From the beginning, the European Communities and now the EU have had to exist in a changing international context; indeed, many treatments of the history of European integration place great weight on the international dimension of both the foundation and the development of the phenomenon (Story 1993; Wallace, W. 1990; Pinder 1991a). The EU, as will be shown in more detail later in this chapter, is also a major presence in the contemporary global arena. It is thus not surprising that there should have been consistent and growing attention to the international 'credentials' of first the EC and then the EU.
To state this position, though, is to beg a central question. Although the EU is a major component of the contemporary world arena, just what is its status, role and impact? At one end of the spectrum, there are those who can discern a progression in the EU towards full-fledged international 'actorness', comparable to that of the national states that comprise the major concentrations of power in world politics. But such views have to wrestle with the inconvenient fact that the EU is not a 'state' in the accepted international meaning of the term, although it undoubtedly demonstrates some 'statelike' features. Notwithstanding its ability to act in the economic and diplomatic fields, the EU does not yet possess a coherent security policy or even the beginnings of a European-level defence policy (Hill 1990, 1993, 1995; Smith 1994a).
Thwarted in the search for an EU version of statehood, others have attempted to define the EU as a growing and increasingly structured 'presence' in the international arena, with its own forms of international behaviour and influence, and most significantly an important place in the foreign policies of other international actors, whether they be states or non-state groupings (Allen and Smith 1990). Thus, the EU cannot be avoided by national foreign policy makers, nor can it be bypassed by international organisations such as the United Nations. This approach has its undoubted advantages, not least that of finessing the issue of statehood, but it also begs major questions. Perhaps most importantly, it raises the issue of relations between the EU's 'presence' and the persistence of the essentially national powers of the EU's member states themselves (Hill 1995).
Whatever the position taken on the EU's claims to 'actorness' or 'presence' in the international arena, the analyst must take into account two crucial aspects of the EU's international existence. First, the EU is not simply an 'actor' or a 'presence' but also a process; a set of complex institutions, roles and rules which structure the activities of the EU itself and those of other internationally significant groupings with which it comes into contact. Second,