The EEC was from the outset open to new member states. Gradually it became a privileged partner of developing countries and a leading actor in the field of international trade.
From support for the democratic transitions in Greece, Spain and Portugal in the 1970’s to the widening of its membership to democratic regimes in Central and Eastern Europe after the end of the Cold War, the enlargements of the EEC/EU contributed to the maintenance of peace of the European continent. For its contribution to peace, reconciliation, democratisation and human rights in Europe, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.
The enlargement process went in parallel with the strengthening of the international dimension of the EEC/EU. Between 1963 and 2000, the agreements concluded at Yaoundé, Lomé and Cotonou made the EU one of the principal world actors in the field of cooperation and development. From the 1960’s, using the Common Commercial Policy as its basis, the EEC/EU signed commercial agreements directly with third countries and participated in international trade negotiations. In the sphere of foreign policy, since the 1970’s Europe has cultivated the ambition to speak “with one voice”. After the end of the Cold War, this ambition was enhanced by the failure of European diplomacy to deal with the Yugoslav crisis as it unfolded in the 1990s.
The inauguration of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (1992) and the Common Security and Defence Policy (1999) aimed to enhance the collective security of member states, by strengthening beyond the EU’s borders the rule of law and human rights, and helping to prevent international conflicts by sharing strategic interests with international organisations, such as the United Nation and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) . The creation of a European diplomatic service (European Service for External Action) with the Treaty of Lisbon is the outcome of a decade long effort to transform the EU into a unique player in the international arena.