In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section International Relations of the European Union

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Textbooks
  • Historical Development
  • Conceptualization
  • Theoretical Approaches
  • Institutions
  • Instruments
  • Role of Member States
  • Role in International Affairs
  • A Rising Superpower
  • Identity
  • Goals
  • External Views
  • European Neighborhood
  • The Mediterranean Region
  • Southeastern Europe
  • The United States
  • Developing Countries
  • Latin America
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Other International Organizations

International Relations International Relations of the European Union
Karen E. Smith
  • LAST REVIEWED: 23 May 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0097


This article covers three broad areas with respect to the international relations of the European Union (EU): the development of the institutions and instruments of the EU’s foreign policy system, including the role that the EU member states have played in the development and functioning of that system; the EU’s relations with Third World countries, other regions, and other international organizations as well as its broader role in the international system; and the theoretical and analytical approaches used to try to explain the development, functioning, and output of the EU’s foreign policy system. The policy areas encompassed by this study area potentially include all those areas in which the EU has developed relations with “outsiders”: from trade to peacekeeping, and from development aid to cooperation on combating climate change, terrorism, and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. The academic literature on the international relations of the EU is booming. In the 1970s and 1980s, only a few scholars investigated European Political Cooperation (EPC) and European Community (EC) external relations. After the creation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), which replaced the EPC in the early 1990s, interest grew in the “phenomenon” of European foreign and security policy, and even more attention has been focused on this field in the early 21st century. The number of books and articles on European foreign affairs is ever expanding, and courses on the EU’s foreign relations are now offered at numerous universities around Europe and the rest of the world. Whether the EU actually produces foreign policy output worthy of so much attention is of course debatable, but the mere fact that a collectivity of states is trying to cooperate—and persistently building new institutions—in an area that embodies state sovereignty generates much interest. Gaps in our knowledge still exist, as pointed out in this article: scholarly coverage of the EU’s relations with some areas of the world is variable; although this may reflect the paucity of EU activity in some cases, in others it does not. The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), for example, has generated more book-length publications than have the EU’s relations with the former Yugoslavia. Nonetheless, a rich offering of books and articles is available and is introduced in this bibliography.

General Overviews and Textbooks

Since the mid-1990s, numerous textbooks, or overviews, on EU foreign policy have been published that provide a general overview of the development of the foreign policy system, the policymaking process, conceptual and theoretical issues, and the EU’s role in international relations. Several of the books in this section (Bretherton and Vogler 2006, Hill and Smith 2011, Smith 2008) are second editions, so they have been updated. The older texts (Carlsnaes, et al. 2004; Ginsberg 2001; Smith 2002) are good sources on the developments of the time. Some of these books contain important chapters on the EU’s relations with regions of the world that are not as widely covered in the literature; for example, Peterson and Sjursen 1998 covers the EU and Latin America, and Hill and Smith 2011 has a chapter on the EU’s relations with the rising powers. Keukeleire and MacNaughtan 2008 focuses on the EU’s potential long-term impact on the international system.

  • Bretherton, Charlotte, and John Vogler. The European Union as a Global Actor. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2006.

    Focuses on the notion of “actorness.” Considers the extent to which the EU has a distinctive identity and has developed the capacity to conduct strategic foreign policy. Argues that the EU has three roles in world politics: as a model, as a promoter of its proclaimed values, and as an alternative to the United States.

  • Carlsnaes, Walter, Helene Sjursen, and Brian White, eds. Contemporary European Foreign Policy. London: SAGE, 2004.

    Considers developments in European foreign policy, including overviews of new theories and concepts in foreign policy analysis and of new issues in foreign policy. These developments are then applied in case studies of the EU in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Mediterranean and the impact of the EU on member states.

  • Ginsberg, Roy H. The European Union in International Politics: Baptism by Fire. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2001.

    Focuses on the effects that EU foreign policy has on outsiders by putting forward a methodical analysis of the EU’s political impact. Concludes that the EU had considerable political impact in almost half of the 219 cases considered. Concludes that, therefore, the EU is not a “political dwarf.”

  • Hill, Christopher, and Michael Smith, eds. International Relations and the European Union. 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    Analyzes the EU’s international relations from three perspectives: the EU as a subsystem of international relations; the EU and the processes of international relations; and the EU as a power in international relations. Chapters by leading experts cover a wide variety of topics, including the EU’s relations with rising powers and the EU’s policies on environment, energy, and climate change.

  • Keukeleire, Stephan, and Jennifer MacNaughtan. The Foreign Policy of the European Union. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

    Analyzes the development, institutions, and processes of EU foreign policy. Argues that the EU conducts both conventional and structural foreign policy, the former being oriented toward states, military security, and conflicts and the latter being the attempt to shape international structures and influence long-term international processes.

  • Peterson, John, and Helene Sjursen, eds. A Common Foreign Policy for Europe? Competing Visions of the CFSP. London: Routledge, 1998.

    Collection containing several important pieces, including a reexamination of the capabilities–expectations gap in EU foreign policy; considerations of the implications of the development of EU foreign, security, and defense policy institutions; and chapters on the EU’s relations with the Mediterranean region and Latin America.

  • Smith, Hazel. European Union Foreign Policy: What It Is and What It Does. London: Pluto, 2002.

    Uses a “geo-issue-area approach,” which combines a geographical, issue, and area approach. Covers four geographical areas: the EU’s relations with northern Europe, the Mediterranean and Arab world, the “distant” South (the developing world), and the “new Europe.” In each geographical area, Smith looks at the actors, instruments, legal bases, and decision-making procedures in specific issues such as trade, aid, and security.

  • Smith, Karen E. European Union Foreign Policy in a Changing World. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2008.

    Explores how and why the EU tries to achieve five foreign policy objectives: the encouragement of regional cooperation; the advancement of human rights; the promotion of democracy and good governance; the prevention of violent conflicts; and the fight against international crime, including terrorism.

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