As I stressed on a previous occasion: Europe is a major player, but doesn’t yet know that it is. The time is ripe to change this. The EU now wants to be able to take its fate firmly in its hands and reach its objectives. 

European leaders have realised that it is essential to translate the EU's leading role as a democratic and economic power into strength and influence. In order to do that we have to enhance our security and defence. We have to take more responsibility for our own security.

In February 2021, members of the European Council clearly affirmed their commitment to pursue a more strategic course of action and to increase the EU’s capacity to act autonomously, while investing in strong partnerships. This means more resilience, less dependence, more influence, and greater unity. 
Setting a Strategic Compass 

The first step towards achieving these ambitious goals is to provide the EU with a clear vision for the future. The EU is working towards equipping itself with a far-reaching Strategic Compass that will set our direction and level of ambition on security and defence for the years to come.  

The Strategic Compass, to be approved in March 2022, will help develop a common European security and defence culture, in full respect of the specificities of Member States' policies. 

While working on a grand vision, the EU also needs to achieve concrete results in further deepening security and defence cooperation among Member States. It is vital to enhance the effectiveness of Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions and operations around the world. They need to be equipped with adequate civilian and military capabilities, including when a rapid response is required, if we want them to help us reach our political objectives on the ground.  

The newly established European Peace Facility will give the EU the capability to support its partners on a case-by-case basis, by providing them with military equipment where appropriate. It needs to be swiftly operationalised and implemented. Together with improved force generation and more efficient EU planning and command, it will indeed enhance the Union’s civil and military operational engagement. 

European leaders confirmed their commitment to provide for European access to the global commons (including space, cyberspace and the high seas), as well as improved military mobility across the Union, and to strengthen the EU's cyber resilience and responsiveness. They also called for greater cooperation and coordination to prevent and respond to cyber threats. Progress is being made towards these aims in terms of capability planning and development, in particular through the Civilian CSDP Compact - the civilian branch of the Common Security and Defence Policy that will be fully implemented by early Summer 2023, the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), and the ongoing Permanent Structured Cooperation projects (PESCO).  

All these developments need to go hand in hand with a strengthened European defence technological and industrial base. The recently adopted European Defence Fund (EDF) will support collaborative actions and cross-border cooperation throughout the EU, ensuring the participation of defence companies of all sizes, including SMEs and mid-caps. The European Commission Action Plan on synergies between civil, defence and space industries, as well as its forthcoming roadmap on key technologies for security and defence, will help support a more competitive strategic industrial and technological base in the EU’s interest. 

In these joint endeavours, all EU institutions and Member States have a key role to play. The Council and its members have recently called for a reinforced role of the European Defence Agency (EDA) to foster defence innovation, including on critical and disruptive technologies. It is now time to move to the concrete implementation of the over one hundred collaborative opportunities identified in the CARD report, and to work to improve the complementarity between the EDA's work and the EDF. 

A strong NATO and a strong European defence are complementary

Towards closer EU-NATO cooperation 
A stronger Europe that takes on more responsibility for its security and defence and that acts more autonomously will benefit multilateral security cooperation. The EU is now, more than ever, committed to cooperating closely with its partners, including NATO, the UN and regional partners. 

Significant progress has been achieved on EU-NATO cooperation since the signature of the Warsaw and Brussels joint declarations. This cooperation has and continues to promote and protect our shared values and common security interests. A strong NATO and a strong European defence are indeed complementary.  

The EU and its Member States now need to work on the implementation of the common set of proposals, foster EU-NATO operational cooperation in areas of common deployments and renew joint efforts in areas such as military mobility, to counter hybrid threats and to support partner capability building.  

We have a unique window of opportunity to increase synergies between the two organisations, with the two parallel processes of the EU’s Strategic Compass and NATO’s 2030 agenda to be finalised in early 2022.

In the framework of NATO and beyond it, the special relationship that binds the EU and the US, and our close cooperation in security and defence, remains vital to our common security, stability and prosperity. Our work together to promote peace, security, freedom, and the respect for human rights is based on three fundamental building blocks: values, prosperity and influence. Our work is underpinned by an enduring security and defence alliance through NATO and vibrant economic cooperation, all the more important at a time when we are all confronted with unprecedented global challenges. This is why the European Council reaffirmed the strategic importance of the European Union's partnership with the United States. We have our differences, but we share values, interests, cultural and historical ties, and a geopolitical reality. Together with the new US administration, we are committed to reinvigorating our relationship and to further developing our strategic and operational partnership on an equal footing. 

The momentum is here. 

It is my firm conviction that the steps we have taken so far and that we will take in the future will strengthen Europe's ability to effectively tackle security threats and thus reinforce our role as a global actor. The European Defence Agency (EDA) has an essential role to play in this regard.