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Strong, united and effective EU external action

Strong EU external action is essential for Europe’s wellbeing, prosperity and security. During its Presidency, Finland will fully support the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in strengthening the EU as a global player, as envisaged in the EU Global Strategy.

The current complex international environment makes it particularly important to enhance the unity, coherence and effectiveness of EU external action. To strengthen unity will require member states to show more willingness to compromise and to commit to common action. Better coherence means using all EU external action instruments in a concerted way. Swifter decision-making is needed to increase the EU’s influence and effectiveness. The possibility of using qualified majority voting in some areas of foreign and security policy should be further discussed during Finland’s Presidency. 

Reform of the financing for  EU external action under the next multiannual financial framework is also important for policy coherence. The EU needs to reach agreement on a simplified and more flexible system in which political priorities are better linked with cost-effective financing.

Finland’s Presidency aims to

  • contribute to strengthening and, if necessary, reforming the rules-based multilateral system, with the UN at its core
  • ensure that respect for international law and the promotion of universal human rights, democracy and the rule of law are put at the core of all EU external action
  • maintain the EU’s leading role in development policy and humanitarian aid and in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement
  • give cross-cutting attention to gender equality and the rights of women and girls 
  • work to have the EU participate more effectively in conflict prevention and mediation 
  • pursue a more equal and mutually beneficial EU−Africa partnership
  • foster the EU−US transatlantic partnership, which remains a cornerstone of security and prosperity
  • reflect strategically and comprehensively on the EU’s approach to China
  • continue the EU’s consistent and united policy on Russia
  • increase the stability and resilience of societies in the EU neighbourhood
  • take forward work on enlargement perspectives for the Western Balkans
  • strengthen the EU’s Arctic policy, making mitigation of climate change its top priority.

General background: Common Foreign and Security Policy

The Common Foreign and Security Policy gives the EU a global role that cannot be achieved if the member states act alone. In foreign policy, the highest decision-making body is the European Council, which mostly takes its decisions by unanimity of the member states.

The Foreign Affairs Council is responsible for the EU’s external action, which includes foreign policy, defence and security, trade, development cooperation and humanitarian aid. Its main role is to ensure, together with the European Commission and with the assistance of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the unity, consistency and effectiveness of the EU’s external action.

Three milestones in the history of the EU’s foreign and security policy:

  1. The Common Foreign and Security Policy was established by the Treaty of Maastricht, which entered into force in 1993. 
  2. The post of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European External Action Service were created by the Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force in 2009.
  3. The EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, published in 2016, aims to strengthen the EU’s unity and weight as a global player.

Read more about EU external action

European External Action Service 

Council of the EU: Foreign Affairs Council

European External Action Service: EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy 

EU2019FI backgrounder: Arctic policy