Written by Sebastian Clapp.
|The European Youth Event will bring together thousands of young people in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, on 9 and 10 June 2023, to share ideas about the future of Europe. This introduction to one of the major topics to be discussed during the EYE event is one of 11 prepared by the Parliament’s Research Service (EPRS). It offers an overview of the main lines of EU action and policy in the area concerned, and aims to act as a starting point for discussions during the event. You can find them all on this link.|
When it comes to the international stage, European Union countries agree to work together for greater impact, especially on security and defence matters. A key component of the Union’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP) – the common security and defence policy (CSDP) – sets the framework for EU defence and crisis management. Faced with growing geopolitical uncertainty, the EU has made unprecedented progress on defence cooperation in recent years. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provided renewed impetus to deepen this cooperation further, leading to a number of taboo-breaking proposals, such as the joint delivery of lethal weapons to Ukraine and a joint defence procurement fund.
Common security and defence policy
The EU first set out a common security and defence policy (CSDP) at the European Council meeting in Cologne in 1999. The CSDP is the EU’s main policy framework in the field of defence and crisis management and a key component of the Union’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP).
The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission (HR/VP – currently Josep Borrell) coordinates the CSDP. The HR/VP chairs the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) – made up of foreign ministers from each EU country – which takes CSDP decisions by unanimity. The HR/VP also heads the EU’s ‘diplomatic service’ – the European External Action Service (EEAS) – and the European Defence Agency (EDA), which supports all EU member countries, except Denmark, in enhancing their defence capabilities through European cooperation. Finally, the European Council – made up of Heads of State or Government of all EU countries – sets the overall political direction and priorities of the CSDP. As with the FAC, all European Council decisions on CFSP must be taken unanimously. The Treaty on European Union (TEU) ‘enables Parliament to play a full role in the development of the CSDP’. The European Parliament scrutinises the CSDP and its budget, among other things. According to the TEU, the HR/VP must consult Parliament ‘regularly’ on the main aspects of the CSDP and inform it on developments in this area, ensuring that Parliament’s views are ‘duly taken into consideration’. The TEU also states that Parliament must hold debates on progress on CSDP implementation twice a year. Parliament has generally been very supportive of stronger EU defence integration and cooperation. Parliament’s Subcommittee on Security and Defence (SEDE) prepares an annual report on CSDP implementation, which covers a wide range of security and defence issues.
There has been unprecedented progress on EU defence cooperation since the adoption of the EU Global Strategy in 2016. Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) provides a framework to deepen defence cooperation between EU countries (except Malta and Denmark). The European Defence Fund (EDF) promotes cooperation between EU companies on defence research and capability development. The coordinated annual review on defence (CARD) identifies opportunities for increased cooperation. The European Commission now has a Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space (DG DEFIS). In 2019, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced the advent of a ‘geopolitical Commission’, signalling the EU executive branch’s willingness to step up its role on defence. And in late 2021, European Council President Charles Michel dubbed 2022 the ‘year of European defence’.
All of these initiatives are ground-breaking moves towards a more sovereign EU able to defend itself, with the ultimate intention to create a fully fledged European defence union – a term now used openly by EU institutions. The European defence union concept is based on provisions in Article 42(2) of the Treaty on European Union, which states: ‘The common security and defence policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides. It shall in that case recommend to the Member States the adoption of such a decision in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.’
Gender equality is a priority in all of the EU’s external policies, so the women, peace and security agenda is central to defence and security policy. Climate change exacerbates threats and is therefore another priority, addressed through initiatives such as the climate change and defence roadmap.
A new era in defence policy – Versailles Declaration and the Strategic Compass
Russia’s decision to invade Ukraine in 2022 shattered long-held views that war was a thing of the past in Europe. Russia’s war on Ukraine has ‘unleashed the strongest push to strengthen Europe’s defence since the end of the Cold War’. In their March 2022 Versailles Declaration, EU leaders reiterated the EU’s commitment to ‘take more responsibility for its own security’, including by ‘investing more and better’ in defence capabilities. They stated that the EU will strengthen its defence industry and increase the EU’s ‘capacity to act autonomously’, although close cooperation between the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) will remain key to European security. Most significantly, the EU formally approved its Strategic Compass in March 2022. This ambitious plan to strengthen security and defence policy includes over 80 concrete actions, set to increase the EU’s ability to act, enhance its resilience, strengthen its defence capabilities and improve its partnerships and deadlines for concluding them.
One of the most significant elements of the Strategic Compass is the call for the development of an EU Rapid Deployment Capacity by 2025. This would consist of a modular force of up to 5 000 personnel, made up of modified EU battlegroups combining forces and capabilities from EU countries. EU battlegroups are multinational military units of up to 1 500 personnel, intended to respond rapidly to emerging crises outside the EU. While they have been operational since 2007, they have not yet been deployed in the field, due to a lack of political will and financial solidarity.
Promoting peace and security in the world
A key part of EU action under the CSDP are its external missions and operations in peacekeeping, conflict prevention, and strengthening international security. The EU deployed its first CSDP mission in 2003, and has since undertaken over 37 missions and operations, ranging from peacekeeping and conflict prevention to strengthening international security. Almost 4 000 men and women participate in such missions today. As of February 2023, there were 21 ongoing CSDP missions (12 civilian and 9 military, located in Europe, Africa and Asia). The EU Military Assistance Mission Ukraine (EUMAM Ukraine) launched in November 2022, for example, aims at strengthening the capacity of the Ukrainian armed forces. It will train some 30 000 Ukrainian military personnel on EU territory.
European Peace Facility
For the first time in European Union history – and not without controversy – on 28 February 2022, EU countries agreed to finance the provision of lethal weapons to a country at war: Ukraine. The funding for the weapons will come from the European Peace Facility. The fund was set up to fund the common costs of military CSDP missions and operations, support peace-support operations led by international and regional organisations and to help partner countries and organisations build their capacity to survive in the modern world – including through the provision of lethal weapons. The equipment delivered to Ukraine so far ranges from Soviet-era tanks to protective equipment. In January 2023, EU countries, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States together promised Ukraine over 100 Western-made main battle tanks. Poland has already delivered the first of them. Training for Ukrainian tank crews has also already begun.
Buying defence equipment together
The Russian invasion of Ukraine triggered another taboo-breaking proposal – to buy defence equipment using the EU budget. To reinforce Europe’s defence industry by buying equipment collectively, a new short-term funding instrument, the European Defence Industry Reinforcement through Common Procurement Act (EDIRPA), is under discussion. It should address the ‘most urgent and critical defence product needs, especially those revealed or exacerbated by the response to the Russian aggression against Ukraine’. Based on the EDIRPA proposal, the European Commission expects to put forward a further proposal for a law on a longer-term European defence investment programme (EDIP) in June 2023.