Even before Russian President Putin launched his unprovoked war against Ukraine, Europe had been facing an increasingly competitive and assertive geostrategic environment. The Russian war in Ukraine has brought closer to our homes the bleak reality as it is, namely that Europe is in danger. The threats are rising, multiple and hybrid: military, economic and political. In the face of that, we cannot sit idle. Because the cost of inaction would be huge.

That is why, already in 2020, EU leaders tasked me with preparing a Strategic Compass for the European Union with the purpose to assess the threats and challenges the Union is confronted with and propose operational guidelines to enable the EU to become a security provider for its citizens, capable of protecting its values and interests. The Strategic Compass for Security and Defence, adopted by Member States and endorsed by EU leaders at the European Council in March 2022, matches this ambition. At the May 2022 European Council, EU leaders pledged to “resolutely” implement the Strategic Compass, enhance the Union’s resilience, and increase its security and defence capacity through more and better investments, focusing on the defence shortfalls identified in the analysis of defence investment gaps I presented together with the European Commission, in close coordination with the European Defence Agency.

While many Member States have recently announced increases in defence spending, there is much to do to compensate the under-spending and under-investment accumulated over the years between 2009 and 2018.  In addition to long-standing capability gaps, the war in Ukraine and the new security context have exposed additional shortfalls and urgent needs. Addressing these gaps requires not just more defence spending but better defence spending.  This means we must invest more together. In 2020, only 11% of defence equipment was procured in a collaborative manner - far below the EDA agreed benchmark of 35%. This inevitably brings fragmentation and inefficiencies.

This is why one of the taskings given by the Heads of State and Government is that of examining measures to coordinate short-term defence procurement needs to support joint procurement to replenish stocks (notably in the light of the support provided to Ukraine) as well as a tool to reinforce EU defence industrial capabilities through voluntary joint procurement. Work is already underway and, with its expertise, the EDA is playing a crucial role.

While working to address urgent needs in the short-term, we should also not lose sight of the capabilities required to ensure our armed forces are prepared for the battlefield of the future. According to EDA figures, in 2021 EU Member States spent €3.3 billion on Research & Technology - 1,5% of the total defence expenditure. While this is an improvement compared to 1,2% in 2020, it still remains below the agreed EDA benchmark and PESCO commitment of 2%. More importantly, collaborative investment in Research & Technology remains too low, with the lowest point of 6% of total R&T expenditure reached in 2020. To retain an edge over competitors and potential adversaries, we must make full use of emerging and disruptive technologies to develop capabilities across the full spectrum. In other words, we need to invest more in defence innovation and do so together.

The EDA certainly has a key role to play in this field as well. It has been dealing with innovation since its creation in 2004. And it has already delivered. Successful examples include projects on drone swarms, technologies for electromagnetic railguns, or new clean energy technologies to lower the carbon footprint and decrease energy dependencies in the defence sector. These are all initiatives developed in the EDA framework. The EDA Hub for European Defence Innovation launched in May 2022 will be instrumental to further promote cooperation at European level in this field and is one of the first deliverables of the Strategic Compass.


  • Informal EU Summit Versailles 10-11 March

Guide for action

As the name rightly suggests, the Compass is a guide for action. It sets out an ambitious way forward for our security and defence policy for the next decade. It will help us face our security responsibilities, in front of our citizens and the rest of the world. If not now, then when? Passivity would expose Europe to the risk of strategic shrinkage or, worse, irrelevance. Therefore, the Compass not only sets a shared ambition, but also presents concrete means and timelines to make this ambition a reality.

The Compass fits into a wider effort of Member States and EU institutions to boost defence cooperation and strengthen Europe’s collective military clout, in complementarity with NATO. To be successful, we must connect and integrate the defence efforts of Member States, avoid duplications and gaps in our critical capabilities, and become more efficient and interoperable in joint EU missions and operations abroad, which are crucial because our security starts away from our borders. Therefore, Europe needs to be able to project its economic, political and military clout in the world, promoting security in our neighbourhood and with our partners.

Also, we need to develop a common strategic culture. Because of history and geography, we Europeans do not always see the world in the same way, and a necessary first step was to come up with a shared threat assessment, which we did in November 2020.

A new world of threats

The starting point was to recognise that Europe faces new threats. Threats that are not just military or territorial. We are seeing the return of power politics and zero-sum conflicts with competition between states intensifying. Interdependence is becoming increasingly conflictual and soft power is weaponised. The world is full of hybrid situations where we face intermediate dynamics of competition, intimidation and coercion. The tools of power are not only soldiers, tanks and planes, but also disinformation, cyber-attacks, the instrumentalisation of migrants, the privatisation of armies and the political control of sensitive technologies or rare earths. The defence of Europe will require a new, comprehensive concept of security, with emerging technologies having a profound impact on future warfare and European defence.

The geopolitical stage is also becoming more complex. More and more states are behaving as partners on certain issues and competitors or rivals on others. International relations are increasingly organised on a transactional basis. This goes combined with dynamics such as the collapse of states, the retreat of democratic freedoms, violations of international and humanitarian law, plus the attacks on the ‘global commons’ - cyber space, the high seas and outer space.

Learning the language of power

Europe will always continue to favour dialogue over confrontation, diplomacy over force, and multilateralism over unilateralism. But if you want dialogue, diplomacy and multilateralism to succeed, you need to put power behind it. You need to ‘learn the language of power’. Equally, we should be result-oriented and avoid going for conceptual or institutional discussions, thus side-stepping the harder task of enhancing our capacity to act. It is often easier to talk - and disagree - in abstract terms, than it is to act and agree on how to do things in concrete terms. To prevent the risk of ‘strategic shrinking’, the Strategic Compass proposes ways and means for the EU to handle the challenges it faces. This will require political will, without which nothing is possible and operational efficiency, without which everything is weak. Taken together, these two ingredients will enhance our credibility and capacity to fulfil our aims.


Capabilities to be able to act

At the end of the day, the proof of Europe’s geo-strategic clout will be in its practical and operational ability to act, also militarily. The EU needs to be able to conduct operations in all circumstances, including those involving the use of force, as foreseen by the Treaties. To secure European interests, we need to do this in a coherent, pragmatic and flexible way. In recent years, the EU has equipped itself with a number of instruments to do this and to strengthen our operational capacity. In 2017, we launched for instance the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) to rationalise military spending across the EU and Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) to increase the capabilities and interoperability of European armed forces. Building on earlier efforts, we established the European Defence Fund (EDF) in January 2021, to promote defence industrial collaboration. The EU currently has 18 civilian and military missions and operations deployed around the world. With the Civilian CSDP Compact agreed in 2018, we committed to strengthen our civilian missions - and we are well on our way.

The Strategic Compass builds on this wider process. It is neither a crystal ball for predicting the future, nor a ‘silver bullet’ that will magically enable Europe to develop a true common defence policy overnight. It is, however, a guide for preparation, decision and action. Based on the guidance of EU leaders, the Strategic Compass is proposing concrete ideas in four work strands so that we: act more quickly and decisively when facing crises; secure our citizens against fast-changing threats; invest in the capabilities and technologies we need; and partner with others to achieve common goals.


This is, of course, not the first time that the EU describes its strategic environment and how it intends to respond. Indeed, the history of European integration is full of plans and initiatives to strengthen our security and defence and the ability to act together. And while we have made progress in recent years, not all our stated intentions have been realised. The difference this time lies in the speed at which the geopolitical context is changing. The Ukraine war is a dramatic and painful confirmation of that. The case for action is more urgent than ever and compelling. The threats we face are intensifying and the capacity of individual Member States to cope is insufficient and declining. We Europeans must invest in our capacity to think, decide and act in strategic terms – together with our partners whenever possible and on our own when needed. The Strategic Compass sketches out a path to specify the why, the what and the how, offering a range of proposals, small and large, covering the full spectrum.

Towards a common defence

As ever, results depend not on strategy papers but on actions. These belong to the Member States: they hold the competences, the prerogatives and the assets.  EU institutions can put forward proposals, facilitate discussions and support implementation, but eventually  Member States are those taking decisions and these decisions will determine whether the geopolitical shifts of recent months and the renewed debate on European defence are yet another wake-up call that goes unheeded, or whether the Strategic Compass is a steppingstone towards a stronger and more integrated European defence. I am convinced that we cannot afford to treat our security and defence as business as usual. The moment for decisive steps is now and we need to develop the means to protect ourselves in a dangerous world. 

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