Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 08/2012

The Big Three in EU Foreign Policy

Stefan Lehne

July 2012

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


To an outside observer, Europe acts as a bloc with all 27 member states discussing issues and unanimously making decisions on foreign policy. But behind the scenes lies a tacit agreement that the largest member states with the most resources take the lead. Three of those states are in a category of their own: France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. Several factors differentiate these three countries from most other member states. First, the Big Three states can still rely on their own weight to influence developments and are less dependent on multilateral institutions. Second, they can forum-shop; the EU is just one of several relevant institutional frameworks in which they can operate. And third, the Big Three are involved in shaping policies across a much wider range than other states.