Important Legal Notice


  European Commission > European Union in the World > External Relations

 EU Security Policy & the role of the European Commission



Treaty Bases

The Maastricht Treaty (1992)

The Maastricht Treaty on European Union was the first to contain provisions anchoring the Union's responsibility for all questions relating to its security, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy, as part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (Article J.4). The Treaty envisages that the EU, having no military capabilities of its own, will request the Western European Union (WEU) to elaborate and implement planned military measures on its behalf.

The Treaty of Amsterdam (1997)

This Treaty incorporated the WEU's "Petersberg tasks" (humanitarian and rescue tasks, peace-keeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking) into the Treaty on European Union. This laid the Treaty basis for the operative development of the ESDP.

The Treaty of Nice (2000)

This Treaty, which is not yet in force, contains a number of modifications reflecting the operative development of the ESDP as an independent EU project.


The Amsterdam Treaty, which entered into force on May 1, 1999, enhanced the provisions of Common Foreign and Security Policy under Title V of the Treaty on European Union to contribute towards the progressive formation of a common Defence policy, especially as stated by Article 17 (excerpts of which appear below):

  • "The common foreign and security policy shall include all questions relating to the security of the Union, including the progressive framing of a common Defence policy, in accordance with the second subparagraph, which might lead to a common Defence, should the European Council so decide. The Western European Union (WEU) is an integral part of the development of the Union providing it with access to an operational capability notably in the context of paragraph 2. It supports the Union in framing the defence aspects of the common foreign and security policy as set out in this Article. The Union shall accordingly foster closer institutional relations with the WEU with a view to the possibility of integrating the WEU into the Union, should the European Council so decide.
  • Questions referred to in this Article shall include humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking (known as the Petersberg tasks, so-named for the locale in Germany of the June 1992 WEU Ministerial that formulated them).
  • The Union will avail itself of the WEU to elaborate and implement decisions and Actions of the Union which have defence implications.

As a result of the Kosovo conflict, the Cologne European Council (June 3-4, 1999) placed the Petersberg tasks – as was already the case in the Treaty – at the core of the European Common Security and Defence policy. The fifteen Heads of State or Government and the President of the Commission declared, "In pursuit of our Common Foreign and Security Policy, we are convinced that the Council should have the ability to take decisions on the full range of conflict prevention and crisis management tasks defined in the Treaty on European Union, the 'Petersberg Tasks.' To this end, the Union must have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them and a readiness to do so, in order to respond to international crises without prejudice to actions by NATO. The EU will thereby increase its ability to contribute to international peace and security in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter."

The Helsinki European Council of December 10-11, 1999, building on the guidelines established at the Cologne European Council, agreed in particular to the following:

  • cooperating voluntarily in EU-led operations, Member States must be able, by 2003, to deploy within 60 days and sustain for at least 1 year, military forces of up to 50,000-60,000 persons capable of the full range of Petersberg tasks;
  • new political and military bodies and structures will be established within the Council to enable the Union to ensure the necessary political guidance and strategic direction of such operations, while respecting the single institutional framework;
  • modalities will be developed for full consultation, cooperation and transparency between the EU and NATO, taking into account the needs of all EU Member States;
  • appropriate arrangements will be defined that would allow, while respecting the Union’s decision-making autonomy, non-EU European NATO members and other interested States to contribute to EU military crisis management;
  • a non-military crisis management mechanism will be established to coordinate and make more effective the various civilian means and resources, in parallel with the military ones, at the disposal of the Union and the Member States.

As stated in the "Presidency Conclusions" of the Helsinki Summit, "The Union will contribute to international peace and security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. The Union recognises the primary responsibility of the United Nations Security Council for the maintenance of international peace and security. The European Council underlines its determination to develop an autonomous capacity to take decisions and, where NATO as a whole is not engaged, to launch and conduct EU-led military operations in response to international crises. This process will avoid unnecessary duplication and does not imply the creation of a European army."

Presidency Actions/Reports:

The Portuguese Presidency (January through June of 2000) was invited, together with the Secretary General/High Representative, to carry forward the work within the General Affairs Council on strengthening the common European security and Defence policy.

Furthermore, at the Feira European Council (June 19 - 20, 2000), the Heads of State and Government declared that:

"The European Council reaffirms its commitment to building a Common European Security and Defence Policy capable of reinforcing the Union's external action through the development of a military crisis management capability as well as a civilian one, in full respect of the principles of the United Nations Charter.

"The European Council welcomes the Presidency report endorsed by the Council on "Strengthening the Common European Security and Defence Policy" and associated documents"

At the European Council in Nice (December 7-11, 2000), concluding both the 2000 Intergovernmental Conference and the French Presidency, a Presidency report on European Security and Defence Policy was adopted.

The Göteborg European Council (June 15-16, 2001) ending the Swedish Presidency said:

"The European Union is committed to developing and refining its capabilities, structures and procedures in order to improve its ability to undertake the full range of conflict prevention and crisis management tasks, making use of military and civilian means. As reflected in the Presidency report and its annexes adopted by the Council, the development of the ESDP strengthens the Union's capacity to contribute to international peace and security in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter. The European Union recognises the United Nations Security Council's primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.

"New concrete targets have been set for civilian aspects of crisis management which should be achieved by 2003 through voluntary contributions. The permanent political and military structures have been established in the Council and the Council Secretariat. Foundations have been laid for the successful conduct of conferences on military capability improvement and on police capabilities during the next Presidency. Progress has been made in the development of a permanent and effective relationship with NATO. Permanent arrangements for consultation and co-operation have been agreed and implemented, as exemplified by the close co-operation in crisis management in the Western Balkans. Rapid agreement is called for on arrangements permitting EU access to NATO assets and capabilities.

"The incoming Belgian Presidency is invited to take forward work on all aspects of the ESDP, together with the Secretary-General/High Representative and to report on progress towards achieving the objective of making the EU quickly operational. Progress must continue so that a decision to that end can be taken as soon as possible and no later than at the European Council in Laeken".

"The European Council endorsed the EU Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflicts which will improve the Union's capacity to undertake coherent early warning, analysis and action. Conflict prevention is one of the main objectives of the Union's external relations and should be integrated into all its relevant aspects, including the European Security and Defence Policy, development co-operation and trade. Future Presidencies, the Commission and the Secretary-General/High Representative are invited to promote the implementation of the programme and to make recommendations for its further development. The European Council welcomes the Swedish readiness to host a regional meeting with organisations involved in conflict prevention in Europe."

The Laeken Summit (December 14-15, 2001) concluding the Belgian Presidency said:

"The European security and defence policy. The European Council has adopted the declaration on the operational capability of European security and defence policy set out in Annex II, as well as the Presidency report. Through the continuing development of the ESDP, the strengthening of its capabilities, both civil and military, and the creation of appropriate structures within it and following the military and police Capability Improvement Conferences held in Brussels on 19 November 2001, the Union is now capable of conducting some crisis-management operations. The Union is determined to finalise swiftly arrangements with NATO. These will enhance the European Union's capabilities of carrying out crisis-management operations over the whole range of Petersberg tasks. In the same way, the implementation of the Nice arrangements with the Union's partners will augment its means of conducting crisis-management operations. Development of the means and capabilities at its disposal will enable the Union progressively to take on more demanding operations.