The problem of coherence in the European Union's international relations

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The EU is commonly referred to as one of the most institutionalised spaces in the world. It is made up of a vertically and horizontally multi-layered, and hence highly complex, system of institutional structures. This chapter deals with one of the most fervently discussed implications of this complexity: coherence, or the ambition and necessity to bring the various parts of the EU’s external relations together to increase strategic convergence and ensure procedural efficiency. After a review of the historical development of the concept and the debates around it, the chapter discusses different conceptual dimensions of coherence: the vertical, horizontal, internal and external. This aims to help structuring the range of issues commonly dis-cussed in the context of ‘coherence’. The chapter identifies three different ‘faces’ that coherence assumes in political and academic debates: the neutral, the benign and the malign face. Based on this conceptual framework, the chapter then proceeds to outlining the current legal basis the Treaty of Lisbon, including any issues it has not yet resolved (‘leftovers’), and discusses the EU’s comprehensive approach to external action in crises and conflicts as one of the key political initiatives aimed at fostering the objectives laid down in primary law. . The chapter concludes with a summary and outlook.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Relations and the European Union
EditorsChristopher Hill, Michael Smith, Sophie Vanhoonacker
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Print)9780198737322
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2017


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  • Coherence

    Gebhard, C., 2011, International Relations and the European Union. Hill, C. & Smith, M. (eds.). 2 ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 101-127 (The New European Union Series).

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

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