Members' Research Service By / October 7, 2021

Where will the EU’s Strategic Compass point?

It is almost commonplace today to say that the past few years have been marked by unprecedented progress in EU defence initiatives. Particularly since the presentation of the EU Global Strategy (EUGS) in 2016, a multitude of initiatives have been proposed and set into motion to enhance military, industrial and civilian dimensions of EU cooperation in security and defence.

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Written by Tania Latici and Elena Lazarou.

As Member States encounter increasingly complex security threats, momentum to push for EU initiatives to deliver on the Union’s level of ambition in defence has emerged. A process aimed at bringing clarity, guidance and incentives to completing the common security and defence policy, the Strategic Compass is a first for the European Union. Announced by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her 2021 State of the European Union speech, a European Defence Summit is expected to take place in February 2022. It is envisaged that, following its much-anticipated presentation, EU leaders will endorse the Compass in March 2022. European Council President Charles Michel branded 2022 ‘the year of European defence’.

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Launched in 2020, developing the Strategic Compass entails a complex strategic reflection, threat analysis and strategic dialogue among Member States. It is structured around four interlinked thematic baskets: crisis management, defence capabilities, resilience, and partnerships. Unlike the 2016 EU Global Strategy, which saw the EU institutions take the lead, this process is Member State-led, with the institutions playing a supporting and coordinating role.

The main challenge of the Strategic Compass appears to be, on the one hand, providing clarity in the EU’s objectives (defining the ends, the ways and the means), and on the other, ensuring Member State ‘buy-in’. The latter is essential for the follow-up to the process, the findings from which should ideally be reflected in national defence planning processes.

The process provides opportunities to improve links between the operational and capability dimensions of EU defence initiatives and external crisis management, to consolidate existing strategic partnerships and rethink the configuration of new ones, and to provide a concrete vision for the commitments made since 2016 to boost the EU as a defence actor. However, experts caution that the Compass risks remaining a paper exercise, should the political will to follow up not materialise.

Read the complete briefing on ‘Where will the EU’s Strategic Compass point?‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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