By Konstantinos Alexandropoulos
With instability spreading from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa, through the Middle East and the Caucasus up to the borderline of eastern Europe, the EU is confronted with an overwhelming variety of threats, including cyber-attacks, piracy, terrorism, as well as energy and environmental security threats. Moreover, the financial crisis and subsequent austerity measures have considerably weakened military capabilities and resources in EU member states, with uncoordinated and unevenly decreased defence budgets in recent years. Austerity has affected the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) as well, which in addition to a political leadership deficit, institutional complexities, insufficient operational coordination and a general member states’ reluctance to provide troops and equipment resulted in EU missions of limited scope, size and duration.
In response to the need for greater rationalisation and deeper integration in the EU’s security and defence sectors, the December 2013 Summit marked the European Council’s first thematic debate on CSDP since the Lisbon Treaty entered into force. The Heads of State were unanimous that European “Defence Matters” and acknowledged the ineffectiveness of EU policy in a rapidly evolving geopolitical environment, member states’ restricted ability to deploy and sustain forces due to constrained defence budgets, and the negative effect of fragmented defence markets on the EU’s defence industry competitiveness. In an effort to address these issues, the European Council “invited the High Representative 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, following consultations with the Member States”. EU High Representative Federica Mogherini has since responded to this invitation by announcing a strategic reflection process on the EU’s foreign and security policy.
The European Council’s commitment towards more systematic and long-term cooperation in the development, maintenance and operation of military capabilities translated into the military ‘pooling and sharing’ initiative, a mainstay of the European Defence Agency. Air-to-air refuelling, the development of the next generation of surveillance drones, satellite communications and cyber defence were identified by the European Council as four critical joint project development domains. EU leaders also supported the strengthening of the internal market for defence and the development of a more integrated, sustainable, innovative and competitive European defence technological and industrial base.
The acknowledgement by NATO leaders in Wales in September 2014 of the need for “a strong defence industry across the Alliance and enhanced cooperation within Europe and across the Altantic”, followed by the European Council conclusions in November 2014, built on the political momentum from the December 2013 summit and suggested a promising European security and defence future, with progress in the aforementioned areas being evaluated at the European Council in June 2015. Nevertheless, the majority of these initiatives and decisions are still underway and fails to provide the CSDP with a clear vision to successfully meet current and future challenges.
EU leaders will meet in Brussels with an opportunity to move beyond the modest agenda set out so far and agree on a higher level of ambition to create a more integrated framework for their defence cooperation. The moment of truth for European defence is now.
By Konstantinos Alexandropoulos, former Deputy Director of Security and Defence Programming, YPFP Brussels