The European External Action Service was established by decision of the Council of Ministers on 26 July 2010 based on a proposal by the former High Representative Catherine Ashton.  The European Parliament had earlier adopted a resolution on the proposal by a large majority on  8 July 2010. The EEAS was formally launched on 1 January 2011.

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10 years of the European External Action Service

The Lisbon Treaty laid out the way the Service would be created:

"The organisation and functioning of the European External Action Service shall be established by a decision of the Council. The Council shall act on a proposal from the High Representative after consulting the European Parliament and after obtaining the consent of the Commission."

In 2010 some important steps were taken. On 25 March the High Representative sent the Council a proposal on the establishment of the EEAS. The proposal, which followed long negotiations and discussions with the various services concerned, included detailed descriptions of how the EEAS would be composed, how its staff would be chosen and treated, and how the member states and other European institutions would be involved. The importance of the EEAS was also clear:

"It will help strengthen the European Union on the global stage, give it more profile, and enable it to project its interests and values more efficiently."

On 8 July 2010 the European Parliament passed a resolution approving this proposal whilst adding in their own comments concerning the appointing of staff, financing of foreign delegations and resolving potential disputes.

On 26 July 2010 the Council of the European Union adopted a decision that confirmed the proposal of the High Representative, with the European Parliament's amendments. The decision was effective immediately. The EEAS was officially launched on 1 January 2011.

Working with other EU institutions

The European External Action Service works closely with other EU institutions and bodies who play a role in developing EU foreign policy

The main partners of the EEAS are the European Council, where the heads of State and Governments of all EU member states meet, the European Commission which is the EU executive and the European Parliament which is directly elected by EU citizens.

The EU's foreign policies are steered by the European Council and defined by the Foreign Affairs Council, which brings together the Foreign Ministers of the EU member states once a month in Brussels. The Foreign Affairs Council is responsible for the EU's external action, which includes foreign policy, defence and security, trade, development cooperation and humanitarian aid.

The HR/VP chairs these meetings. Once policies are determined by the Council, the EEAS, where appropriate, is mandated to implement and follow up on these.

The EEAS cooperates with the European Commission on many issues – adopting a comprehensive approach for the EU's foreign policy. The whole College of European Commissioners meets once a week and in addition every month the HR/VP chairs a meeting of all Commissioners whose portfolios deal with international issues – like trade and development for example.

The EU maintains diplomatic relations with nearly all countries in the world and undertakes a range of actions with strategic partners, key international players, and emerging and developing powers. Working alongside the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Commission’s service for Foreign Policy Instruments (FPI) is responsible for operational expenditures in the crucial area of EU external action.

Finally, the EEAS also works with the European Parliament. The HR/VP regularly reports on foreign policy and his activities to the Members of the European Parliament and answers their questions. The EEAS assists the HR/VP with this task. The European Parliament provides a platform for exchange on foreign policy among institutional and governmental policy-makers, as well as civil society, including think tanks and academics. Along with the Council of the European Union, the European Parliament must approve the annual common foreign and security budget.

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    Charles Michel, President of the European Council, on the right, and Josep Borrell Fontelles, High Representative

    © European Union, 2021

Key dates

A decade of EU diplomacy

The European External Action Service turns 10

Josep Borrell

Josep Borrell starts his mandate as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission

Until 30 November 2019

Federica Mogherini

Federica Mogherini is appointed High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission

European External Action Service opens

A major step in the European integration process and in developing a common foreign policy

Until 31 October 2014

Catherine Ashton

Lady Catherine Ashton becomes the first High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, serving as the EU's foreign policy chief.

Entry into force: 1 December 2009

Treaty of Lisbon

The Treaty of Lisbon creates the External Action Service and the post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice President of the European Commission

until 1 December 2009

Javier Solana

Javier Solana is appointed High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary General of the Council of the European Union. His role consists in representing the EU abroad where there is an agreed common policy

Entry into force: 1 May 1999

Treaty of Amsterdam

The Treaty of Amsterdam establishes the Office of High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Entry into force: 1 November 1993

Treaty of Maastricht

The Treaty of Maastricht establishes the Common Foreign and Security Policy

Davignon Report

The Member States approve the Davignon report on political cooperation. The objective is to get Europe to speak with a single voice on all major international problems.

Entry into force: 1 January 1958

Treaty of Rome

First coordination meetings of European Economic Community foreign ministers