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The EU common defence: Deeper integration on the horizon?

The EU common defence: Deeper integration on the horizon?
The EU’s HR/VP Federica Mogherini presents the EU Global Strategy to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Photo: Flickr / European External Action Service


Just a few days after the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission (HR/VP), Federica Mogherini, presented the EU Global Strategy in Brussels at the EU summit on 28 June 2016. The EU Global Strategy is considered the outcome of a review of the European Security Strategy (ESS) in light of the dramatic changes in the EU’s security environment since 2003, alongside the substantial institutional and legal developments caused by enlargement and the Lisbon Treaty.

The Global Strategy’s main departure from the ESS was not due to the inclusion of terms like migration, hybrid threat, radicalization and resilience – concepts that were completely absent from the ESS – but in its continuous references to the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), as part of the solution to emerging and future security challenges. While the ESS stated that a military option can never on its own provide solutions, the Global Strategy stressed that all sustainable solutions have a military dimension. Mogherini, in the executive summary, stated: ‘We live in times of existential crisis’, and ‘investment in security and defence is a matter of urgency’, and the credibility of the EU depends on it. The Global Strategy largely shifted from being about how the EU can contribute to stability and peace globally, to how the EU can better protect and enhance its own security.

For such a broad and ambitious document (which includes objectives to reduce global poverty and inequality, empower marginalised groups, etc.), the defence component of the CSDP has a surprisingly prominent role in the Global Strategy. The role of the CSDP in the Global Strategy is so central it makes me wonder whether the purpose was to put forward an ambitious strategic direction for CSDP, and just embed it in a Global Strategy to soften the edges.

One year later, on 8 June 2017, the UK held a general election, this time to select the leader for whom one of the tasks would be to negotiate the UK’s exit from the EU. The following day the Defence and Security Conference was held in Prague, under the title ‘European Vision. European Responsibility’, and co-hosted by the Czech Republic and the European Commission.

When representatives from EU member states, EU institutions and NATO met in Prague, it was in light of the recent French elections and several decisions that were taken to advance the EU CSDP over the past year, suggesting that the EU is now moving towards deeper defence cooperation. Among these signals are:

  • Mogherini’s Implementation Plan focusing on Security and Defence, building on the EU Global Strategy. On this basis, the European Council agreed in December 2016, March and May 2017, to: 1) Deepen defence cooperation among the member states, including through the launch of a voluntary Coordinated Annual Review on Defence to enhance transparency and better synchronise member states defence planning through a yearly review to be conducted by the European Defence Agency; 2) The initial future governance structure of the Permanent Structured Cooperation, following its establishment, based on articles 42.6 and 46 and protocol 10 of the Treaties on the European Union; 3) To establish, as a short term objective, a Military Planning and Conduct Capability within the EU Military Staff of the European External Action Service (EEAS) which will assume the command over the EU’s non-executive military missions (i.e. not military operations), currently three EU training missions in the Central African Republic, Mali and Somalia; and 4) Review the financial mechanism to facilitate the deployment of Battlegroups. The Council decided to review the Athena mechanism for the Battlegroups, to ensure rapid financing and ultimately deployment of the battlegroups.
  • The adoption of a EU-NATO Joint Declaration for cooperation on hybrid threats, operational cooperation, cyber security, defence capabilities, industry and research, exercises and capacity building. A first brief progress report on the implementation of the Joint Declaration included the first EU-NATO staffs exercise in response to a hybrid scenario and a commitment from the EU to contribute to NATO’s Capacity Building Programme aimed at strengthening good governance in the defence and security sectors.
  • The creation of a European Defence Fund, allocating €5.5 billion per year to defence research (directly from the EU budget) and capability development (co-financing from the EU budget). Although the fund has been agreed, it will not entail any new money and it has not been decided where the money will be taken from.
  • The launch of a reflection paper by the European Commission, laying out three possible future scenarios of EU CSDP depending on the level of ambition by member states: Defence & Security Cooperation; Shared Security & Defence; and Common Defence & Security.


Most of the above points will have no immediate impact or automatic effect on defence cooperation, but set out the future directions and acknowledge existing bottlenecks, which are necessary first steps for deepening integration in any area. Furthermore, the strong support for President Macron and his pro-EU agenda in the recent French elections made a realization of the above decisions much more likely.

Despite a rise in Euroscepticism and the first ever decision by a member state to withdraw from the Union, closer cooperation on defence issues appears to enjoy broad support among citizens. In a special Eurobarometer Designing Europe’s future: Security and Defence from April 2017, 75 per cent of the respondent stated that they are in favour of a common defence and security policy among member states. Survey results of this kind are known to be notoriously difficult to assess. Yet, the support could well be genuine, influenced by legitimate security concerns. To keep support for long-term change, it is important that the EU institutions and member states leadership does not overlook or fail to engage citizens’ concern in a chase to accomplish as much as possible under current momentum. CSDP is an external policy under Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and may only be used in missions outside the Union (Lisbon Treaty article 42).

While it is positive that the EU now has traction in an area where cooperation had previously stalled, we must not fail to consider that there will be a limit to what even a fully implemented CSDP can deliver in terms of enhancing citizens’ security.



Dr Lina Grip was a Researcher with the European Security Programme.