The European Defence Agency (EDA) has been striving to translate this solidarity into concrete capability-oriented projects from the day it was created. In 2007, a series of collective benchmarks were identified and agreed by Defence Ministers who recognised that investment in the future was falling short of what was required and that significant challenges and fragmentation resulted from the predominance of national spending in defence capabilities.

Notwithstanding these benchmarks and the agreed priority actions derived from the Capability Development Plan (CDP) in 2007/2008, the concrete impact on national defence decision-making processes remained limited. With a view to promoting the implementation of these benchmarks and priorities through a systematic process, defence ministers adopted a ‘Code of Conduct on Pooling and Sharing’ in November 2012 to encourage Member States to systematically consider cooperation from the outset. Two years later this commitment was further refined through the adoption of a Policy Framework for Systematic and Long-Term Defence Cooperation. Whilst these efforts all constitute steady steps towards greater coherence, they lack a coordination mechanism that allows Member States to come together to discuss and present national and cooperative efforts towards common capability goals and to take stock of progress. 

Taking the next step to increase convergence between national defence plans and EU collective support efforts requires political will. Member States have made individual commitments and an “engagement” at the European level to shoulder more when it comes to providing security in Europe.  As stated in the Implementation Plan on Security and Defence under the EU Global Strategy (EUGS), an intergovernmental Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) would “foster a gradual synchronisation and mutual adaptation on national defence planning cycles and capability development practices, which should also enable more systematic cooperation.”

Addressing security challenges together requires political commitment from each and every Member State. The CARD can play an important role in bridging national efforts and EU collective endeavours in defence. The CARD seeks to ensure consistency between Member States’ commitments on EU security and defence and related national plans, by gradually synchronising defence planning and promoting cooperation. 

The CARD seeks to take the discussion on European defence to the next level and pursue greater cohesiveness with a view to overcoming fragmentation and breaking through some of the barriers to increased and deeper cooperation.

What was agreed

The EUGS states that “gradual synchronisation and mutual adaptation of national defence planning cycles and capability development practices can enhance strategic convergence between Member States” and that “an annual coordinated review process at EU level to discuss Member States’ military spending plans could instil greater coherence in defence planning and capability development”.

The November 2016 Council Conclusions on the implementation of the EUGS responded to the call for an  annual coordinated review process and tasked the High Representative / Head of the Agency to present proposals on the scope, method and content of such a review. The EDA, in cooperation with the European External Action Service (EEAS), produced a concept paper detailing these elements. This paper received advice from various EU bodies and wide support from Member States. On the basis of that work, the Council endorsed, on 18 May 2017, the modalities to establish the CARD, starting with a trial run involving all Member States as of autumn 2017. This trial run will allow the process to be tested and subsequently adapted based on lessons learned, ahead of the first full CARD cycle planned for autumn 2019.

The EDA’s role

Article 45 of the EU Treaty mandates the EDA to identify capability objectives and evaluate observance of commitments, promote harmonisation and propose multilateral projects.  These functions make the EDA the ideal secretariat for the CARD, supporting Member States by gathering information on national capability plans and analysing this information to provide an aggregate view of the capability development landscape in Europe. Three information blocks will cover Member States’ aggregated defence plans, the implementation of the EU capability development priorities resulting from the CDP, and the development of European cooperation. 

Member States’ CARD Initial Information

The EDA will make extensive use of existing information sources – the Agency will first analyse information already available in EDA databases and Member States’ replies to the EU Military Capability Questionnaire, or any other information Member States’ are willing to provide to the EDA. A “Member State CARD Initial Information” document will be produced by the EDA and sent to each individual Member State. This will provide the basis for bilateral discussions in capitals during which members of the EDA CARD team will meet with the Member States’ designated representatives to validate and supplement the information collected. A second, no less important part of the bilateral dialogue will focus on opportunities for cooperative capability development. 

The CARD does not aim to assess or measure a Member State’s performance according to pre-set metrics. What it will instead do is perform a forward-looking analysis with a view to identifying means of achieving its stated goals: greater cooperation and more consistency between national defence plans and commonly agreed European capability development guidance while preserving Member States‘ sovereignty. 

By presenting progress achieved within the European capability development landscape, the CARD should thus provide an opportunity to collectively review EU defence efforts in support of operational activities. Such contributions could include joint R&T, joint development or procurement, joint training, or common approaches to critical enablers. Member States’ participation in multinational operations and large scale military exercises could also be considered in the context of this European defence review.

CARD aggregated analysis

As an outcome of the bilateral dialogues, consolidated information will be aggregated to produce a snapshot of the overall European situation. Through regular review cycles, the CARD’s ambition is to capture the evolution of Member States’ situations over time.  This analysis will not seek to assess the performance of any individual states, but rather to present a realistic overview of European Defence by aggregating national and EU data and identify opportunities to strengthen capabilities through cooperation. Building on individual Member States’ strengths, the intention is to project a potential way forward for the EU in terms of cooperative capability development in the defence domain.


The CARD report

The result of the CARD process will be a consolidated report to Ministers of Defence at the  EDA Steering Board.  It will provide Ministers with the basis for an open and frank discussion among peers on the review of European defence and to agree on ways to increase cooperation and harmonisation. Member State ownership of the process combined with a sufficient level of political visibility should maximise the chances for real tangible results over time.


CARD: the right format at the right time

 Many technical elements have been put in place over the past ten years through the EDA: a coordinated approach to identifying capability priorities, a mechanism for encouraging the pooling and sharing of capabilities, and ways of contributing to cooperative research and technology projects on specific capability elements and of preparing EU capability programs. What has been lacking is a high level coordination format with a specific forward-looking capability-oriented mandate, giving the Member States who finance and implement this political guidance through their national processes the central role. 

This new format comes at a time when Europe is re-examining its defence role. The EUGS has recognised the need for strategic autonomy and the need for Europe to step up its role in guaranteeing its citizens’ security. Several other initiatives are in the works. The European Commission is launching the European Defence Action Plan which seeks to match Member States’ financing for R&T and Capability development with EU funding. In parallel, looking to make greater use of the Treaty’s potential, Member States are looking to strengthen cooperation through Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). The CARD constitutes the framework to ensure consistency between national defence plans and EU defence efforts, enriched by these new initiatives.

By looking at defence spending, cooperation amongst member states, and the implementation of agreed capability priorities, the CARD will seek, over time, to maximize the potential for combined efforts.  With the right combination of Member States’ engagement, the EDA’s analytical capacity and the necessary political commitment to take EU defence cooperation to the next level, the CARD has the potential to be a real game changer. 

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