Second pillar
0 On DEsite
1 General
2 Pillar structure
3 Bodies
4 Decision-making
  • First pillar
  • Second pillar
  • Third pillar
  • Budget
  • 5 Lobby groups
    6 Case histories
    7 Information and publications


    In the Second Pillar, the Commission shares the right of initiative with the Member States (Art. 22 EU). The Council adopts joint strategies concerning the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), acting unanimously. Decisions on the basis of a joint strategy and decisions implementing joint action or a common position are taken by a qualified majority (Art. 23 EU). The votes are weighted according to the division of Art. 205, paragraph 2 EC. A decision is established when 62 votes are in favour from a minimum of ten Member States. The Parliament has a smaller part to play in the Second Pillar. The Council's president is only obliged to consult Parliament on the main aspects of Common Foreign and Security Policy and is bound to see to it that the views of Parliament are properly taken into consideration (21 EU).

    An abstention cannot stand in the way of the adoption of a decision. In the case of a unanimous vote, the possibility of "constructive abstention" exists. This means that a member of the Council abstains from voting and explains this abstention by means of a formal statement. In this case, the Member State is not bound to implement the decision; however, neither may it take measures to thwart the decision. If more than one Member State uses the possibility of constructive abstention and they represent a third of the Council votes (weighted according to Art. 205 EC), then the decision is not adopted. If a Member State does not make a formal statement (simple abstention), it is bound by the decision.

    If, for important reasons of national policy, a Council member opposes the adoption of a decision by a qualified majority, no vote is taken. The Council may decide, by a qualified majority, to submit the issue to the European Council, which must decide on the issue unanimously. Thus, decision-making can arrive at an impasse if a Council member opposes a qualified majority decision and no qualified majority can be reached to submit the issue to the European Council.


    Also in the second pillar, Member States are the most important executives of European law. Responsibility for the implementation of CFSP decisions rests with the presidency of the Council (Art. 13, paragraph 3, and Art. 18, paragraph 2 EU). To that end, the president is supported by the secretary-general of the Council, who exercises the function of high representative of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (Art. 18, paragraph 3 EU). The Commission, however, is granted a much more modest role (Art. 14, paragraph 4, and Art. 18, paragraph 4 EU). It should be noted that when the Council adopts an implementation measure in the framework of the second pillar, a qualified majority of votes in the Council is sufficient (Art. 23, paragraph 2 EU). Finally, in regard to the implementation of decisions which have effects in the area of defence, the European Union uses the Western European Union (WEU), a Western European cooperative organization, founded in 1948 and specializing in defence and security (article 17, subsection 3, EU).

    Although the CFSP was institutionalized with the Treaty on European Union in 1991, the Union had not initiated any work on its defence components until 1998. In the Petersberg Declaration of 19 June 1992, the Member States of the West-European Union declared themselves willing to place military units deriving from all divisions of their conventional armed forces at the disposal of the WEU for military operations under the authority of the WEU. Apart from contributing to the common defence, the WEU may also be made responsible for military operations for humanitarian tasks, peacekeeping, and crisis control (peace enforcement). The Petersberg Declaration explicitly states that the WEU is prepared to support peace operations of organizations like the OSCE. With the intended integration of the WEU into the pillared structure of the EU, the Petersberg tasks also became an aspect of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). By way of the Treaty of Amsterdam, the Petersberg tasks were explicitly included in article 17 of the EU Treaty.

    During the meeting of the European Council in Cologne in June 1999, the EU leaders agreed that the Union must be able to act independently with authoritative armed forces, that it should have the means to decide to deploy those armed forces, and that it should be prepared to do so in response to international crises, without prejudice to actions by NATO.

    During the meeting of the European Council in Helsinki in December 1999, the so-called main aim of Helsinki was decided on and the folowing objectives, among others, were specified:

    • In EU-led operations and on the basis of voluntary cooperation, the Member States must be able by 2003 at the latest to deploy armed forces up to 50,000-60,000 men within sixty days and keep them in action for at least one year. These forces are expected to be able to carry out the full range of duties mentioned in article 17 of the Treaty of European Union (TEU)
    • Within the Council, new political and military bodies and structures will be established to enable the Union to provide for the necessary political guidance and strategic direction to such operations, with due regard for the single institutional framework.

    On 20 November 2000, the Member States took part in a Capabilities Commitment Conference. The commitments of the Member States were included in the Helsinki Forces Catalogue (HFC). Analysis of this catalogue shows that, by 2003, the Union will be able to carry out the full range of duties mentioned in article 17 of the Treaty of European Union (TEU) but that some capabilities need to be improved, in quantitative and qualitative terms.

    The European Council of Nice of December 2000 approved the establishment of the following new permanent political and military organs:

    • the Politics and Security Committee (PSC)
    • the European Union Military Committee (EUMC)
    • the European Union Military Staff (EUMS)

    After a conference to improve the capabilities in November 2001, the European Council declared, in Laeken in December 2001, "that through the continuing development of the ESDP strengthening of its capabilities, both civil and military, and the creation of the appropriate EU structures, the EU is now able to conduct some crisis-management operations". As the resources and the capabilities of the Union increase, it will gradually be able to take on more demanding operations.


    In the second pillar, the Council recommends joint actions, common strategies, common positions, and agreements. Joint action refers to specific situations in which operational action of the Union is considered necessary; decisions on joint action are binding on all Member States (Art. 14 EU).

    The common strategies refer to areas in which the Member States have important interests in common (Art. 13 EU). A common strategy describes the objectives, duration, and the means to be made available.

    In common positions (Art. 15 EU), the Union´s approach to a particular matter of a geographical or thematic nature is defined. Member States must ensure that their national policy conforms to the common positions.

    Agreements to implement policy are concluded with Member States or international organisations. The Council must approve agreements unanimously. A Member State that declares that provisions of its national Constitution must be taken into account is not bound by the agreements.