From Maastricht to Lisbon
To this end, the then members of the Western European Union agreed to the so-called ‘Petersberg Tasks’ in 1992. These tasks denoted a range of military operations that European countries should be prepared to undertake autonomously, if so required. In 1997, the signing of the Treaty of Amsterdam not only reaffirmed commitment to the Petersberg Tasks, but it also established the Common Foreign and Security Policy and the position of High Representative for EU foreign policy. A year later, France and the United Kingdom organised a summit at St Malo on 3-4 December 1998 to specifically call for the EU to ‘have the capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces, the means to decide to use them, and a readiness to do so’. This objective was echoed by member states at the Cologne European Council in 1999, which saw the establishment of a range of defence-relevant institutions such as the Political and Security Committee, the EU Military Committee and the EU Military Staff (plus a Satellite Centre and EU Institute for Security Studies) all designed to enhance the EU’s ability to act autonomously on defence. In the same year, the Helsinki European Council agreed to a set of capability targets (called the ‘Helsinki Headline Goals’) designed to specify in greater detail what military capabilities the EU would require as a defence actor.
The momentum created by efforts during the 1990s would bleed into the perhaps aptly named noughties. In 2003, the EU was developing a ‘European constitution’ and it was preparing for the largest single enlargement of the Union in history. The United States would also intervene in Iraq. The rift in Europe caused by this war may easily be forgotten, but at the time several European governments wanted to push European defence much further. 2003 was a year in which the first European Security Strategy was published. This document not only sought to emphasise the common challenges faced by the EU and the US, but it also made a case for the importance of multilateralism and the liberal international order. In this same year, the EU would deploy its first – admittedly civilian – common mission to Bosnia and Herzegovina. This would be the first of 34 missions that would be deployed by the EU (16 of which are still ongoing today). In 2004, a specialised agency for defence – the European Defence Agency – would be put to work on capability programmes and defence industrial policy. This particular window of opportunity in history was seized upon by European governments.
“Progressive framing of a common Union defence policy”
In 2007, with the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon, European governments jumped on another moment of opportunity. This treaty would reform the original Treaties of Rome by double-hatting the post of the High Representative with a Vice-Presidency of the European Commission and creating a European External Action Service. More specifically for defence, the Treaty of Lisbon introduced a range of interesting mechanisms including mutual assistance (article 42.7) in case of terrorist attacks on EU territory and permanent structured cooperation (PeSCo) for those member states wishing to make more binding commitments to one another on defence (article 46). The treaty also called for the ‘progressive framing of a common Union defence policy’. In the context of a financial crisis that began in 2008, ministers met in Ghent in 2010 to explore the possibility of launching PeSCo and to enhance the pooling and sharing of defence capabilities.
Palpable desire to seize today’s window of opportunity
Sixty years on from the signing of the Treaties of Rome, therefore, the EU has come some way in developing its common defence. The EU Global Strategy published in the summer of 2016 gave way to a much needed – albeit short – reflection on European defence and the year ended with two plans outlining some ambitious proposals. The Palazzo dei Conservatori – where the Treaties of Rome were signed and where European leaders met on 25 March 2017 – and its predecessor the Temple to Jupiter Optimus Maximus were places routinely accustomed to the sound of the rustling of paper. The former edifice once housed Rome’s urban administrators and magistrates and the latter structure at some point served as a Roman archive. European leaders and institutions are increasingly aware that the EU needs more than documents and paper if it is to meet the security challenges Europeans face. On the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaties of Rome, the steps taken by the EU to enhance European defence show a desire to seize on this latest window of opportunity.