There was no shortage of conflicts to be discussed at this year´s gathering of global security policy leaders in Munich.
Against the backdrop of a gloomy international environment, the conference devoted much attention to the need for Europeans to do more for their own security. It piled up expectations on Germany and France to do their share and show leadership. Appropriately, the defence ministers of the two countries, Ursula von der Leyen and Florence Parly, were the first speakers of the event.
Europeans have indeed started to do more, as the rising defence expenditures show. The debates exposed, however, the hurdles ahead.
First, the future relationship of EU defence to the US and NATO continues to be viewed somewhat differently among Europeans. In practice, what the EU has done so far reflects the existing consensus on the complementarity of EU defence cooperation to NATO. As noted in Munich by the Estonian minister of defence Jüri Luik, Estonia would not have joined the new initiatives of EU defence if it had feared that these could duplicate NATO.
The principle of complementarity was also repeated by the president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker – but he added a puzzling call for ´emancipation´ of Europe via EU defence. Emancipation usually refers to breaking free from constraints – so, from whom or what does PESCO (the permanent structured cooperation) liberate us? Member states in the Nordic-Baltic region, for instance, are unlikely to subscribe to framing EU defence in such terms.
The US should take good note of the differences among Europeans and, as argued by Tomáš Valášek, support the development of EU defence dimension in a manner that strengthens the transatlantic alliance – instead of expressing ill-grounded and likely counter-productive opposition, as it has recently done.
Second, Europeans lack a common strategic culture. President Macron´s appeal to create one was echoed by the French representatives in Munich. Yet the speeches by the German and French defence ministers highlighted the differences between the two parts of the EU tandem in this regard. Germany is right in reminding us about the importance of diplomacy and development cooperation, but one cannot avoid the impression that Berlin stresses these aspects in order to get away with the weakness of its military. At the same time, France reveals its low expectations towards the operational contribution of EU defence by pushing ahead the French-led European Intervention Initiative outside the EU framework.
Third, there are no answers so far to the crucial question of how to tie the UK to the EU´s security and defence policies after Brexit. The Munich speech by PM Theresa May raised several details to be solved, from intelligence sharing in daily anti-terrorism work to the question of involving the UK in EU sanction policies. As May noted, the UK is the only member state spending both 2% of GDP on defence and 0.7% on development cooperation.