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Lead Groups in EU Foreign Policy: The Cases of Iran and Ukraine


Since the creation of the EU, there have been instances in which a restricted number of member states has handled an issue of international security on behalf of the Union. This article argues that, while controversial, these ‘lead groups’ have been a valuable practice. They have been effective in generating intra-EU consensus on specific issues and spurring the EU into action, thereby enabling a European response in the context of conflict management and complex international negotiations. Lead groups are sub-optimal arrangements compensating for the in-built institutional shortcomings of unanimity-based decision-making in EU foreign policy. As such, they do not bring integration further. They have nonetheless shown significant potential in giving initiative and content to EU foreign policy. This is shown through the analysis of two case studies, the Anglo-Franco-German trio involved in Iran’s nuclear issue and the Franco-German duo brokering a truce between Russia and Ukraine.

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