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External Policies

The European Union plays an important role in international affairs through diplomacy, trade, peacekeeping and development. As an EU Member State, Ireland contributes to this role through our involvement in the Union’s external policy development and implementation.

  • Overview
  • Enlargement
  • Trade
  • Aid and development
  • CFSP



A global actor in a globalised world

EU external policies are aimed at regions and countries outside of the current European Union. They are overseen by European Institutions and EU member states.

European Commission

The European Commission oversees key EU policies, such as enlargement, development co-operation, humanitarian aid and trade.

Member states

The member states of the EU oversee the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) when they come together in the Foreign Affairs Council.

EU’s foreign policy chief

The EU’s foreign policy chief, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is currently Josep Borrell. He helps to co-ordinate the EU’s external action and represents the EU on a global level in areas of foreign and security policy.

He is also a member of the European Commission and is assisted in his duties by the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic service.



European union background

Welcoming more countries into the EU

One of the EU’s most successful policies has been offering countries the chance to join the Union. To become a member of the EU, candidate countries must comply with EU legislation and fulfil the Copenhagen Criteria for EU entry.

Enlargement is managed by the rotating Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in consultation with the European Commission and the Council of the EU.

There have been seven enlargements of the EU and currently there are 27 Member States. Ireland was part of the first enlargement in 1973 along with Denmark and the United Kingdom. The most recent enlargement was on 1 July 2013 when Croatia joined the European Union.

Ireland supports EU enlargement and during our Presidency of the European Union in 2013 we took forward the process in relation to the five candidate countries at the time – Iceland, Turkey, Montenegro, Serbia and the Republic of North Macedonia. Since then, Albania, Ukraine, Moldova, and Bosnia and Herzegovina have been granted candidate status, and Georgia and Kosovo have applied for EU membership, while Iceland has indicated that it should no longer be regarded as a candidate country for EU membership.


Enhancing security

Enlargement enhances security and stability within the EU and benefits all EU citizens.

Growing economies

By adding new members to the EU, it boosts economic growth and creates jobs in both old and new member states.

Improving quality of life

People in new member states benefit from EU policies that promote rule of law and good governance, protect the environment and fight against crime, drugs and illegal immigration.

Increasing diversity

New members add to the cultural diversity of the EU, and bring new ideas and better understanding of other cultures.

Strengthening the EU’s international role

Enlargement allows the EU to play a stronger role in world affairs, through its foreign and security, trade, and development policies.




Earth and Money on a Two Pan Balance

Seeking free and equitable trade agreements

The EU is the largest trading bloc in the world with just over 500 million consumers and it manages trade relations with countries outside this bloc through its trade policy.

The EU is constantly negotiating trade agreements with different regions and countries around the world. Some of the most recent agreements covered countries such as South Korea and Peru.

Trade policy is an exclusive power of the EU – so only the EU, and not individual Member States, can negotiate and conclude international trade agreements with individual countries. The European Parliament decides jointly with the Council of the EU on how this policy will be made and implemented. 


Improved choice

These agreements help increase the flow of trade in both directions and improve choice for consumers in Ireland and across the EU.

Lower prices

Improved choice can also help lead to lower prices for consumers.

Better access to markets

The producers of Irish goods and services also benefit from increased market access to non-EU countries provided by trade agreements.

Aid and development

Aid and development

Delivering assistance and promoting development

Development assistance is at the heart of the EU’s external relations, along with foreign, security and trade policies. Its objectives include fostering sustainable development and eradicating extreme poverty. European development policy also prioritises the achievement of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals


Supporting development

Together, member states including Ireland and European institutions contribute more than half the world’s official humanitarian aid, making the EU the largest donor of humanitarian assistance and development aid in the world.

Promoting democracy and human rights

As well as economic development, the EU also promotes democracy and human rights through its development assistance. From the EU’s point of view, these fundamental values go hand in hand with economic development and are just as essential if developing countries are to make progress.

Responding to emergencies

Whenever there is a disaster or humanitarian emergency, the EU provides assistance for the affected countries and populations, focusing on those who are most vulnerable. EU assistance is sent through the Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO). In line with the four principles grounded in International Humanitarian Law, EU humanitarian aid:

  • addresses human suffering, with particular attention to the most vulnerable groups of people, while respecting the dignity of all victims (humanity);
  • does not favour any side in a conflict (neutrality);
  • is provided solely on the basis of needs, without any kind of discrimination (impartiality);
  • is independent of any agenda, be it political, economic, military or else (independence).

Together, the EU and its 27 member states are one of the leading humanitarian donors. In 2023, the EU will provide €1.7 billion in humanitarian aid, responding to increasing global needs.


Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)

Irish Battalion Medal Parade and visit by Chief of Staff

The European Union plays an important role in international affairs through diplomacy, trade, peacekeeping and development. As an EU Member State, Ireland contributes to this role through our involvement in the Union’s external policy development and implementation.

The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) allows the EU to act in a unified way on foreign policy and security issues and increases political co-operation between EU Member States. The CFSP allows the EU to adopt external responses to international security or defence situations including:

  • Diplomatic or economic sanctions to promote peace and security;
  • Peacekeeping, crisis management and conflict prevention in regions across the world through the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

We work with other Irish government departments, particularly the Department of Defence, to manage Ireland’s involvement in CSDP activities. In recent years, this has included the deployment of Irish Defence Forces personnel to EU-led missions and operations overseas in Mali, Bosnia & Herzegovina in addition to EU-led civilian missions in Libya, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Kosovo, Georgia, Ukraine, Iraq, the Central African Republic and the Palestinian Territories.

Ireland continues to engage actively in the EU’s CSDP, including in the implementation of the Strategic Compass, a key policy document that outlines the way forward for the EU in the field of security and defence for the next ten years.  The Strategic Compass sets out the reality of the current European security environment, notably in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  It then proposes a series of actions and deliverables in areas such as crisis management, resilience, capability development and partnerships with key international actors, including the United Nations. 

Benefits of CFSP

  • Promotion of peace and security

The CFSP strengthens the EU’s external ability to respond to crisis situations and facilitates the EU’s promotion of peace, democracy and stability in problem areas around the world.

  • Increased political co-operation

By acting together as the EU, the 27 member states have far greater influence in international affairs than if they act individually 

  • Respect for Ireland’s neutrality

CFSP and CSDP allow Ireland to take part in peacekeeping and institution building operations throughout the world that are at the same time fully respectful of our policy of military neutrality.

Overseas Deployments Map (PDF, 827KB)