Presented with the Global Strategy at a 28 June European Council meeting entirely overshadowed by Brexit, EU leaders understandably stopped short of discussing the content of the document but “welcomed” its presentation and, most importantly, invited the High Representative, the Commission and the Council “to take the work forward”. Notwithstanding, there are multiple reasons why energy matters for the military.

The High Representative decided to stick to the time schedule for the publication of the Strategy because, as she explained in the foreword, there was no time to lose. “In challenging times, a strong Union is one that thinks strategically, shares a vision and acts together. This is even more true after the British referendum. This is no time for uncertainty: our Union needs a Strategy. We need a shared vision, and common action”, she stated.

Some guidance on how the ‘work forward’ should look like, at least on its defence-related part, is already given in the Strategy itself: it calls for the development of a “sectoral strategy” to be approved by the Council which “should further specify the civil-military level of ambition, tasks, requirements and capability priorities stemming from this Strategy”.

On 18 July, EU foreign ministers meeting in the Foreign Affairs Council had a first discussion on the follow-up strategy; they welcomed the document and expressed their readiness to continue the work in the implementation phase. The High Representative concluded this first ministerial debate underlining her intent to present “in the autumn” of 2016 a framework with processes and timelines. This framework, Mrs Mogherini said, “will detail the work to come to operationalise the vision set out in the strategy, on strands such as security and defence”, but also on other civilian polices including sustainable development and migration, as well as the link between development and humanitarian aid. It will be a “clear framework with timetables and proposals for starting implementation of the Global Strategy already in September”. Defence ministers will be involved in this exercise, she added.

Soft AND hard power

A fundamental point is made from the outset by Mrs Mogherini in the Strategy’s foreword: to protect the security and prosperity of the citizens in and around Europe, the EU cannot limit itself to ‘soft power’ tools but must rely on a wide array of policies and instruments, including military power if required. “The European Union has always prided itself on its soft power – and it will keep doing so, because we are the best in this field. However, the idea that Europe is an exclusively ‘civilian power’ does not do justice to an evolving reality. For Europe, soft and hard power go hand in hand”, the High Representative insists. This maxim – considered all but self-evident in the past – is reiterated even stronger in the main text of the Strategy: “In this fragile world, soft power is not enough: we must enhance our credibility in security and defence”.

Strategic autonomy

With a constant emphasis on the intertwined security issues at home and abroad, the Strategy very comprehensively outlines the political level of ambition the EU should have as a world actor by touching upon a vast number of important topics. But the most ambitious statements, ideas and proposals it puts forward are related to defence and military capabilities.

First and foremost, the Strategy insists on the need for Europe to develop an appropriate level of ‘strategic autonomy’ in order to be able to guarantee the security of the Union and its citizens. “Europeans must take greater responsibility for (their) security” and, therefore, need to invest more and better in defence in order to be “better equipped, trained and organised”, be it for contributing to collective defence efforts (NATO) or for acting “autonomously if and when necessary”. Therefore, “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”.

The Strategy also stresses that “a sustainable, innovative and competitive European defence industry is essential for Europe’s strategic autonomy and for a credible CSDP”. A solid European defence, technological and industrial base needs a “fair, functioning and transparent internal market, security of supply, and a structured dialogue with defence relevant industries”.

In this respect, EU funds to support defence research and technologies and multinational cooperation are crucial for European security and defence efforts underpinned by a strong European defence industry, the Strategy underlines. “Crucially, EU funding for defence research and technology, reflected first in the mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework, and then in a fully-fledged programme in the next budget cycle, will prove instrumental in developing the defence capabilities Europe needs”.

While insisting on the undisputed fact that “NATO remains the primary framework for most Member States”, the Strategy underscores 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”.
Echoing the letter and spirit of the Joint Declaration signed by both organization on 8 July in Warsaw, the Strategy calls for a strong EU-NATO relationship with both sides being complementary: “The EU will therefore deepen cooperation with the North Atlantic Alliance in complementarity, synergy, and full respect for the institutional framework, inclusiveness and decision-making autonomy of the two”.

Defence cooperation has to become “the norm”

For Europe to achieve strategic autonomy and become a security provider capable of responding to external crises and keeping its territory and citizens safe, Member States need to have at their disposal “all major high-end military capabilities and equipment”, as well as the technological and industrial means to acquire and sustain such capabilities. “This means having full-spectrum land, air, space and maritime capabilities, including strategic enablers”, one reads in the Strategy.

Europeans must also improve the monitoring and control of flows which have security implications. This requires investing in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, including Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS, or drones), satellite communications, and autonomous access to space and permanent earth observation, the document emphasizes.

Furthermore, Europeans must invest in digital capabilities to secure data, networks and critical infrastructure within the European digital space. “We must develop capabilities in trusted digital services and products and in cyber technologies to enhance our resilience. We will encourage greater investments and skills across Member States through cooperative research and development, training, exercises and procurement programmes”.

Against this backdrop, and not-withstanding the overarching consensus that “Member States remain sovereign in their defence decisions”, the Strategy urges EU leaders to come to terms with the reality that “no Member State can afford to do this individually: this requires a concerted and cooperative effort”. As a consequence, “Member States will need to move towards defence cooperation as the norm”. Cooperation is all the more indispensable as “nationally-oriented defence programmes are insufficient to address capability shortfalls”.

EDA as a key cooperation tool for Member States

The current “voluntary approach” towards defence capability cooperation will not suffice to achieve these goals and, therefore, must be turned “into real commitment”, is stated in the Strategy which calls for collaborative programmes to be “systematically encouraged” at EU level.

A crucial role lies with the European Defence Agency (EDA): the “full use of its potential” in the capability development field is an “essential prerequisite” for European security and defence efforts. In particular, the EDA has a “key role to play by strengthening the Capability Development Plan, acting as an interface between Member States and the Commission, and assisting Member States to develop the capabilities stemming from the political goals set out in the Strategy”.

The Strategy also stresses the importance of a “gradual synchronization and mutual adaptation of national defence planning cycles and capability development practices” which can enhance strategic convergence between Member States. “Regular assessments of EDA benchmarks can also create positive peer pressure among Member States”.

An annual coordinated review process at EU level to discuss Member States’ military spending plans could, for instance, generate greater coherence in defence planning and capability development. This should take place in “full coherence with NATO’s defence planning process”.

Exploring enhanced cooperation

To shape a more responsive and effective CSDP, the EU should also streamline its institutional structure. Though the Strategy refrains from openly calling for a “permanent civil-military chain of command” as did the German and French Foreign ministers in a joint statement end of June, the Strategy nevertheless calls for a “strengthening of operational planning and conduct structures” as well as closer connections between civilian and military structures and missions, bearing in mind that these may be deployed in the same theatre. To this end, “enhanced cooperation between Member States should be explored, and might lead to a more structured form of cooperation, making full use of the Lisbon Treaty’s potential”, it is stated in the Strategy.

High expectations

As the preparatory work on the defence sub-strategy continues, expectations are high among defence stakeholders (including the EDA, see box below) that swift and concrete steps will be taken in order to translate the Strategy into tangible follow-on actions which match the expressed level of ambition.


was mandated to prepare the new EU Global Strategy by the European Council in June 2015 and invited to present it to the leaders in June of this year. The strategy is the result of an open and transparent process: between the summers of 2015 and 2016, extensive consultations took place with the EU Member States, the European institutions, the European civil society at large, including think thanks. The strategy, elaborated under the leadership of the High Repesentative, reflects the collective views expressed in the process and offers a strategic vision for the EU global role. The full text is available here.

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An ambitious defence follow-up for an ambitious EUGS