The External Action of the European Union
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The External Action of the European Union

Concepts, Approaches, Theories

Sieglinde Gstöhl, Simon Schunz, Sieglinde Gstöhl, Simon Schunz

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eBook - ePub

The External Action of the European Union

Concepts, Approaches, Theories

Sieglinde Gstöhl, Simon Schunz, Sieglinde Gstöhl, Simon Schunz

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This groundbreaking new textbook offers extensive coverage of EU External Action studies, from its major concepts to the key theories in the field. Over the past decades, the European Union has progressively developed into a significant global actor in an increasing number of policy fields. This long-awaited volume looks into different ways of conceptualizing the EU as a global actor, the processes and impact of EU external action, explanations offered by IR and integration theories, the discursive, normative, practice and gender 'turns', and the 'decentring agenda' for EU external action. The book offers a reader-friendly guidance on these various ways in which to study the EU as a global actor: each chapter introduces one concept, approach or theory and illustrates its application by a case study of EU external action. In drawing the different perspectives together, the book underscores that 'EU External Action Studies' is becoming an academic speciality in its own right. Written by leading experts, the volume will make essential reading for students, scholars and practitioners of EU external action. EU External Action Studies nowadays attract attention from scholars and students in International Relations (IR), Foreign Policy Analysis and (interdisciplinary) EU Studies, as well as from practitioners.

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1 The History of European Union External Action and Its Study
Sieglinde Gstöhl and Simon Schunz
This chapter explores how the external action of the European Union (EU) and its academic study have developed over time. It argues that four phases can be distinguished: from a neglect of the external dimension in the 1950s–60s, the emergence of external action (studies) in the 1970s–80s, to an expansion in the 1990s following the Treaty of Maastricht and an increasing diversification since the Treaty of Lisbon entered into force in late 2009. To describe, understand and explain this evolution, scholars have applied International Relations theories, Foreign Policy Analysis and integration theories to case studies as well as developed concepts and approaches specific to the nature of the EU’s external affairs.
Within the span of a few decades, the European Union (EU) has developed into a global actor in its own right (see Keukeleire and Delreux, 2014, 35–60; Smith, 2014, 21–43). The scholarship on its external action has developed in parallel to this evolution (see Saurugger, 2014, 214–225; Jørgensen, 2015a; Tonra, 2000). As the Union’s external action expanded, typical and recurrent questions scholars have asked include: what kind of actor or power is the EU? How and why does the EU cooperate with other international actors? Under what conditions does integration in external action deepen or expand to new areas or members? What is the role of the EU in a multilateral context, and how can the impact of its external action be assessed and explained? More recently, scholars have also increasingly asked: how can (the study of) EU external action be improved (e.g. by overcoming Eurocentrism)?
This chapter provides an overview of the milestones of EU external action and the scholarship that was sparked by its development. It argues that four major phases can be distinguished from the 1950s to the present: neglect, emergence, expansion and diversification. During this entire period, scholars of EU external action have fruitfully applied and modified concepts, approaches and theories from International Relations (IR) as well as from EU Studies, imported some from other disciplines, and produced own ones. While discussing each of the four phases in turn, the chapter provides major examples of such theory-building efforts while leaving more in-depth literature reviews on specific concepts, approaches and theories to the subsequent chapters of this volume.
The historical evolution of EU external action and its academic study
Phase 1 (1950–1969): neglect of the external dimension
The immediate post-World War II era saw the creation of many international organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to establish a rules-based international order. In Europe, the war experience triggered a theoretical – and normative – debate between federalists and functionalists on how to ensure lasting peace. Federalists claimed that national sovereignty should be exchanged for the top-down constitution of a federation of states (Sidjanski, 1992). In their view, ‘function would follow form’: economic and social progress would only become possible if an overarching political authority was empowered to bring it about. In 1949, the federalists succeeded in establishing the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. However, the newly created organization was quickly considered to have failed in achieving their aspirations of bringing about the ‘United States of Europe’. In contrast to federalism, functionalism was less concerned with regional community-building and focused on different forms of international cooperation with varying partners. Its leading theorist, Mitrany (1943, 6), suggested a pragmatic bottom-up approach which would ‘overlay political divisions with a spreading web of international activities and agencies, in which and through which the interests and life of all the nations would be gradually integrated’. In this view, ‘form would follow function’: international cooperation in technical, ‘non-political’ areas would over time extend to more controversial, political areas.
History did not side with any of the two schools of thought when the French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman proposed the pooling of coal and steel resources in Western Europe in 1950. The ‘Schuman Plan’, drafted by Jean Monnet, was based on the conviction that peace and stability were contingent upon a rapprochement between France and West Germany. Six states (France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) participated in the negotiations which, in 1951, led to the Treaty of Paris on the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The United Kingdom (UK) concluded an association agreement with the ECSC.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, the United States (US) proposed rearming West Germany within the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). As an alternative, the French government proposed, with the ‘Pleven Plan’, the creation of a European Defence Community (EDC) with the underlying assumption that a common European army would preclude the creation of a distinct West German army under German command. Since this implied the development of a common foreign policy, a treaty on a European Political Community was drafted right after the EDC treaty was signed in 1952. However, in 1954, the French Parliament – against the backdrop of a divided government and the French war in Indochina – refused to ratify the EDC, also causing the collapse of the Political Community.
After the failure of these political projects for a common European external action, the six ECSC members were eager to deepen their economic integration. The immense costs and technical challenges associated with the development of atomic energy also made this technology an obvious candidate for collective action. Therefore, in 1957 the Treaties of Rome establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the European Economic Community (EEC) were signed (which ten years later became, together with the ECSC, officially the European Communities or EC). With the creation of these supranational Communities, functionalism lost its explanatory power, but some of its central ideas were taken up by neofunctionalist theory.
Neofunctionalism combines the supranational goal of federalism with the functionalist-inspired notion of ‘spillover’ implying that the integration of certain sectors would set in motion a process in which interest groups and (national and supranational) political elites would lobby for additional sectors to be integrated. Moreover, Haas (1958, 313–317) suggested that a ‘geographical spillover’ might lead to enlargement because closer integration threatened non-members’ future market access and other benefits. In his ‘externalization hypothesis’, Schmitter (1969, 165) later argued that EC members would find themselves compelled to adopt common policies vis-à-vis third countries because their policies might elicit a reaction from adversely affected outsiders. Indeed, when in 1958 the negotiations on the creation of a wider free trade area among the 17 members of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation failed, the countries that were opposed to supranational integration (Austria, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK) set up the intergovernmental European Free Trade Association (EFTA).
In 1961, Greece signed an association agreement with the EEC, and similar requests by Turkey, Spain and Malta followed. In the same year, the British government submitted an application to join the Communities, as did Denmark, Ireland and Norway. Simultaneously, neutral Austria, Sweden and Switzerland felt obliged to request a special associate arrangement with the EEC in order not to suffer serious negative economic consequences. The so-called Fouchet Plans for foreign policy cooperation proposed by France in 1961–62 met with resistance from the other five member states. Due to fears of Anglo-American domination, French President de Gaulle put an end to the negotiations with the UK in 1963. Two years later, he boycotted Council meetings for several months in the so-called ‘empty chair’ crisis resulting from France’s disagreement with a Commission proposal for financing the Common Agricultural Policy and for majority voting in the Council of Ministers. The ‘Luxembourg compromise’ found in January 1966 stipulated that, where a country believed that its vital national interests might be adversely affected, negotiations had to continue until an acceptable compromise was reached. In 1967, the UK launched its second application for membership. Once again, Ireland, Denmark and Norway followed suit. However, before the negotiations could even start, de Gaulle imposed another veto against the UK’s accession to the EC.
This policy of defending national sovereignty and interests challenged key assumptions of neofunctionalism. For Hoffmann (1966), governments rather than supranational institutions were therefore the key players: bargains in the Communities embodied the interests and relative power of the member states. Intergovernmentalist theory thus distinguished between ‘high’ politics (e.g. matters of state security) and ‘low’ politics (e.g. technical or economic matters). A spillover from economic to political integration in the longer run was therefore not foreseen. Intergovernmentalism also helped explain why some countries did not want to join the EC. This theoretical strand was in the 1990s taken up by Liberal Intergovernmentalism (see below, and for this time period: Moravcsik, 1998, 159–237).
During the same phase, the EC also concluded agreements with other than neighbouring countries. EU development policy finds its roots in the colonial past of certain member states, in particular France, and early Commission officials might be said to have ‘recycled their imperial experience’ into a ‘neo-patri-monial system’ at the European level (Dimier, 2014, 2). The association of the overseas territories with the EEC in the Rome Treaty was decided unilaterally (ibid., 13–14). This association was then continued and extended in parallel with decolonization, leading to the conclusion of the 1963 Yaoundé Convention between the EEC and 18 African states (ibid., 53). In this respect, Galtung (1973, 12) critically argued that ‘a new superpower’ was emerging with the EEC – a bureaucratic continuation of the former colonial policy that was trying to recreate ‘a Eurocentric world’ (a debate which was later revived with the concept of ‘post-colonial power’, see below).
Early scholarship on EC external relations was primarily generated by lawyers (e.g. Pescatore, 1961) and economists, who focussed on the welfare effects of customs unions and free trade areas for insiders and outsiders (e.g. Balassa, 1961). Political scientists, by contrast, were mainly concerned with theorizing the deepening of the European integration process based on federalist, (neo-)functionalist and/or intergovernmentalist thinking. Despite the emergence of EC trade, development, association or enlargement policies during this first phase, these scholars’ theoretical focus remained rather inward-looking, concentrating on conceptualizing how and why member states integrate (or not). Overall, the neglect of the international context and the primarily ‘empirical descriptive tradition’ of EU Studies helps explain the ‘fairly strong inside-out bias … and high degree of legal-institutionalist underpinnings’ at the time (Jørgensen, 2015b, 7).
Phase 2 (1970–1992): emergence of EU external action (studies)
It was only after President de Gaulle’s resignation in April 1969 that accession negotiations again became possible. In December of that year, the Hague Summit not only opened the way to the first enlargement, but also led to a further deepening of integration in the form of European Political Cooperation (EPC) and Economic and Monetary Union (EMU). While the latter failed in the light of the oil crisis and the collapse of the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates, the EPC provided as of 1970 a first platform for EC members to cooperate on foreign policy issues. In 1974, the practice of summitry was institutionalized by establishing the European Council as an informal discussion forum for heads of state or government. The UK, Denmark and Ireland joined the EC in 1973, whereas the Norwegians rejected membership in a referendum and instead signed free trade agreements with the enlarged Communities, as did the other remaining EFTA countries.
These developments sparked some scholarly interest in the EPC (see de Schoutheete, 1980; Hill, 1988; Weiler and Wessels, 1988; Nuttall, 1992). Given its intergovernmental nature, realist-inspired intergovernmentalist explanations focusing on the interplay between the EPC and the long-established national foreign policies of the member states remained particularly popular during the 1970s and early 1980s (for a neorealist take on EU external action, see the chapter by Hyde-Price in this volume). This trend was further reinforced by the inability of neofunctionalism and other integration theories to cope with ‘Eurosclerosis’, that is, the period of stagnation and incapacity of the EC institutions to promote further integration. In EU Studies, this period has been referred to as the ‘doldrums era’ – a period during which the academic interest was essentially restricted to empirical case studies of the EC policy-making process (Caporaso and Keeler, 1995, 36–42).
Nevertheless, important novel concepts of the EC as a power in international affairs emerged with the EPC’s debut (for an overview, see Koops, 2011, 153–193). The debate was launched by Duchêne (1972, 43) who introduced, without further developing it, the concept of ‘civilian power’. He saw the Community as an international actor long on economic and short on military power, which tried to influence other actors through economic, diplomatic and legal tools (a debate which was later continued with ‘normative power’, see below).
The EC also attracted scholarly attention as it made its first steps in multilateral fora. Its founding members were contracting parties to the 1947 GATT. Through its participation in the GATT rounds of the 1960s, the Community acquired a de facto member status. For the first time, it thus engaged in negotiations with a single voice and on an equal footing with the United States. This process marked its emergence as a world trading power (Coppolaro, 2013). The EPC entered the international spotlight when the Community participated in the 1973–75 negotiations of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and obtained observer status at the United Nations General Assembly. Yet, as argued by Feld (1983, 4), ‘the desire to speak with a single voice [wa]s an aspiration for the future rather than a reality’. The EC also continued to act in international development with the conclusion of the second Yaoundé Convention (1969–1975). The later Lomé Conventions (1975–200...


  1. Cover
  2. Title Page
  3. Contents
  4. Preface
  5. List of Tables and Boxes
  6. List of Abbreviations
  7. Notes on Contributors
  8. Introduction: EU External Action and Tools to Study It
  9. 1 The History of European Union External Action and Its Study
  15. Index
  16. eCopyright
Estilos de citas para The External Action of the European Union

APA 6 Citation

Gstöhl, S., & Schunz, S. (2021). The External Action of the European Union (1st ed.). Bloomsbury Publishing. Retrieved from (Original work published 2021)

Chicago Citation

Gstöhl, Sieglinde, and Simon Schunz. (2021) 2021. The External Action of the European Union. 1st ed. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Harvard Citation

Gstöhl, S. and Schunz, S. (2021) The External Action of the European Union. 1st edn. Bloomsbury Publishing. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

Gstöhl, Sieglinde, and Simon Schunz. The External Action of the European Union. 1st ed. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.