When the US and the EU countries disagree about how security policy problems should be dealt with in other parts of the world, there is rarely a common European foreign policy in reach. Indeed, the US is often described as the greatest obstacle to forging joint EU foreign policy standpoints. But appearances can be illusory. Maria Strömvik has studied EU foreign policy from 1970 onward and found that the Union has become more and more successful at pursuing a common policy. And the greatest advances have been made during periods when the EU countries stood in opposition to US foreign policy.
In the wake, for example, of the October War in 1973, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the Libya crisis in the mid 1980s, when the EC countries did not share the US view of the best plan of action to take, the EC countries were able to unite behind considerably more foreign policy issues than previously.
Some of the most sensational forward strides were taken in 2003, when opposition to the US on the Iraq War overshadowed all other events. For example, both the EU military takeover in Macedonia and the Union’s peacemaking efforts in the Congo slipped under the media radar, even though they were the first times the EU had ever deployed military personnel abroad.
“Just ten years ago soldiers in EU helmets were unthinkable,” says Maria Strömvik.
In the midst of the Iraq conflict the EU countries also managed to unite behind a European security strategy, an objective they had repeatedly failed to reach since the 1970s.
During the period that Maria Strömvik has studied, the institutional conditions for a common foreign policy were enhanced.
“I thought at first that it was the institutional changes that had paved the way for the ever greater unity in the EU when it comes to foreign policy issues, but it turns out that the institutions were actually reinforced only afterward, that is, to adapt to more and more active foreign policies,” says Maria Strömvik. In the same way, the new constitution, which is now in a state of suspended animation, comprises primarily adjustments designed to deal with the more and more active EU role in international efforts for peace, which have already developed substantially over the last few years.
Maria Strömvik will defend her thesis on September 24. It is titled To act as a Union: Explaining the development of the EU’s collective foreign policy.