Our world is changing dramatically, and not for the better. Instability and unpredictability are omnipresent, nurtured by surging nationalism and populism, terrorist threats, trade wars, climate change, migration crises, open and frozen conflicts in our neighbourhood and new emerging hybrid threats. The rules-based international order is being challenged by a logic of power politics which is more unstable and conflict-prone.

In the light of this, our citizens look to Europe for protection. They want a more united Europe to make its voice heard and defend their interests and values. They want Europe to step up its response and become a stronger and more efficient security provider in the world.

 

New level of ambition

It is clear that we must enable the EU and its Member States to take more responsibility for security, working with partners (first and foremost NATO) wherever possible, but acting alone when necessary. For this we need the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) to become more active, which in turn requires greater defence investment, capability development and operational readiness. President-elect Ursula Von der Leyen’s ambition to lead and shape a more ‘geopolitical’ European Commission must be seen, and welcomed, in the same context. .

 

Cooperation is indispensable

What Europe needs is a more coherent and integrated defence landscape with a more capable, deployable, interoperable and sustainable set of military capabilities and forces. Today, too often, most Member States are doing their national defence planning without taking into account the broader European efforts. Member States must resort to collaborative programmes at EU level more systematically, using EDA’s full potential. 

There are many good reasons for cooperation, indeed. Joint planning, development and procurement and the Pooling & Sharing of capabilities improve the output of military spending and save large amounts of taxpayers’ money. But cost-effectiveness is not the only benefit. Interoperability and increased effectiveness are equally important outcomes. Compared to the US, for instance, European armed forces operate far too many different types of military capabilities. Europe cannot afford to have its Member States spending their defence budgets inefficiently because of fragmentation and duplication. We have to spend better, and the best way to spend better is to do it together.

Step change

In recent years, we have mastered more political support for European defence than previously. We have set up new EU defence cooperation tools which, if properly implemented and used, will lead over time to a more structured joint European planning framework that will enable systematic cooperation, from investment and capability development to the joint operational use of those capabilities. The revised Capability Development Plan (CDP) with its 11 European Defence Capability Priorities, the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), and the European Defence Fund (EDF) should allow Member States and their Ministries of Defence to spend their defence budgets more effectively (avoiding duplication) and achieve the full spectrum of defence capabilities that are required in the 21st century, in complementarity with NATO. It will also enhance the competitiveness of the EU’s defence industrial and technological base. All in all, it will improve the Union´s ability to tackle security threats more effectively.

 

No room for complacency

Does this mean we have done our homework and can now lean back? Not at all. The creation of the tools was only a first step. We now need further bold steps in the next five years towards a more capable European Union in defence. The CDP, CARD, PESCO and EDF are powerful instruments, but it is up to national governments to make the most out of them.

First, they must be implemented in a coherent manner and used in the right sequence, meaning that the regularly updated CDP identifies the defence capability priorities Member States need to focus on; the CARD provides an overview of the existing capabilities in Europe and identifies opportunities for future cooperation; PESCO offers options how to develop prioritised capabilities in a collaborative manner; and EDF provides EU funding to incentivise and support cross-border collaborations, with a special bonus for PESCO projects. EDA plays a central role, not only in the functioning of each of the tools but also in ensuring coherence among them.

Second, smooth and efficient interplay between all actors involved in the tools will be of utmost importance. Wearing my three hats as High Representative, Vice-President of the Commission and Head of EDA, I will attach particular importance to ensuring that the implementation work carried out within the European External Action Service (EEAS) and EDA is conducted in close coordination and synergy with the Commission services, in particular with the future Directorate General for Defence Industry and Space.

Third, beyond the technical implementation of the EU tools, what we need is a change of mindset in the national Ministries of Defence: they must truly embrace the new approach and use the instruments for their national defence planning. First and foremost, MoDs must ensure that the agreed EU Capability Development Priorities are embedded into their national defence plans and that they are taken into account when new defence capability development projects are initiated, preferably in a collaborative manner. This will require strong and sustained political commitment from all involved in defence planning around Europe.

We can only be successful if Member States remain committed, also in the longer run, to pursue on a more collaborative and integrated way of planning, financing, developing, deploying and operating defence capabilities together.
 

NATO remains the cornerstone

Importantly, strengthening Member States’ single set of forces will not only increase the EU’s ability to act autonomously when needed, but also reinforce Europe’s contribution to NATO and cooperation with other partners. This is key because coherence with NATO is and will remain an integral part of our efforts to develop a stronger European Union in defence. We remain attached to EU-NATO cooperation because NATO will always be the cornerstone of Europe’s collective defence.

Our shared objective is to ensure the security of our citizens and to strengthen the transatlantic bond; both organisations play complementary roles in providing security in Europe.

A stronger EU on defence also makes NATO stronger. By developing European defence, we will reinforce the Atlantic Alliance, and by carrying more weight in NATO we will contribute to a more balanced transatlantic relationship.
 

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SEDE CHAIR NATHALIE LOISEAU: TOWARDS AN EU DEFENCE UNION

  • Publishing Director Elisabeth Schoeffmann
  • Editor-in-chief Helmut Brüls
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