid, choosing economic interest instead of second rate issues, could not transform the normativeness of the EU, because it is strictly an endogenous result of the Union’s structure and history. One of the main sources for analyzing the normative power of the EU are its treaties which have formalized and are an emanation of the norms and values that are at the base of the Union’s construction. For this reasons the provisions of the Lisbon treaty are to have a significant impact on the EU’s role as an international actor.

Both policy makers and scholars have been keen in pointing out that the Lisbon treaty will deepen the integration in the field of EU foreign policy15. In this sense, the treaty created a new position within the EU decision making framework which could advance integration, that of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The duties attributed to this new position concern coordinating the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and externally representing the Union. Moreover, the High Representative has taken over the responsibilities of the former Commissioner for the EU’s External Relations, serving thus the interests of the community16. While before the Lisbon Treaty the management of the CFSP was the sole responsibility of the intergovernmental body within the EU, the European Council, the High Representative would have do manage it17. Richard Whitman believes that this double hatted nature of the position can offer opportunities, but can also impede the development of a common stance on foreign policy issue18. Firstly, the High Representative has the opportunity of creating greater cooperation between the Council and the Commission whose views on the way the foreign policy of the EU should be developed have frequently contrasted. For example, in the cases of the enlargement and the neighborhood policies the two institutions have at times reached consensus, but often their cooperation was plagued by rivalry and competition which made their initiatives overlap or contradict each other and thus be ineffective19. Proponents of a normative foreign policy for the EU have been instrumental in promoting the creation of this new position. From their point of view the new High Representative will direct all her efforts to promoting the norms and values of the EU in the international system20. At the same time, through her role of CFSP coordinator within the Council she would have the task of assisting the spill over of the normative foreign policy into the decision making within the Council of the EU.

On the other hand, the Lisbon treaty has introduced the position of President of the European Council. This post involves coordinating the development and the achievement of the ‘strategic interests and objectives’ in foreign policy that were set through unanimity by the member states. Simultaneously the President has taken over some specific external relations functions: ‘at his or her level and in that capacity, ensure the external representation of the Union on issues concerning its common foreign and security policy, without prejudice to the powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy’21. This provision of the Lisbon treaty is taught to have created confusion or conflict around the roles of the High Representative and the President. The question of who really speaks for Europe still remains unanswered as the High Reprehensive is prone to promote a more normative stance for the EU, while the President is constrained by his position to promote a foreign policy that reflects the intergovernmental consensus constructed between the member states. As such, the external representation of the EU will be the battle ground between the interests of the member states and those of the Commission. On the other hand, Malici has stressed that such a conflictual situation can be avoided if the President of the European Council and the High Representative will coordinate their efforts in order to create a consensus between the Commission and the heads of the member states22. Nonetheless, the relations between the holders of the new positions created by the Lisbon treaty has been characterized in the last five months by discord, which confused the EU’s neighbors about the Union’s intentions.

Some scholars have underlined the fact that the adoption of the Lisbon treaty has extended the EU’s international reach towards other areas around the world23. The Lisbon Treaty grants legal personality to the EU abolishing the former European Communities24. While from an instrumental point of view this will permit the EU to sign international agreements, at the same time it would be incorrect to compare the Union to a state in legal terms as it can sign only agreements found within the scope granted by the consensus between the member states. Although it is straightforward that the legal personality of the EU supports an intergovernmentalist approach to the development of the Union, former High Representative for CFSP, Javier Solana underscored that it will ‘be easier for third countries to understand the EU without the complication of dealing with, and sometimes signing agreements with, different entities’25. In this sense, the EU would be more effective in exporting its norms and values to the Third World countries.

Probably the most important innovation introduced by the Lisbon treaty is the proposed establishment of a professional diplomatic corps to represent the Union in its external relations. The European External Action Service (EEAS) would be created to assist the new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and would be under his authority. The EEAS will round up members from relevant departments within the Commission and the Council’s General Secretariat coupled with diplomatic staff selected by the member states26. The establishment of the EEAS is widely seen as marking the birth of a European foreign policy service that could foster a more coherent international stance for the Union. The EEAS could prove to be a platform through which member states could promote their different foreign policy initiatives regarding the EU. Moreover, the gathering of diplomatic staff from both the Commission and the member states could engage the latter in various learning patterns that could accommodate them to the normative principles that the EU seeks to promote in its foreign policy. Such socializations are especially benefic for the newly acceded member states that often have been eager to shape the foreign policy of the EU, but approached this endeavor acting in terms of their national interest defined in a realist paradigm. Some of them already have immersed their foreign policy into the normative principle of the EU and have been successful in promoting their initiatives. For example, Poland is considered to have highly contributed to the adoption of the EU sanctions against Belarus and the Union’s involvement in Ukraine27. Additionally, Poland managed to successfully lobby for the creation and now hosts the FRONTEX agency. The institution is responsible for dealing with the EU’s external border. Nonetheless, the development of this agency was an expression of the accommodation of Poland’s national preferences with the EU’s approach to its neighbors. On the other hand, in the spring of 2009, Romania proved to be unsuccessful when it pushed for an imitative that served only its narrowly defined national interest. It failed in persuading the European Council to suspend its cooperation with the Republic of Moldova because of the severe travel restrictions it imposed on Romanian citizens and make a statement against the communist regime that was in power in Chisinau at the time. Romania can thus find an opportunity in the creation of the European External Action Service to promote its policies towards its eastern neighbors in a normative manner. Additionally, through the staff it promotes into the future EEAS, Romania could create a new sense of credibility between the EU member states and reinstate itself as a leading actor in the democratization of the Union’s eastern neighborhood. This would also require the relinquishing of all nationalistic rhetoric advanced by the Romanian leadership over the last two three years. While such discourses might be effective for securing domestic political support they have the potential of damaging the legitimacy of any Romanian initiative in the EU’s eastern neighborhood even if they are animated by normative foreign policy principles or a narrow national interest logic.

The adoption of the Lisbon treaty has introduced a series of long needed institutional reforms into the foreign policy of the EU. It is expected that these new provisions would broaden and enhance both intergovernmental cooperation and the relation between the Commission and the European Council. In the first five months, the relations of the Union with third party states have been intensified as a result of the provisions of the Lisbon treaty. At the same time, the creation of a diplomatic corps formed of both member state and Commission would create the opportunity and the incentives for the adaptation of the national foreign policies of the member states to the normative principle of the EU.




1 Ian Manners, „Global Europa: Mythology of the European Union in World Politics”, Journal of Common Market Studies, 48, 1(2010): 67.
2 Andrew Moravcsik, The Choice for Europe: Social Purpose and State Power from. Messina to Maastricht (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998).
3 M. Pace, „The construction of Normative Power”, Journal of Common Market Studies, 45, 5(2007): 1041-1064; Natalie Tocci, et al., „The European Union as a Normative Foreign Policy Actor”, in Tocci (ed.). Who is a Normative Foreign Policy Actor? The European Union and its Global Partners. (Brussels: Centre for European Policy Studies, 2008).
4 Francois Duchene, „Europe’s role in world peace”, in R. Mayne (ed.) Europe Tomorrow: Sixteen Europeans Look Ahead (London: Fontana/Collins, 1972); Francois Duchene, „The European Community and the uncertainties of interdependence”, in M. Kohnstamm and W. Hager (eds.) A Nation Writ Large? Foreign-Policy Problems Before the Community (London: Macmillan, 1973).
5 Hedley Bull, „Civilian Power Europe: A Contradiction in Terms?”, Journal of Common Market Studies 12, 2(1982): 149–64.
6 Thomas Diez, „Constructing the Self and Changing Others: Reconsidering „Normative Power Europe””, Millennium Journal of International Studies, 33, 3(2005): 620.
7 Jan Zielonka, „Europe as a Global Actor: Empire by Example”, International Affairs, 84, 3(2008): 471-484.
8 Ian Manners, „Normative Power Europe: A Contradiction in Terms?”, Journal of Common Market Studies, 40, 2(2002): 235-258.
9 Ian Manners, „Normative Power Europe Reconsidered: beyond the Crossroads”, Journal of European Public Policy, 13, 2(2006): 182-199; Ian Manners, „The Normative Ethics of the European Union’, International Affairs, 84, 1(2008): 45-60.
10 Richard Whitman, „Muscles from Brussels: The demise of civilian power Europe?”, in Ole Elgstrom & Michael Smith, The European Union’s Roles in International Politics: Concepts and analysis. (New York: Routledge, 2006), 115.
11  Helen Sjursen, Karen E., „Justifying EU Foreign Policy: The Logics Underpinning EU Enlargement”, in T. Christiansen and B. Tonra (eds.) Rethinking EU Foreign Policy: Beyond the Common Foreign and Security Policy (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004), 130.
12 Thomas Forsberg, Normative Power Europe (Once More): A Conceptual Clarification And Empirical Analysis. Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, New York, 15-18 February 2009.
13 Adrian Hyde-Price, „„Normative” power Europe: a realist critique”, Journal of European Public Policy, 13, 2(2006): 251.
14 Adrian Hyde-Price, „A ‘tragic actor’? A realist perspective on ‘ethical power Europe’”, International Affairs, 84, 1(2008): 29–44.
15 Jan Orbie, (ed.), Europe’s Global Role: External Policies of the European Union, (London: Ahsgate, 2008).
16 Article 1 19) of the Lisbon Treaty, inserting Article 9E TEU; Article 1 30) of the Lisbon Treaty, inserting Article 13a TEU.
17 Article 1 19) of the Lisbon Treaty, inserting Article 9e TEU; Article 1 27) of the Lisbon Treaty, amending Article 11 TEU; Article 1 29) of the Lisbon Treaty, amending Article 13 TEU; Article 1 30) of the Lisbon Treaty, inserting Article 13a TEU; compare the current Article 18 TEU 313 Article 1 30) of the Lisbon Treaty, inserting Article.
18 Richard G. Whitman, „The Rise of European Security Cooperation”, Perspectives on politics, 7, 2(2009): 443.
19 Hiski Haukkala, „The European Union as a Regional Normative Hegemon: The Case of European Neighborhood Policy”, Europe-Asia Studies, 60, 9(2008): 1601—1622; John O’Brennan, ‘‘Bringing Geopolitics Back In’: Exploring the Security Dimension of the 2004 Eastern Enlargement of the European Union”, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 19, 1(2005): 137; Helen Sjursen, „Why expand? The question of legitimacy and justification in the EU’s enlargement policy”, Journal of Common Market Studies 40, 3(2002): 225.
20 T Forsberg, „Normative Power Europe”.
21 Article 1 16) of the Lisbon Treaty, inserting Article 9B TEU
22 Akan Malici, „The Search for a Common European Foreign and Security Policy: Leaders, Cognitions and Questions of Institutional Viability”, (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 154.
23 Derek Averre, „Competing Rationalities: Russia, the EU and the ‚Shared Neighbourhood”, Europe- Asia Studies, 61, 10(2009); Hiski Haukkala, „The European Union as a Regional Normative Hegemon: The Case of European Neighborhood Policy”, Europe-Asia Studies, 60, 9(2008).
24 Article 1 55) of the Lisbon Treaty, inserting Article 46A TEU.
25 Javier Solana, „„Could we be that dumb?” - France’s constitutional referendum, China embargo, Russia, USA, Kosovo: Javier Solana in discussion with the IP”, Internationale Politik, 60, 5(2005), 76.
26 Article 1 30) of the Lisbon Treaty, inserting Article 13a TEU.
27 Joanna Kaminska, „New EU members and the CFSP: Europeanization of the Polish foreign policy”, Political Perspectives, 2, 2(2007).


CRISTIAN NIŢOIU Research Master student, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham.




Sfera Politicii