The European Union’s external relations policies cover various areas and were based on the same principles, which inspired the establishment, development and enlargement of the EU, in particular Human Rights and democracy. The external action of the EU also highlights its strategic interests and objectives, which are pursued coherently both internally and externally. The EU has well-structured political and commercial relations with third countries and other regions in the world, which are developed both on a bilateral level and inside multilateral organisations. The main areas of the EU’s external relations are as follows:

• Foreign policy and security policy;
• Trade policy;
• Political relations with third countries, which correspond to the political priorities of the EU;
• Enlargement and neighbouring countries;
• Development Policy;
• Humanitarian aid.

The Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force in 2009, introduced some important elements in the external action field. It notably created the position of the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, who also holds the position of the Vice President at the European Commission (EC). The Lisbon Treaty furthermore created the European External Action Service (EEAS), which is the European Union’s diplomatic service.

The development policy is an important area. The EU and its Member States provide more than half of the entire development aid every year. In 2013 the amount of money which was donated by the EU exceeded 55 billion Euro, thus confirming the EU as an international donor with respect to the scope of public development aid. The main objective of the EU’s development policy is to combat poverty as well as to promote sustainable development, which are the cornerstones of the Communication “An Agenda for Change” (2011). The EC outlined new principles and priorities in this communication, which are underlying the development within the EU.
The European Commission launched several geographic and thematic programmes in order to achieve the objectives of the above-mentioned policy in the timeframe 2014-2020. The latter are in line with the EU’s internal objectives and priorities. Grants and tenders are still the most used ways of implementing the programme’s objectives in the recipient countries. Companies, especially SMEs, dispose of increasing possibilities to both participate and benefit from projects, which were co-financed by the European Commission. This is due to their role as drivers for economic development, which is widely acknowledged by international donors.

Financial instruments have been gaining significance recently. They combine EU grants and loans, which derive from public (development banks) and private bodies, in order to maximise leverage regarding the mobilisation of additional capital in favour of investment projects in recipient countries of the EU’s development policy.

Useful links:


European Union External Action

European Commission - International Cooperation And Development

European Commission – European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations

European Commission – Humanitarian Aid And Civil Protection

European Parliament – Development Committee (DEVE)

European Parliament – Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET)

Council of the European Union - Foreign Affairs Council configuration (FAC)

Committee of the Regions – Commission for Citizenship, Governance, Institutional and External Affairs (CIVEX)