EU member states have often adopted ad hoc formats, composed by a limited number of European countries, to take the lead in implementing EU foreign policy, particularly in situations of international crises. The main driver of the countries involved in these groups is the willingness to overcome the structural limits of the EU formal institutions in foreign policy matters, increasing the effectiveness of the Union on a specific issue. Ad hoc groups generally trigger suspicion by those countries excluded from the format and concerned about a directoire of large member states, disregarding their national interests and undermining the EU's common policy. However, under specific circumstances, these formats manage to increase both the effectiveness and the legitimacy of EU foreign policy. The most notorious example in this sense is the E3 ad hoc coalition, led by the United Kingdom, France and Germany and later supported by the EU High Representative, to deal with the Iranian nuclear issue. This paper will argue that the structural reforms introduced through the Lisbon Treaty in 2009 - mostly related to the Council presidency, the EU High Representative and the European External Service Action - did not overcome the limits of the EU legal framework on foreign policy, explaining why ad hoc groups continued to be used since. The paper will also argue that in the instances in which these formats have taken the lead in implementing EU foreign policy, they managed to increase both the effectiveness and the legitimacy of the Union.
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