Not giant but firm steps towards a stronger European Common Security and Defence Policy

15/01/2014 14:13

A Note on the December 2013 European Council


At their last European summit in 2013 heads of government and state held their first thematic debate on security and defence since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty. Having been absorbed over the past years by the crisis of the euro and by the management of and lessons to be drawn from the financial crisis, their discussion on 19 December and the important preparations were in themselves remarkable. The last time the issue was on the agenda of a European Council meeting dates back to 2008; and the still valid European Security Strategy was adopted in 2003. The written conclusions state a number of priorities built around three axes: increasing the effectiveness, visibility and impact of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP); enhancing the development of capabilities; and strengthening Europe’s defence industry. European leaders will come back to the issue in 18 months. Until then they should also dispose of an assessment on new strategic challenges for the EU, which is to be drafted by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security policy. Therefore, it may be said that the Summit took no giant but some firm steps towards a stronger European Common and Defence Policy.


1) Preparation of the December 2013 EU summit on defence

Several EU institutions contributed to the preparation of the EU summit: On 24 July 2013 the European Commission contributed a communication entitled Towards a more competitive and efficient defence and security sector. A joint communication of the High Representative and the Commission on The EU's comprehensive approach to external conflict and crisis  was adopted just ahead of the summit on 11 December. Catherine Ashton the High Representative, who is also head of the European Defence Agency  (EDA), published a Final Report  in preparation for the European Council in December. Two reports of the European Parliament were adopted directly in respect of the same event: one on the implementation of the Common Security and Defence policy by the Greek MEP Maria Eleni Koppa from the Socialists ;and another one by the German MEP Michael Gahler of the PPE group on the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base.  On these resolutions, minority opinions - calling in particular for radical disarmament at EU and global levels - were tabled by several members of the Group of the European United Left. A third noteworthy resolution in this context was the UN principle of the 'Responsibility to Protect' ('R2P') adopted on 4 April 2013 on the initiative of the German MEP Franziska Brantner from the Greens.  The Council finally approved substantial conclusions on 25 November and thus set the stage for the deliberations in the European Council. Beyond these institutional inputs, numerous papers and articles were published ahead of the summit. The foreign ministries of Italy, Poland, Spain and Sweden commissioned four think tanks to draft a report and to set in motion a process   Towards a European Global Strategy. Another example is the policy brief Why Europe needs a new Global Strategy from the European Council on Foreign relations.


2) Increasing the effectiveness, visibility and impact of CSDP (axis 1)

In its “comprehensive approach” the EU tries to coordinate and combine its policy tools, which include diplomacy, security, finance, trade, development and justice. At the summit the heads of state and government committed themselves to strengthening this approach and to continue working in close collaboration with its “global, transatlantic and regional partners”.  They also decided make a more flexible use of the European groups. The latter were set up in 2007 but have not been deployed so far. With regard to financing of missions the so-called Athena mechanism for CFSP missions shall be improved. The French President suggested extending this mechanism to unilateral missions of EU member states, but his proposal does not figure in the conclusions.  A Cyber Defence Policy Framework shall be ready in 2014 and the June 2014 European Council meeting is heading towards the adoption of a Maritime Security Strategy. Finally the High Representative is invited “to assess the impact of changes in the global environment, and to report in the course of 2015 on the challenges and opportunities arising for the Union”. This formulation leaves the door open for the successor to Baroness Ashton to review the “European Security Strategy” dating from 2003. 


3) Enhancing the development of capabilities (axis 2)

Radical cuts in national budgets have led to a considerable reduction in defence-related expenditure. Total EU defence spending fell from €251 billion in 2001 to €194 billion and defence research and development was halved between 2001 and 2013. They were initiated despite requests expressed by the US and by NATO for their European partners to assume greater responsibilities. No consultation or coordination on these cuts took place within the EU. The EU summit then gave a final nod to four concrete projects, led by groups of member states and with the support of the EDA:

  • A European solution for drones at the latest, including the development of a next generation Medium Altitude Long Endurance  (MALE) drone by 2025 (and probably with a view to the common policing of European airspace).
  • Development of an Air-to-Air Refuelling capacity, especially with regard to the procurement of and the pooled operation of a multi-role tanker fleet under the lead of the Netherlands by 2020 as indicated in the conclusions of the Council.
  • Setting up of a user’s group in 2014 for the next generation of governmental satellite communication.
  • Establishing a roadmap for training programmes and for protection of CSDP missions and operations via EDA initiatives in the area of cyber defence and on the basis of the EU Cybersecurity Strategy.

The European Council participants also expressed their wish to increase “transparency and information in national (defence) planning” and asked the High Representative and the EDA to put forward proposals for a more coordinated procurement policy by the end of this year.


4) Strengthening Europe’s defence industry

The jobs of 1.36 million people in the European Union depend directly or indirectly on defence activities. Annual revenue amounts to €96 billion and €23 billion arises from exports. The European Council stated Europe’s need for a more integrated, sustainable, innovative and competitive defence technological and industrial base (EDTIB) and supported the European Commission’s communication on the defence and security sector (see link above), including the development of common certification and standardisation procedures. Heads of state and government undertook to fully implement two defence directives on procurement; however without prejudice to Article 346 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, which allows any member state to « take such measures as it considers necessary for the protection of the essential interests of its security which are connected with the production of or trade in arms, munitions and war material ».  Here as elsewhere very much will continue to hang on the political will of member states. 


5) The way forward

The European Council will assess concrete progress on all issues in June 2015. Although highly recommended by the European Parliament and by individual member states, the conclusions of the December summit do not mention a review of the out-dated European Security Strategy of 2003 (« Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free…. ») nor a White Paper on EU security and defence policy. Concrete projects may therefore suffer from this perceived lack of strategic thinking. The closest the heads of state and government came to strategic questions was the invitation extended to the  High Representative to assess challenges arising from the global environment (see above under 1). European Justice and Peace Commissions may inform this assessment through individual and collective contributions, especially by conveying a message on the importance of dialogue, mediation and reconciliation as part of an overall strategy for Europe’s security and defence policy.


Stefan Lunte

Secretary General of Justice and Peace Europe

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Concrete but limited progress

Michel Drain, member of the French Justice and Peace Commisson | 16/09/2014

For the first time since the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, the European Council of heads of state and government held a session on defence matters. European leaders want to strengthen military capabilities despite stagnating and often diminishing defence budgets. They made a commitment to buy and use in future more military equipment in common and to do this with the help of the European Defence Agency. Priority projects include observation drones, air refuelling planes, satellite communications and Internet security. Furthermore, it was decided to support defence industries through research programmes with dual use (civilian and military). Technical norms and common certification rules will be further developed to promote the creation of a European defence market. Thus, concrete but limited progress was achieved at the summit. The United Kingdom however was clearly opposed to a majority of other countries by refusing the principle of military operations under European command. Increased sharing of the financing of European operations is planned, but the French request to cover the costs of these operations through the European budget was not adopted.

Basic questions were left out

Prof. Thomas Hoppe, German Commission for Justice and Peace | 16/09/2014

The EU December meeting took place at a time when important decisions were at stake: How could it become possible to increase the European competences for non-military forms of dealing with conflicts and of conflict resolution and to bolster their efficiency? How can all EU member states participate in solidarity in the necessary and obvious task of implementing the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) in regions shattered by crisis and horrific violence? How strictly are military interventions of EU member states based on this humanitarian legitimacy; to what extent can this legitimacy predominate over other political interests, so that people in desperate situations may in fact hope to obtain such protection? Those questions reflecting the conceptual framework of CSDP unfortunately were not addressed at the summit meeting. They are much more important than the many particular aspects mentioned in the Conclusions of the European Council. Therefore a follow-up process is urgently needed in order to discuss these central questions and in order to further qualify the CSDP.

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