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The European External Action Service: Towards a More Coherent EU Foreign Policy?

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From the inception of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) to the new institutional reforms brought about by the Lisbon Treaty in the European Union (EU)'s external relations realm, the EU has constantly tried to improve its institutional structure in order to enhance its international role. Undeniably, the Lisbon Treaty and its series of institutional reforms can be deemed as a major step to improve the consistency and effective engagement of the Union's external action. However, this engagement often brings in the foreground issues of member states' heterogeneity and EU (in-) cohesion that are extremely relevant to our understanding of the EU's role in the international system. The establishment of the European External Action Service (EEAS) comprises a significant evolution and, perhaps, the most innovative institutional development fashioned by the Lisbon Treaty. Not only does the European Union now have an independent actor to deal with all issues relating to its external relations: the EEAS synthesis, with personnel coming from the Commission, the Council Secretariat plus diplomats from the 28 EU member-states, also constitutes a unique body to manage all supranational and inter-governmental aspects of EU foreign policy under the same roof. Hence—almost six years after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and the EEAS genesis—the scope of this paper is threefold: a) to explain the nature, scope and structure of this new institutional actor in the EU's foreign policy system, b) to shed light on its position vis-à-vis all major players of the EU foreign policy system including the European Council, the Commission and the European Parliament (EP), and c) to postulate a preliminary assessment of its function from 2010 onwards. Our analysis is based on official EU documentation, secondary literature and twenty-one semi-structured interviews with officials in Brussels from October 2014 to February 2016.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2016

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  • The St Antony's International Review (STAIR) is the only peer-reviewed journal of international affairs at the University of Oxford. Set up by graduate students of St Antony's College in 2005, the Review has carved out a distinctive niche as a cross-disciplinary outlet for research on the most pressing contemporary global issues, providing a forum in which emerging scholars can publish their work alongside established academics and policymakers. Past contributors include Robert O. Keohane, James N. Rosenau, and Alfred Stepan.
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