With war having returned on European soil, there couldn’t be a more timely and appropriate moment for EU Member States to agree on a Strategic Compass for Security and Defence than now.  Prepared by the European External Action Service (EEAS) over the past two years, and adopted by Member States on 21 March, it sets out a plan to strengthen the EU's security and defence policy by 2030 aiming to become a “more assertive and decisive security provider”. The Compass will guide the EU’s security and defence policy for years to come, based on a common assessment of the global geo-strategic threats and challenges, a common vision of where to go, as well as objectives and proposed actions in order to achieve this goal, in cooperation with partners (especially NATO).

This comprehensive, action-oriented approach is probably what makes the Strategic Compass so unique and, by far, the most ambitious and credible EU security & defence policy document to date: it not only provides a shared assessment of Europe’s strategic environment and its current and future threats in the 5-10 years to come (“We are confronted with a dangerous mix of armed aggression, illegal annexation, fragile states, revisionist powers and authoritarian regimes”), but also sets out new immediate ways and means for the EU and its Member States to jointly improve their collective ability to promote peace and guarantee the security of its citizens and territory, with concrete proposals and action points, target dates and milestones to measure progress.

The whole approach is based on the recognition that “European security is indivisible” and any challenge to the European security order affects the security of the EU and all its Member States. Importantly, it also sets in place a follow-up process with regular reviews at Council and European Council (Heads of State and Government) level. The first progress report is scheduled for 2023.

Quantum leap

The longed-for quantum leap requires that “the EU and its Member States must invest more in their security and defence to be a stronger political and security actor”, it is stressed. Despite the progress made since the publication of the 2016 EU Security Strategy and the subsequent creation of EU defence cooperation tools such as the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and the European Defence Fund (EDF), “there is a major risk of being outpaced by our competitors”. Therefore, “a lot remains to be done for the EU to raise its geopolitical posture. This is why we need a quantum leap forward to develop a stronger and more capable European Union that acts as a security provider (…). The Strategic Compass is to enhance and guide the implementation of the EU’s Level of Ambition agreed in 2016” which, as a reminder, also included the need to develop an appropriate level of strategic autonomy in order to be able to guarantee the security of the Union and its citizens.

In concrete terms, EU institutions and Member States “commit” in the Compass to the following concrete priority actions in four work strands:


The Compass puts the focus on the need for Europe to be able to “act rapidly and robustly whenever a crisis erupts, with partners if possible and alone when necessary”. To that end, a series of measures are foreseen such as:

  • to reinforce the EU’s civilian and military CSDP missions and operations “by providing them with more robust and flexible mandates, promoting rapid and more flexible decision-making process and ensuring greater financial solidarity, while also promoting close cooperation with European-led ad hoc missions and operations”;
  • to develop an EU Rapid Deployment Capacity that can swiftly deploy up to 5,000 troops into non-permissive environments for different types of crises;
  • to strengthen the EU’s command and control structures, in particular the Military Planning and Conduct Capability, and increase Europe’s readiness and cooperation through enhancing military mobility and regular live exercises, in particular for the Rapid Deployment Capacity.


Under this chapter, the Compass stresses Europe’s need to “enhance its ability to anticipate threats, guarantee secure access to strategic domains and protect its citizens”. For that purpose, Member States and EU institutions agree and commit to:

  • boost the joint intelligence capacities, such as the EU Single Intelligence and Analysis Capacity (SIAC) framework, to enhance situational awareness and strategic foresight;
  • create an EU Hybrid Toolbox that will bring together different instruments to detect and respond to a broad range of hybrid threats. In particular, it is agreed to develop a dedicated toolbox to address foreign information manipulation and interference;
  • further develop the EU Cyber Defence Policy to be better prepared for and respond to cyberattacks;
  • strengthen the maritime, air and space domains, notably by expanding the EU’s Coordinated Maritime Presences to other areas, starting with the IndoPacific, and by developing an EU Space Strategy for security and defence.



The Compass also pleads for a strengthening of the EU’s cooperation with partners in order for it to be better prepared to address common threats and challenges. Among the required measures, already endorsed by Member States, are:

  • a reinforcement of the strategic partnerships with NATO and the UN “through more structured political dialogues as well as operational and thematic cooperation”. In addition, it is agreed to increase the EU’s cooperation with regional partners, including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the African Union (AU) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN);
  • an enhanced cooperation with bilateral partners that share the same values and interests such as United States, Norway, Canada, UK and Japan. “Tailored partnerships” should also be developed in the Western Balkans, the EU’s eastern and southern neighbourhood, Africa, Asia and Latin America;
  • the development of an “EU Security and Defence Partnership Forum” to work more closely and effectively with partners to address common challenges.


This is probably the most important part of the Compass, and its message is clear: “We must resolutely invest more and better in defence capabilities and innovative technologies, both at the EU and national levels”, and we must make sure that we spend not only more, but also more wisely, and foster a much stronger military cooperation in Europe. Increased investment will enable individual Member States (and Europe as a whole) to fill critical capability gaps, overcome fragmentation, achieve full interoperability of their forces and develop a resilient, competitive and innovative European Defence Technological and Industrial Base throughout the Union.

Therefore, by approving the Strategic Compass, Member States took significant commitments which, if respected and implemented, will not only lead to higher defence spending, but also more collaborative European projects along the CARD recommendations. “We will therefore substantially increase our defence expenditures, with a significant share for investment, focusing on identified strategic shortfalls. We will ensure a coordinated and collaborative European approach for such enhanced expenditures at Member States’ and at EU level, to maximise output, increase interoperability and make full use of economies of scale. To this end, we will define strategic orientations on the resources that are necessary to match our security needs and the full use of EU tools to incentivise collaborative defence investments”, is stated in the Compass.

Better capabilities

The money invested must serve to fill existing capability gaps - primarily those identified in the Capability Development Plan (CDP) and the first CARD report that provide a clear and coherent “direction of travel” and help Member States to invest in innovative and interoperable high-end capabilities, and enabling to use these capabilities in the full range of missions and operations, including for high-intensity operations, and respond to any future crisis and threat.  Here, Member States also agree and commit “to take forward the recommendations of the first-ever Coordinated Annual Review on Defence Report published in 2020, including the agreed six capability ‘focus areas’ that would benefit from enhanced defence cooperation”, namely the Main Battle Tank, Soldier Systems, the European Patrol Class surface ship, Anti Access Area Denial capacities and Countering Unmanned Aerial Systems, Defence in Space and Enhanced Military Mobility.

“To act rapidly and protect our citizens, we will work together to overcome critical gaps. We will make full use of Permanent Structured Cooperation and the European Defence Fund to develop interoperable high-end systems and advanced technologies”, one reads in the Compass. More precisely, the EU-27 commit to developing the following capabilities through collaboration:

  • Land - upgrade, modernisation and progressive replacement of current major platforms and related logistic systems. “The focus areas Soldier Systems and Main Battle Tank will be important contributions to these efforts”;
  • Maritime - ensure a more assertive EU presence at sea as well as the ability to project power, high-end naval platforms, including unmanned platforms for surface and underwater control. “The focus area European Patrol Class Surface Ship will be an important step in this direction”;
  • Air – develop nextgeneration and fully interoperable capabilities, notably future combat systems as well as air defence systems. “We will progressively integrate the foreseen future combat systems, including Remotely Piloted Air Systems, into existing fleets of combat air systems in an interoperable manner. Efforts on key enablers also need to be pursued, notably the Strategic Airlift capability. The focus area Anti Access Area Denial capacities and Countering Unmanned Aerial Systems contributes to the air defence dimension of these efforts”;
  • Space - develop new cutting-edge technology sensors and platforms allowing the EU and its Member States to improve its access to space and protect its space-based assets. “This entails notably the development of Space Based Earth Observation, as well as technologies for Space Situational Awareness and space-based communication and navigation services”;
  • Cyber – European forces need to operate in a coordinated, informed and efficient manner. “We will therefore develop and make intensive use of new technologies, notably quantum computing, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, to achieve comparative advantages, including in terms of cyber responsive operations and information superiority. Cyber defence is paramount in ensuring that the focus area Enhanced Military Mobility unfolds its full potential as essential enabler”.

Part of the joint capability projects will be developed through PESCO where cooperation must be intensified. “Concretely, this means that by 2025 Member States participating in Permanent Structured Cooperation must fulfil all more binding commitments that they have undertaken. In 2025, one third of 60 ongoing Permanent Structured Cooperation projects will deliver the expected capability and meet their objectives. Beyond these concrete results, our goal is to go further by implementing the agreed capability priorities and developing new ambitious projects. We will closely review the fulfilment of these commitments in order to be able to agree on new commitments in 2025 to further deepen defence cooperation”, is stated in the Compass.

Better planning

Member States are also willing to adapt the EU’s defence capability planning and development, notably by revising the capability planning scenarios of the Headline Goal process, to better reflect operational realities, strategic foresight and bring military capability development closer to operational needs, which provides an essential contribution to the Capability Development Plan.. Such scenarios include military rapid deployment in a non-permissive environment, as well as responding to hybrid threats, securing access to strategic domains such as high seas, air, cyber and space, and providing military assistance to civilian authorities.

Importantly, national Ministries of Defence also want to ensure that all EU defence initiatives (CARD, PESCO, EDF) and capability planning and development tools (CDP, OSRA) are better embedded in national defence planning. “We will continue to ensure that the results of these processes remain coherent with those of the respective NATO processes. This will enhance the readiness, robustness and interoperability of our single set of forces”, is stated in the Compass. Member States also commit to “maximise coherence between the EU defence related initiatives” (CARD, PESCO, EDF). In this regard, the HR/VP and Head of EDA will chair annual Defence Ministerial meetings on EU defence initiatives addressing capability development.

A Defence Innovation Hub within EDA

Emerging and disruptive technologies - such as Artificial Intelligence, quantum computing, advanced propulsion, bio- and nanotechnology and new materials and industrial capacities - are shaping military affairs and defence markets and, therefore, must be at the heart of Europe’s collective defence investments. Even though a lot has already been done in recent years to boost innovation, more needs to be done “both at the national level and through a more ambitious use of EU instruments to be better prepared for the future battlefield and the next generation technology”.  

Among the concrete commitments made by Member States is the establishment of a Defence Innovation Hub within EDA: “In 2022, we will establish a Defence Innovation Hub within the European Defence Agency, working in partnership with the Commission to exploit synergies with its related work-strands, including the EU Defence Innovation Scheme. The parameters of this Hub will be defined within the framework of the European Defence Agency”. The Commission, in coordination with EDA, is also tasked to “develop an EU Defence Innovation Scheme to accelerate security and defence innovation for the EU and its Member States”.


EDA’s input to the Strategic Compass
“New high-end capabilities, not new processes”

EDA has been associated to the Strategic Compass’ preparatory work since its beginning in June 2020 and has notably contributed to the ‘Invest’ chapter. Here, the Agency’s input proved crucial for ensuring the appropriate references to the CARD findings, in particular the six recommended ‘focus areas’ for future cooperation and the innovation/technology aspects of collaborative capability development.
“Throughout the consultation phase and the drafting of the Strategic Compass, the Agency has always underlined that substance and concrete guidance for achieving our common ambitions had to be at the core of the document. We also continuously insisted that the end result of this Compass must be the development of full spectrum, high-end capabilities for our Member States’ Armed Forces, and not the creation of new processes or priorities”, explains EDA Chief Executive Jiří Šedivý.
“That’s why it was important for us to make sure the Compass builds on the existing EU defence initiatives (CARD, PESCO, EDF) and well-established prioritisation tools (Capabilty Development Plan CDP, Overarching Strategic Research Agenda -OSRA and the Key Strategic Activities – KSA) and that we do not start from scratch. Another priority for the Agency was to ensure that the Invest chapter of the Compass addresses the entire European defence landscape and that it aims for continued coherence of output with NATO.
In doing so, I believe that EDA has significantly contributed to making the Strategic Compass forward looking, strategic, but at the same time concrete as to its objectives and timelines. Given the extraordinary times we are now living in, we must rapidly deliver on what we have agreed on. Member States will be in the lead when it comes to implementing the commitments and the actions that they have agreed to in the Strategic Compass, but the EEAS, in close coordination with the Commission, EDA, and the Presidency of the Council, will oversee implementation. A number of actions need to be implemented already this year. I am proud that with the official launch of the Hub for European Defence Innovation at EDA in May, we already have delivered on the Compass, in support of Member States and European defence,”, he said.
EDA is also analysing first ‘lessons identified’ of the on-going war in Ukraine and will use them to update and refine the CDP, taking fully into account the requirements of high-intensity warfare in full complementarity with NATO.

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