October 24, 2017

EU Security and Defence: Is the Wind Back in Europe’s Sails?

The solidarity clause of the Lisbon Treaty should be properly implemented

On 13 September 2017, Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, delivered his annual address on the State of the European Union. His message was very uplifting: “The wind is back in Europe’s sails. … We must help create a Europe that protects, a Europe that empowers, a Europe that defends.”1
How are we going to do that – especially to create a Europe that defends? What do we have going for us now that has not been there since the British and French political leaders of the time, Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Jacques Chirac, met in December 1998 in the French coastal resort town of St Malo?2
As we recall, the St Malo declaration paved the way for what is now known as the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). It also laid the foundation for developing EU–NATO cooperation in defence for years to come. But let’s also remember that the EU’s CSDP was never about creating a European army or supplanting NATO’s role in the latter’s responsibility for territorial defence. Even today, there is no such thing as an “EU army” in sight.
Right now, the challenges confronting both the EU and NATO are severe and complex. A shared understanding among the EU and NATO member states is gradually emerging about the need for active countermeasures and improved resilience to malicious influence by external actors. Consequently, coordination of EU and NATO activities in the area of defence capabilities is one of the most critical areas of the new joint agenda.
This has been the goal of the CSDP (notably the Helsinki Headline Goal, HHG, and the Battlegroups) since the late 1990s, but in reality the EU still lacks many key military capabilities needed for autonomous action, such as strategic lift, air-to-air refuelling, and shared intelligence and situational awareness assets, to name just a few.
What, then, can the European Union do to get the wind in Europe’s sails and strengthen European defence capabilities?
First, there are two defence planning processes that should be carefully dovetailed to support each other. The NATO Defence Planning Process (NDPP) is a core activity of the Alliance, aimed at ensuring the credibility of its primary tasks of deterrence and defence and an ability to conduct operations. It provides the framework for harmonising member states’ national defence planning processes and for assisting allies to generate the capabilities needed for NATO activities.
The NDPP is comparable to the EU’s Capability Development Plan (CDP), which identifies future capability needs, priorities for joint action and recommendations for national planning. The CDP has been produced by the European Defence Agency (EDA) since 2008 and is meant to support the national defence planning efforts of EU member states.
Second, it is understood that more effective and systematic ways to coordinate EU defence planning activities are sorely needed. To this end, EU member states have tasked the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini, to develop a mechanism for Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD). They have underlined that CARD should be member-state-driven and voluntary. Member states have also stressed the importance of coherence between CARD and NATO’s NDPP. The first CARD is to be implemented in 2018.3
Third, in addition to the work done by the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the EDA, the European Commission has recently become active in the field of defence. The Commission aims to contribute to the development of the European defence industry and defence research. To that end, the European Defence Action Plan (EDAP), adopted by the Commission in November 2016, proposes the establishment of a European Defence Fund (EDF) of 500 million euros per year, to be used for defence research and joint capability-development projects.
Furthermore, the obvious need to address the EU’s capability shortages has generated active interest in using “Permanent Structured Cooperation” (PESCO), as foreseen in the Lisbon Treaty, among a smaller group of member states ready for deeper cooperation. PESCO could be a useful tool, but how much willingness really exists for using PESCO in a manner that would generate improved joint capabilities remains to be seen.
Are there any low-hanging fruit – projects ready for roll-out that could be enjoyed in the near future?
First, the EU and NATO should develop mechanisms and procedures for shared strategic and situational awareness. Some core capabilities already exist, in the form of the EU Intelligence Analysis Centre and the recently established Hybrid Fusion Cell. Early warning of emerging situations and improvement of general situational awareness would promote stability and security, as well as reduce the possibility of accidents.
Second, the EU and NATO should explore possibilities for strengthening the civil preparedness of their member states. This includes studying the condition of member states’ basic infrastructure, as well as an examination of their societal resilience, be it against kinetic or non-kinetic means of attack. Member states’ security of supply should also be reviewed. Resilience is a national responsibility but, given the challenges the Euro-Atlantic community currently faces, the need for substantive cooperation among members of the EU and NATO on the question of resilience is more urgent than ever.
Third, the EU and NATO should develop a coordinated response to hybrid threat scenarios. At its Summit in Wales in 2014, NATO decided to expand Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty to apply to extensive malicious cyber-attacks, but concern about a grey area between war and peace remains. In any case, the EU should develop its mechanism for implementing Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty, and both organisations should coordinate their playbooks and gain a better shared understanding about the contribution of each organisation in responding to hybrid threats. Assuming a healthy dose of political will, the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, established in Helsinki in April 2017, should have a useful role in this.
Fourth and last, yet another area where the EU and NATO could work in a complementary manner is that of training and exercises. The unresolved Cyprus-Turkey issue has blocked such joint efforts until recently, but the “parallel and coordinated exercises” held this year and next should be helpful in cutting this particular Gordian knot. Common training and exercises should be supplemented by tabletop exercises to add some robustness to these exercises.
To summarise, there is a new push to develop EU defence and security. The new activities spring from the need for the EU to respond to the new strategic environment, in both Europe’s north and its south. NATO will still be the chosen organisation for military deterrence and defence, but in addressing hybrid threats, it will need the EU’s contribution. The EU has several soft-power instruments in its toolbox to enhance and support the hard-power tools at NATO’s disposal.
The member states of the EU (and NATO) are slowly waking up to the new reality that there will be no business as usual. It is also now clear that there is strong political momentum to find ways to enhance EU (and NATO) defence and security. In President Juncker’s words, “the wind is back in Europe’s sails”.
This article has been published in cooperation with the European Commission’s Representation in Estonia.
1 President Jean-Claude Juncker, “State of the Union Address”, Press Release, European Commission, 17 September 2017. http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-17-3165_et.htm 2 This article draws heavily on Kristi Raik and Pauli Järvenpää, “A New Era of EU-NATO Cooperation. How to Make the Best of a Marriage of Necessity”, International Centre for Defence and Security, Tallinn, May 2017. https://www.icds.ee/publications/article/a-new-era-of-eu-nato-cooperation-how-to-make-the-best-of-a-marriage-of-necessity/ 3 For a more extensive discussion of the “alphabet soup” – EDAP, EDF, CARD and PESCO – see Tony Lawrence, Henrik Praks and Pauli Järvenpää, “Building Capacity for the EU Global Strategy”, International Centre for Defence and Security, Tallinn, June 2017. https://www.icds.ee/publications/article/building-capacity-for-the-eu-global-strategy/


This article was published in ICDS Diplomaatia magazine.