A degraded security situation, the Brexit referendum and the election of a US President at best indifferent to European security matters have led the Member States to search for new security and defence solutions and for new ways to demonstrate European cohesion.
The debate on an EU defence dimension is thus livelier than it has been for many years. But, EU security and defence efforts will amount to little if the EU’s new level of ambition is not underpinned by effective military capabilities.
Until very recently, European defence budgets have been in decline, and agreed capability shortfalls have not been addressed. Defence cooperation, long recognised as a necessity if the Member States are to deliver the real capability that both the EU and NATO require, is limited by political concerns over sovereignty and trust, technical issues, and the continued preference of the Member States to procure from national suppliers. The uncoordinated and inefficient use of defence budgets leads to a lack of standardisation, poor interoperability, duplication, diminished competitiveness in Europe’s defence industry, and the wasting of money.
New initiatives are on the table – Permanent Structured Cooperation, the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence and the Commission’s Defence Action Plan and Defence Fund – which together can have a positive and transformative impact. They will provide the Member States with a recharged set of tools to support collaborative capability development. Historically, though, the obstacle to defence cooperation has not been the lack of tools, but the lack of political will to make use of them.
These reports, ICDS’s contribution to the debate, have been produced to support Estonia’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. The policy paper discusses some of the issues related to further building the EU’s defence dimension, with a focus on the generation and sustainment of the political will necessary for collaborative military capability development. The companion report provides more background and argument to support the ideas set out in the policy paper.