European Political Cooperation (EPC)
- Elfriede RegelsbergerElfriede RegelsbergerInstitut für Europäische Politik eV
European Political Cooperation (EPC) is the forerunner of today’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) of the EU. It covers the period 1970 to 1993, during which the member states of the (then called) European Communities (EC) developed a genuine system of cooperation in the field of foreign policy. Its main purpose was to secure and even increase the influence of European countries on the international scene in times of growing global political and economic interdependencies. At the same time, EPC was generally perceived as an area and approach to foster the political dimension of the European integration process.
EPC was widely intergovernmental in nature. Its guiding principles and institutions were based on political commitments (the Luxembourg (1970), Copenhagen (1973), and London (1981) Reports). EPC received a first legal framework only in1986 with the Single European Act (SEA). EPC was the domain of the foreign ministers assisted by their national diplomatic staffs. Mainly for reasons of consistency, the European Commission was gradually admitted to the club and the European Parliament struggled hard to get access and be heard to a certain degree at least.
EPC was consensus-based and widely declaratory in nature. Issues of security and even more of defense were highly controversial among the participants and therefore widely excluded from the agenda. In order to strengthen the European voice, that is, to become more active and more operational, EPC diplomacy had to take recourse to EC instruments like trade, sanctions, and development policy, and fine-tune its presence in the world. To sell its own model of integration to other parts of the world became a popular approach, most obvious in the numerous group-to-group dialogues established during the 1980s, while European responses to conflict situations remained below the level of EPC ambitions. The end of the East–West divide, the war in Iraq and in the former Yugoslavia, German unification, and EU internal dynamics, such as the successful completion of the internal market program, revealed the shortcomings of the EPC in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and paved the way for a qualitatively new system: the CFSP.
Academic research on EPC was far less numerous and less diversified than it is today on CFSP. Its origins date back to a small group of scholars primarily working on the EC and/or interested in the foreign and EC policy of their respective countries. Their approach was less theoretical and more empirical and aimed to grasp the concept as such, which was not so easy during non-digital times and when EPC took place behind closed doors. EPC was seen as a relevant topic because of its new institutions and procedures and of the relevant forces driving the system further. Its evolution over more than two decades was described as constant movement though gradual process along various stages. Research was very much inward-looking, that is, the interplay of EPC at both the national and the EC level—today known as the governance question—was of great interest. Enlargement from the original six participating governments to 12 from 1986 onwards also became a case in point (raising the issue of adaptation processes (the Europeanization) of national bureaucracies and EPC decision-making (socialization, esprit de corps) and policy substance). To the extent EPC gained some international presence (e.g., in the United Nations) and profile (the acquis politique) on key international issues (such as the Middle East conflict, East–West relations), the question of EPC actorness attracted attention from wider academic circles. But how to measure the successes and failures of EPC and which yardsticks to apply here remained a challenge.