Briefing Paper

Briefing Paper 88 (2011)   ISBN 978-951-769-319-6

Swimming in murky waters:
Challenges in developing the EU's external representation

Published 23.9.2011

Piotr Maciej Kaczyński
The Finnish Institute of International Affairs

Download PDF (2.29 Mb)

Only daydreamers could have imagined that constructing a foreign ministry for a supranational entity with unified external representation would be easy. The European Union has once again entered uncharted waters.

The EU external representation is complex due to two overlapping developments. First is the confusion over who to represent: the Union or the Union and the member states. The second bone of contention relates to the question of when the EU is supposed to be in charge, since the competences of the EU and the member states are scattered across the board and international negotiations almost always touch upon various types of competences.

The early compromises on external representation remain fragile and certain issues are still pending and waiting to be addressed. This process is compounded in a time of economic crisis and political instabilities in the member states.

The strongest motivating factor in favour of the EU's more unified external representation is the fear of external insignificance. The latest examples showing that such concerns are well-founded include the Copenhagen 2009 climate negotiations and the IMF reform, where EU member states had to yield to the coalition of the US and China.