Last week, the European External Action Service presented its new “EU Global Strategy for European Foreign and Security Policy” (EUGS). This is the first time the EU puts forward a document which clearly defines its foreign policy interests and priorities.


Broadly speaking, the EUGS aims to make EU policy more coherent and to mainstream EU values in foreign relations. It supports an integrated approach to the EU’s external and internal policies. It introduces a new “principled pragmatism”, which focuses on the EU and its neighbours’ security, the importance of building resilience abroad, as well as the need to support the EU’s soft power with hard power. It also commits the EU to multilateral and regional cooperation with a more engaging and normative approach, looking beyond traditional partners.

While setting high ambitions for the EU’s global role and restating commitment to its core values, the EUGS offers a more realistic assessment of the EU’s transformative power abroad.

Five priorities for EU external action

The EUGS clearly establishes that it aims to promote the interests of EU citizens, as well as the EU’s principles and values –- notably security, peace, prosperity and equality (through the SDGs), democracy, and a rule-based global order. With the overarching vision of a ‘stronger union’, it stresses that the EU is facing ‘existential threats’, with both internal and external security dimensions – such as terrorism or climate change. Accordingly, the EUGS establishes five key foreign policy priorities aiming to tackle these threats: (i) The EU strengthened as a security community; (ii) Building resilience of States and societies; (iii) A comprehensive approach to conflicts and crises; (iv) Cooperating and supporting with regional orders; (v) Supporting a global governance for the 21st century.

A new EU approach to foreign policy

The EUGS enshrines a new integrated approach of institutional and policy coordination in EU external action. It proposes closer links between policy areas and aims to build on their interconnections. The external dimension may consequently become increasingly present in several internal EU policies – and vice versa. For instance, the EUGS stresses the need for coherence and integration in conflict management, migration and counter-terrorism policies, with the aim of tackling root causes – such as inequality or poverty – through development and inclusion policies, such as education and employment creation within and outside the EU. Similarly, it says the Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs) objectives and development policy should align with other strategic goals and become more flexible in terms of funding cycles, processes and instruments, enhancing coherence and easing private contributions. It also states the need to integrate Energy Union objectives with external action on climate change. This approach echoes the EUGS’s strong focus on resilience.

Focusing on EU security and building resilience abroad

In light of heightened terrorist threats and the enduring migration and refugee crises, the EUGS puts the security of EU citizens and EU territory at the centre of its priorities. Special attention is paid to the EU’s neighbours and to regional stability. Going beyond current enlargement and neighbourhood policies, it looks to the whole Eurasian continent as the vicinity the Union needs to secure. The EUGS proposes a shift from the EU’s traditional approach – emphasising the promotion democracy and good governance – to ‘principled pragmatism’; i.e. balancing capabilities and opportunities to meet situational needs, with the aim of building resilience in societies. This ties into the broader objective of a more comprehensive approach to conflict management.

Complementing “soft” with “hard power”

The EUGS recognises that “In a fragile world, soft power is not enough”. The document aims to make the EU a strategically autonomous security actor, acting beyond the scope of NATO cooperation. The EU will encourage European security cooperation as well as more investment in security and defence. Member States are to increase data sharing in order to better assess threats; while efforts to synchronise Member State capabilities and increase the coherence of their defence and security policies – notably by increasing the competitiveness of the European defence industry – will significantly strengthen the EU’s credibility as a security actor.

The EU changing global governance

The EUGS aims to transform the existing system of international cooperation through a normative approach to global governance, restating support for trade and investment. Beyond this, the EUGS encourages increased engagement in multilateral solutions and initiatives, as well as cooperative relationships with other regional orders and emerging powers – including engagement with international institutions created by Chinese or BRICS initiatives. This shows the EU is shifting away from a unilateral approach to developing countries as aid recipients. It also indicates openness and interest in engaging with all countries, beyond the EU’s traditional strategic partners.

Concluding remarks

The EUGS is a useful starting point. It shapes the broad outlines of the EU’s desired role as a foreign policy actor. While it will need its own set of sub-policies and actions to put ambitions into practice, it is a dynamic document: it calls for procedures and timelines to revise existing sectoral strategies and establish new ones in line with priorities. The EUGS also foresees a regular assessment with the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of the state of play and further implementation steps needed.

More generally, priorities and interests need to be translated into policies, including at national level. The EUGS thus also aims to increase communication of EU external actions and achievements. Specifically it advocates “investing in and joining up public diplomacy across different fields, in order to connect EU foreign policy with citizens and better communicate it”, both internally and externally, which will significantly increase responsibility, accountability, and transparency. In the same line, the EUGS envisages inclusion of all social actors across policy phases and fields, encouraging participation of (inter)national partners, the private sector and civil society.

It is worth noting that while EU High Representative Mogherini explicitly recognised that ‘Brexit’ is a challenge to the EU’s unity and role in global affairs (and overshadowed the EUGS launch) the EUGS is also seen as an opportunity to step up European cohesion and set ambitious and consistent objectives. However, while the EUGS somewhat responds to an urgent necessity – the much discussed ‘wake-up call’ for Europe – it is also important to recognise that it does not bind Member States or aim to establish a European army or military capabilities. In such, it also fails to address the shortcomings of existing policies and EU-US relations.