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In the international system and law, states are in the utmost position by virtue of their sovereignty. The structure and the balance of international relations have a dynamic character that evolves with the acts, relations, and inventions of the states. This creates an anarchic order in which states behave in accordance with their interests which always comes within the need for survival in the system. This system has such a structure that it prepares the basis for actors to work in cooperation as well as to conflict with each other. After the World Wars, exhausted states reverberated their need for survival via creating international organizations. These international organizations have different structures by the reason they are created for different needs and different regions. European Union is one of the main and influential international organizations. Furthermore, it is the only supra-national organization in the current system. European Union can be evaluated as a political structure that has not yet completed its integration in all subjects, shows supranational qualities in certain areas, but still where the sovereignty of states is at the forefront in certain areas such as foreign policy (Akdemir, 2018, 184). This article is written with the aim of firstly explaining the policies and main values of the EU, then focusing on how states’ interlocking national interests reflected the common foreign policies. 

After the Second World War, in order to avoid conflict and promote cooperation in Europe,  6 states established European Economic Community in 1958. The cooperation in the economy leads to the cooperation for security, health, education, and many others. Along with the globalization of the international system, belief in the solitary power of states started to fade away. Establishing alliances and common policies via international organizations had been the most effective strategy to survive in this race system.  As a result of the supra-nationalist view of European states, with the Maastricht agreement, 28 states gathered all of these subjects under the roof of the European Union. Treaties, which were signed by states during the complementation of the EU, demonstrate the structure and the main values of the organization. Giving weight to democracy, human rights, freedom, equality, the law are the main values of the EU. Moreover, promoting, ensuring, and protecting these values are the main goals of this organization. Acting within cooperation for health, education, climate, human rights or the environment is a flowing action for the EU member states due to their common perspectives and values on these subjects. European Union contains cornerstones of the Classical Liberalistic view of international order: Encouraging and supporting individuals’ rights, believing in the power of cooperation and a free economy. As a branch of Liberalism, Democratic Peace Theory, also, is one of the theories which reflects the European Union’s view of the international order. European Union is promoting democracy via its policies and decisions. Because they believe in a democracy comes with stable foreign and domestic relations and a good economy. However, promoting a regime that is not clearly defined and uncertain among other states, especially with the United States, by way of war or sanctions, creates an antinomy. 

Luxembourg’s finance minister Jean-Claude Juncker signs the treaty of Maastricht in 1992. He was the president of the European Commission between 2014-2019. (Photo: European Commission)

European Union is one of the main and major actors in the international system. In order for the European Union to be accepted by other actors and international organizations as an international effective actor, it must be commissive in foreign policy (Aksoy & Uğur, 2016, 222). However, the interlocking national interests of states prevent the EU to create common foreign policy grounds. Realism is the reality that lives at the very bottom of every state and organization. Every state has national interests and security concerns due to its past experiences. This establishes security-driven policies and sometimes act of aggression among other states. This act of aggression is not always based on the feeling of fear. In the international area, the want for war also can arise from imperialistic desires. As the Realists put it, in the world of conflict and race, there can not be a natural harmony of mutual interests. Creating policies upon migration, security, foreign policy brings out a struggle due to different opinions and priorities of member states. All states in the international system take action and make decisions for their survival and power. Therefore, the actions and policies of other states can’t be predicted by others. Especially major powers in the international system, such as France, UK, Germany, USA relentlessly seek power for their “self-help” mechanism. The major powers’ positions and desires create a threat among member states and other states. States’ desire is to have enough power to be the dominant authority in the international area. In that way, they can protect themselves from external threats that always exist in the background of international relations. This loop creates a security dilemma in international relations. As a consequence of the reasons listed above, the autonomy of member states surpasses European Union when conflicts emerge in the international system. Conflicts are one of the major components in order to actors to show their influence and power in the world. European Union has the grand capacity to take action in such cases. The two most striking examples representing the ‘capability, expectations and result gap’ of the European Union that the three factors identified by Hill did not play together very well are the 1990s Yugoslavian crisis and the discussion about the Iraq war in 2003 (Laursen, 2012, 42).  Especially, with the 9/11 incidents in America, fighting against terrorism, promoting peace, and democracy became more important in international relations. Neverthelater, non-utilizable hard power, due to limited military forces, and weak tools of foreign policy, due to lack of common decisions, make the EU only a soft power-based international organization. Focusing on foreign policy tools such as democracy, protection of human rights, freedom, rule of law, peaceful distribution of conflicts, sustainable development can be shown as an example of the EU’s tendency to be a “soft power” instead of a “hard power”.

European Union, The Lisbon Treaty (2007)

Gaps and weaknesses of the European Union needed to be filled in order to protect the position itself. The Treaty of Lisbon, which entered into force in 2009, is a document that creates legal base grounds for the European Union to establish effective and influential foreign policies in the international area. Better common external policy rules and much more detailed and effective resources for political decision-makers were introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. Especially, chapter 1 which is called “General Provisions On the Union’s External Action” includes the main base articles of legalization grounds. This chapter constitutes the changes that occurred for the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy. The incidents listed above such as the 9/11 incidents, the Iraq war, Yugoslavia crisis showed the importance of the European Union’s integration upon common foreign and security policies. The aim is, therefore, to assure the bigger and more heterogeneous Union’s capacity to act; through development and more efficient interlocking of the European administration units, under the central direction of the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (Laursen, 2012, 45). One school of thought in post-liberal theory contends that in today’s globalized world, states are compelled to collaborate in order to protect their stability and sovereign interests. Member states of the EU generally can not be effective in international conflicts, except the major powers in organizations, without collaboration. They, of course, have different national interests, however, their military power and influence are not enough to be used abroad. Moreover, their economy and economical power can be shattered without the cooperation of member states.  

On the other hand, putting European Union in the center and pushing national interests to the back can not comply with the nature of the states. On the one side, Major powers in the European Union can create driven policies according to their interests in the system. Other states, which are bound to the EU due to their need for cooperation on the economy, can not have different policies. On the other side, major powers also can have struggles, as we see in the position of the United Kingdom, because of their desire to expand and create different alliances. This situation emerges as a threat to European Union’s power and existence. Because as the years go by, globalization, militarization, and economic power races of the world create different interests in the international area. Therefore, the decrease in importance and want of cooperation gain momentum in the system. The policies of international organizations such as the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and the European Union started to be criticized by their member states because major powers started to use these organizations as their tools for foreign policy. 

Besides the struggle of common foreign and security policies, the normative foreign policy tools of the European Union can be considered efficient. Human rights, equality, removing poverty, climate actions, democracy are the most important soft powers of the EU. Sustainable Development Goals, which were established by United Nations, also include all of these norms. This shows that European Union acts within the rules and values of international relations and law. As a liberal institution, the EU is believing in individuals’ and other actors’ importance in the international areas. The EU is promoting and protecting these values via policies and institutions. The European Court of Human Rights can be considered as the main court and institution that provides equality and rights for every actor. The EU also has policies that encourage feminism and green policy.  As stated above providing equality, giving seats to women in politics, creating special conventions in order to prevent violence against women and children, taking action in order to save the planet, and make more sustainable products and policies can be shown as an example.  When we reflect these values and policies to the foreign policy, the EU provides human aids, rights, supports to the other states and actors in the international areas. 

Cooperation in economy and trade was the first step of the European Union. Likewise, the values listed above, the economy is one of the important tools of foreign policy for this organization. The EU is one of the world’s most powerful economic forces, accounting for one-sixth of all commercial products and more than one-fifth of all utility services, and it is also one of the world’s largest markets (Aksoy & Uğur, 2016, 216). Under the auspices of this economic power, the EU can use its privilege in foreign policy by signing multilateral and bilateral trade agreements with other international relations actors. These agreements on the economy are creating a dependence on the EU for these actors. Therefore, the shuttered position which came from weakness in foreign policy hauls off with the power in the economy. The economic power of the EU also affects its normative policies’ strength. Creating a sustainable environment, ensuring recycle, using clean energy resources, decreasing wastes, and usage of plastics are not cheap policies. In order to put effective actions upon these matters, countries and organizations need monetary funds. A stable economy and wealth in the EU is a big advantage for member states. As a matter of fact, some member states do not have a stable economy but they are taking help from other EU member states. For this reason, they also have the advantage of other member states.

In a conclusion,  European Union, as a supranational actor, faces the struggles of interlocking interests of its members. However, the struggle not appears in every tool and subject of foreign policy. Therefore, thanks to the power of the economy and soft powers member states still depend on European Union. The challenges on foreign policy can not cease to exist but they can be reduced via following common interests in the international system. The full utilization of the EU’s potential in foreign policy is significantly dependent on the EU’s application of the values and policies it has accepted and promoted via conventions and agreements. Establishing conventions and treaties such as Lisbon, Maastricht can improve the structure of this organization. Creating such a supranational, liberalist structure and continue its existence in a realistically built-up international system shows the strength of the European Union.


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