EU Common Security and Defence: Fulfilling the Lisbon promise

Federica Mogherini; Photo: European Union

Today, the European Union is focused on protecting its citizens through effective measures to fight terrorism and develop its common defence and security. Also, the EU aim is to ensure its economic development in a globalised world, to tackle migration and to protect its external borders. In his political guidelines in 2014, President of European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker stressed that the EU needs to work on “a stronger Europe when it comes to security and defence matters,” adding that  Europe is chiefly a ‘soft power’, but even the strongest soft powers cannot make do in the long run without at least some integrated defence capacities.

The question of common defence has always been an issue on which European countries had different opinions. On one hand, there were states strongly oriented towards NATO, being led by the United Kingdom, while on the other hand were states led by France and Germany advocating the introduction of the common defence into the EU Treaties.

But, after Brexit happened, things have changed and voices of multi-speed Europe have been heard.

After the proposal for the EU Constitution failed, the Lisbon Treaty took the formulation of common defence, incorporating it to the Article 42.7. Another improvement for deepening defence cooperation among the EU member states has been introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. It is called Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and it is designed to make European defence more efficient and effective. Once PESCO is established, it develops into the permanent institution of the EU and decisions made within this framework become obligatory.

Back in 2013, the European Council made a conclusion that defence is important issue and that the EU should focus more on common defence. It became clear that the EU member states cannot deal alone with the new security challenges. In 2015, after taking office, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, presented the report under the name “The European Union in a changing environment”. That report showed that the EU’s strategic environment has changed radically.

Prime Ministers of the Visegrad Group (Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia) adopted the “Declaration for a Stronger Common Security and Defence Policy” in June 2015 and reconfirmed their commitment to strengthen the ability of the EU to respond to a rapidly evolving global and European security environment. Heads of Governments stressed that the future course of CSDP should be built upon achievable solutions with concrete ways and means required for their implementation. They underlined that the sustainability of European security architecture depends to a large degree on a safe and stable neighbourhood and economic integration of partner countries such as Western Balkans and the Union for the Mediterranean. In their statement, Prime Ministers called for further enhancement of the EU – NATO relations.

In April 2016, the European Parliament within the “Report on the EU in a changing global environment – a more connected, contested and complex world” called on the EU and the Member States to step up their defence capabilities, in order to be prepared to respond to the broad spectrum of civilian, military and hybrid threats and risks, in synergy with NATO, but also to make full use of the Lisbon Treaty provisions on the Common Security and Defence Policy.

“Principal objective should be to move towards permanently pooled multinational military units, joint defence forces and the framing of a common defence policy which should ultimately lead to a European Defence Union. In this regards, the establishment of a permanent EU military headquarters to improve military crisis management capability is needed,” it is underscored in the report.

At the time when the EP issued the report, the United Kingdom warned that these attempts for deepening defence integration could decrease the impact of NATO in Europe. However, the successful referendum on Brexit changed the situation dramatically. Only few days after the referendum, the European Council welcomed a presentation of a “Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy.”

According to Nathalie Tocci, special adviser to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the main purpose of this document is to make unity on the European defence and security. In an interview for the International Spectator, Nathalie Tocci said that even though the UK is ideologically opposed to the notion of deeper integration in this field, it has made important practical contribution to it over the years.

Furthermore, the UK was among the most constructive member states. “While the UK is certainly the most vocal about its opposition to a number of issues concerning in particular CSDP, it hides the scepticism of other member states, notably those which, like the UK, continue to view NATO as the ultimate framework for security and defence” stated Tocci.

Federica Mogherini, in the introduction of the EU’s Global Strategy “Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe” said that in challenging times, a strong Union is one that thinks strategically, shares a vision and acts together. “None of our countries has the strength nor the resources to address these threats and seize the opportunities of our time alone” underlined Mogherini. Importantly, High Representative underscored that the EU will keep deepening the transatlantic bond and partnership with NATO, while connecting to new players and exploring new formats.

“As Europeans we must take greater responsibility for our security. We must be ready and able to deter, respond to, and protect ourselves against external threats. While NATO exists to defend its members – most of which are European – from external attack, Europeans must be better equipped, trained and organised to contribute decisively to such collective efforts, as well as to act autonomously if and when necessary. An appropriate level of ambition and strategic autonomy is important for Europe’s ability to foster peace and safeguard security within and beyond its borders” declared Mogherini.

In this context (cooperation between NATO and the EU), Chief of the EU Foreign Affairs stressed that the EU needs to be strengthened as a security community: European security and defence efforts should enable the EU to act autonomously while also contributing to and undertaking actions in cooperation with NATO.

The priorities of the EU’s external action provided in this EU Global strategy are: the security of the Union, state and societal resilience to East and South, an integrated approach to conflicts and crisis, cooperative regional orders and global governance for the 21st century.

First move towards the implementation of the Global Strategy was the signing of the Joint Declaration of the EU and NATO, signed by Jean-Claude Juncker and Jens Stoltenberg at the NATO Summit in Warsaw in July 2016.

While signing the declaration, they announced that the time has come to give new impetus and new substance to the NATO – EU strategic partnership. Moreover, Juncker and Stoltenberg said that they need new ways of working together and a new level of ambition because their security is interconnected. “A stronger NATO and a stronger EU are mutually reinforcing, together they can better provide security in Europe and beyond,” it stated in the Joint Declaration.

The Bratislava Summit of 27 member states, this time without the UK, was held in September 2016 and it was another opportunity to discuss the common future of the European Union. Leaders of the EU member states underlined that they need the EU not only to guarantee peace and democracy but also the security of the people. The EU proposed the following work programme (the “Bratislava roadmap”) including general diagnosis and objective, migration and external borders, internal and external security in a challenging geopolitical environment, economic and social development and youth.

Building on the EU Global Strategy for foreign and security policy put forward in June 2016, Mogherini presented an Implementation Plan in order to raise the level of ambition of the European Union’s security and defence policy. Three core tasks were identified: responding to external conflicts and crises when they arise, building the capacities of partners, protecting the European Union and its citizens through external action.

In the end of 2016, the European Commission proposed a European Defence Fund and other actions to support Member States’ more efficient spending in joint defence capabilities and foster a competitive and innovative industrial base. It was one step forward the stronger EU common defence and security. Under the European Defence Action Plan, the Commission proposed to set up a European Defence Fund in order to support investment in joint research and the joint development of defence equipment and technologies while strengthening the single market for defence.

According to the research done by the International and Security Affairs Centre (ISAC), looking on the so called “defence package” based on the Security and Defence Implementation plan, Action plan for the European defence and Joint Declaration framework for EU – NATO cooperation, the greatest progress has been made within PESCO, Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARDS) and the European Defence Fund (EDF).

The European Council highlighted the need for PESCO, the European Defence Fund and CARD to be mutually reinforcing so as to enhance defence cooperation among the member states. In conclusions made in June 2017, the Council focused on strengthening Europe and protecting its citizens through effective measures to fight terrorism and develop its common security and defence. The European Council agreed on the need to launch an inclusive and ambitious Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). Since the meeting in June, the EU member states have made the significant progress in preparing a PESCO notification with a common list of commitments.

On 13th of November, Ministers from 23 of the 28 member states signed a joint notification on the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). By signing this notification, the EU took a big step towards jointly developing European military abilities.


Publication of this article has been supported by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshall Fund of the United States