Is the EU getting a firmer grasp on its external relations? This week offers some illustrations of what could be a more incisive and robust approach.

The most obvious example of a new form of influence is the launch of the EU military mission in the still-fragile Bosnia and Herzegovina. Deploying 7,000 troops on the ground to take over from departing NATO forces shows that the EU has muscle and is prepared to use it. And it furthers a key EU policy - stabilisation of the Western Balkans as part of the strategy of bringing the countries in the region into closer association with the EU, and eventual membership.

The most high-profile example - at the centre of world attention - has been the EU involvement in Ukraine: no longer a well-meaning spectator on the sidelines, but in the thick of the action. Senior figures from Member States and the EU institutions have been prominent participants in the talks between the post-election factions.

The outcome still remains uncertain, and the EU cannot take sole credit for defusing the tensions. But the prompt EU response has been a factor in the shift from confrontation to dialogue. With the stakes so high in a major neighbour, anything less...

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