The EU’s cooperation in the field of defence is moving in a positive direction for Estonia.
The EU’s European Security Strategy published in 2003 began with the recognition that “Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor [sic] so free. The violence of the first half of the 20th Century has given way to a period of peace and stability unprecedented in European history.” A decade later, in the summer of 2016, the tone of the new version of the document was radically different. The introduction to the new EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy stresses the need for a stronger Europe that its citizens deserve and the world expects. The current situation is described as an existential crisis within and outside the European Union—the EU is in danger. The European project, which has brought unprecedented peace, prosperity and democracy, is being challenged. In the east, European security has been violated, while North Africa and the Middle East, as well as Europe itself, are troubled by terrorism and violence.
Terrorism was already considered a serious threat in the 2003 strategy. The fight against it was brought into sharp focus after the 2001 attacks in New York. Warfare on European soil after World War II was also nothing new: the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s brought a years-long war with many victims. Nevertheless, it can be said that by the time the 2016 global strategy was completed, the threats of terrorism and violence were significantly higher than before. Thousands of people have poured from Europe to Syria and Iraq as a result of the Islamic State/Daesh phenomenon. Hundreds of hardened fighters have also returned to Europe. The terrorist attacks committed in Paris and Brussels have very clearly evoked a fear of “the enemy within” in Europeans. The annexation of the Crimea and Russian aggression in eastern Ukraine have endangered the post-Cold War security architecture in Europe and are a broader challenge to a world order based on specific rules. The severity and comprehensiveness of the impending threats from the south and east can be described by the term “hybrid threats”, which has taken root in the EU and NATO vocabularies in recent years. In short, it is important to recognise that internal unity, which is essential for the European Union, is facing a difficult time. The financial crisis and migration, unprecedented for the EU, have left deep marks in the Union’s fabric of unity.
How is the EU trying to handle such existential threats? This article describes recent developments in the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Having read the introduction to the 2016 global strategy, it should come as no surprise that, for the past six months, the CSDP has been one of the most discussed topics in the EU, and it will be so this year as well. This topic is rightly covered in a document for the Estonian presidency in the chapter “A secure and protected Europe”, which states: “Only by acting together and preserving its unity on the global stage can the EU keep its citizens safe and promote peace, prosperity and stability”. For this purpose, one of the four sections of the chapter focuses on improving European defence cooperation, increasing defence expenditure and developing the EU-NATO partnership.
Compared to previous years, developments in the CSDP have been remarkable and have given rise to claims about changes in the paradigm. In order to understand the significance of such an increased prominence of this field, let us look at how the CSDP developed.
After the ratification of the European Defence Community treaty failed in 1954, the subject of defence cooperation went out of favour in the European integration process. Paradoxically, the culprits in debunking the project were the French who, together with the Germans, are now at the forefront of developing EU defence cooperation. The Western European Union was established as a substitute for the European Defence Community and one of its important traits was to avoid copying NATO—a principle that significantly affects the current debate in the EU. This dynamic, which began in the 1950s, has, in essence, meant that European military structures are of a transatlantic nature. It was not until the late 1990s, mainly due to Europe’s disgraceful inability to handle the war in Yugoslavia, that the Saint Malo Declaration, signed between the United Kingdom and France, signified readiness to move towards a credible defence policy within the EU. In 1999 the European Council gave the green light to the European Security and Defence Policy. This became possible largely because an intersection was found between the stakeholders that preferred European defence cooperation and the party that saw transatlantic relations and NATO as primary. The current form of the CSDP was only formalised in 2009 by the Treaty of Lisbon.
Although the EU did away with its “pillar” structure in the Treaty of Lisbon, the intragovernmental method was retained for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), of which the CSDP is an integral part. Simply put, sovereignty is still paramount to member states with regard to the CSDP. Member states adopt decisions unanimously; this policy is not supranational and the European Commission—influential and considered the driving force of the EU in other fields—has so far remained in the background. Although the Treaty of Lisbon provides for a qualified majority in some cases of foreign policy, it does not apply to important decisions in military or defence policy.
In addition to the considerably worsened security environment, the development of the CSDP is also affected by democratic processes that have taken place in two countries that are important to the EU in respect of their military capabilities (among many other aspects). The outcome of the referendum on the UK’s EU membership resulted in Brexit, and the US president is now Donald Trump, who is sceptical about multilateralism, free trade and other international issue that had hitherto been important for the US. The effect of Brexit on the development of the CSDP may be that the UK will no longer be able to impede the vigorous development of the field through consensual decision-making. The UK is known for being the biggest opponent of the (development of the) EU’s defence dimension. President Trump and his statements casting doubt on NATO have further cemented the understanding that Europe needs to contribute more to, and assume responsibility for, its own defence.
Recent developments in the CSDP have been described as the process of finally forming a European army. The EU’s most prominent proponent of this has been Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission. He called for the formation of a European army, for example, in March 2015 as a response to Russian aggression in Ukraine and also after Trump’s election. Nevertheless, we are a long way from creating one. On the one hand, this is determined by the EU’s treaty structure. Secondly, despite the highly ambitious rhetoric, we can all see the argument that takes place at the EU negotiating table over actual steps. The fact that the bar of creating a European army is still too high to clear is also evidenced by what has been done with the CSDP so far.
Article 42(1) of the Treaty on European Union discloses the nature of the CSDP and shows that it is directed at operating outside EU territory:
… [CSDP] shall provide the Union with an operational capacity drawing on civilian and military assets. The Union may use them on missions outside the Union for peace-keeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. The performance of these tasks shall be undertaken using capabilities provided by the Member States.
Thus, CSDP activities lack the element of territorial defence that usually goes with the concept of an army.
However, a European army is a theoretical possibility in the future because Article 42(2) states that
the common security and defence policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides. It shall in that case recommend to the Member States the adoption of such a decision in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.
In reality, using the term “European army” about the work currently done in the EU for the improvement of defence cooperation is rather unhelpful and misleading. Although there are no aspirations to create a European army behind increasing the efficiency of defence cooperation, it constitutes very important steps—as stressed above—with respect to paradigm changes. The European Council (the highest EU body that provides political direction and where decisions are adopted by heads of state and government of the member states) in December 2016 gave its blessing to three main directions which, when worked on simultaneously, should take defence cooperation to a new level to ensure the better protection of citizens:
Europeans must take greater responsibility for their security. In order to strengthen Europe’s security and defence in a challenging geopolitical environment and to better protect its citizens, confirming previous commitments in this respect, the European Council stresses the need to do more, including by committing sufficient additional resources, while taking into account national circumstances and legal commitments.1
The citizens’ need for a more secure environment is constantly emphasised, together with the efforts made in respect of the CSDP. In a situation in which support for the EU is decreasing, politicians see this as an opportunity to act strongly and send a clear signal of the Union’s usefulness to their electorates.
The three “pillars” on which the strengthening of EU defence cooperation is based are:
1. Implementation of the EU Global Strategy in security and defence
2. The European Defence Action Plan
3. EU-NATO cooperation, based on the joint declaration signed in Warsaw in 2016 and its implementing measures
1. The Global Strategy
The implementation plan in security and defence sets the level of ambition and covers the activities of the EU in the context of strategic autonomy. This autonomy should, in the end, enable the EU to operate independently, if necessary, i.e. it should have at its disposal a portfolio of capabilities to enable this. In relation to the level of ambition, the focus is on three strands: 1) managing external conflicts and crises; 2) developing the capabilities of partners; and 3) defence of the European Union and its citizens. A short comment about the latter: the defence of citizens has become politically significant. The link between external and internal security is emphasised more and more in relation to this. The CSDP is outward-facing. Hence, the joint measures applied on EU territory to increase the security of EU citizens will remain in the domain of the institutions responsible for internal security (led by the European Commission). Dealing with hybrid threats should be specifically mentioned. In order to avoid confusion about who does what, the role of NATO as the guarantor of collective defence has been stressed.
Three more specific topics are currently being discussed in relation to the security and defence plan: a) Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD); b) improvement of the planning and management of civil and military missions; and c) Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).
CARD should contribute to the development of the necessary capacities by providing an overview of the current position and enabling the identification of deficiencies on which work is needed. The process would be managed by the member states and take place in cooperation with the European Defence Agency (a CFSP body reporting to the Council of the EU).
Improving the efficiency of the management of civil and military missions ((b) above) is what remained of the ambitious project to establish a permanent headquarters for EU missions initially desired by some member states. The argument about duplicating NATO and limited resources was clearly outlined in this context. The EU lacked readiness for establishing a separate headquarters with several hundred men and a focus on the military chain of command. Making the management of civil and military missions more efficient should rely on existing structures to increase civil-military synergy and strengthen political-strategic control.
Drawing on the Treaty on European Union, PESCO is intended to be a mechanism for enhanced cooperation, but it has not yet been used. It has also occasionally been called the “defence eurozone”. In essence it should preclude the participation of all member states because it is intended for the more ambitious to move forward without hindrance in an environment that is otherwise based on a consensus. However, a construction that precludes participation from the start would be politically dubious at a time when EU unity shows increasing signs of crumbling. For that reason, it has been intended to make PESCO inclusive to allow all those who so wish to participate. A possible solution is seen in a modular association, which should also be suitable for member states with modest defence capabilities.
Battlegroups have been proposed as an example of a PESCO module. These are intended to project the military dimension of the CSDP and are on permanent standby with a rapid-response capability. (Estonia has contributed to the Nordic battlegroup.) The battlegroups have never been deployed, for political as well as financial reasons. Military missions are largely financed by the countries that participate in them; about 10–15% of the funding comes from the EU’s common budget. This is the so-called “Athena mechanism”, which is due to be reviewed during the Estonian presidency of the Council, at Estonia’s initiative. In the context of funding, Estonia is one of the few NATO member states that spend 2% of their GDP on defence. One of the aims of the Estonian presidency is to fix a numerical goal for defence expenditure in the EU.
2. European Defence Action Plan
The second of the three pillars for strengthening EU defence cooperation is the European Defence Action Plan, which was unveiled by the European Commission on 30 November 2016. A changed paradigm can certainly be discussed in this context, because the plan includes a significant financial contribution from the EU to the defence industry, which is unprecedented and will inevitably result in a more active role for the European Commission in shaping the defence field. The Commission is responsible for the allocation of the EU common budget according to established political priorities. It prescribes the establishment of a fund for supporting research and development activities, which should promote the development of modern military technologies in the EU and increase the competitiveness of European companies in the global marketplace. The indicative size of this fund for the financial period that begins in 2020 is 500 million euro per year. 90 million euro is available until 2020 in the framework of a preparatory programme.
The European Commission has also prescribed a mechanism for the common financing of capacities that would encourage member states to develop defence capabilities together. The main contributors would be member states, while the Commission would provide a support structure and co-financing. In addition, the Commission is attempting to enhance the market mechanisms of the EU’s defence industry by promoting common standards and organising public procurement. With this pillar, it is important for Estonia to ensure that small and medium-sized enterprises also have an opportunity and that it also covers the technology sectors that are strong in Estonia.
3. EU-NATO Cooperation
The third pillar for strengthening EU defence cooperation is links between the EU and NATO, which, following the joint declaration adopted at the NATO summit in Warsaw in June 2016, are at a completely new level that corresponds to the requirements of our time. As an expression of this, at the end of 2016 the EU and NATO approved an ambitious package of identical measures for the implementation of the declaration, consisting of more than 40 activities in seven fields. This activity is focused on real and specific results. The important fields for Estonia are fighting hybrid threats, including the enforcement of strategic communication cooperation, increasing resilience, cyber security, and the organisation of parallel exercises. One of the defence priorities of the Estonian presidency is assisting EU-NATO cooperation focusing on the organisation of military exercises. The aim is to raise awareness of cyber security at ministerial level. The plan is also to support the organisation of an EU military exercise with a hybrid threat component, which should take place concurrently with a NATO exercise in the second half of 2017, during the Estonian EU presidency.
In conclusion, it can be said that the developments for strengthening EU defence cooperation are moving in a favourable direction for Estonia. Several aspects of the process that are important for Estonia will also receive greater attention during its presidency in the second half of the year. As a general philosophy, Estonia supports the following aspects of the CSDP: guaranteeing resources in real terms, practicality, proactivity and precaution. Instead of creating a political-sounding European army, work is being done on those aspects of the CSDP that need rebooting based on prior experience. There are also certain initiatives motivated by political ambition, such as PESCO, in which context it should be considered that aspects that deliver tangible results should prevail. In general, strengthening EU defence cooperation is seen as a necessary and natural process that should also contribute to the efficiency of NATO operations in a deteriorating security environment. It is therefore no longer the instinctive first reaction to focus on the need to avoid copying NATO. However, this aspect still needs to be considered when weighing up more specific steps.
1 European Commission, Conclusions of the European Council meeting, 15 December 2016; EUCO 34/16 [available at eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/euco-conclusions-f…