What can we expect from the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy going forward?


Peace, Security & Defence

Picture of David McAllister
David McAllister

Chair of the European Parliament's Committee on Foreign Affairs, former prime minister of Lower Saxony and Trustee of Friends of Europe

The deterioration of the European Union’s security environment – whether through armed conflicts, fragile states, jihadist terrorism, cyber-attacks or hybrid threats – affects all of its member states and citizens alike. The EU is equally impacted by a shift in global power dynamics, as international and regional actors are seeking to assert influence through a combination of unilateral diplomatic posturing, shifts in alliances, destabilising hybrid activities and increasing military build-ups.

In this context it is evident that if the European Union seeks to become a more global player, it will have to act in a more united, effective, and strategic manner. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s policy to transform the EU’s executive branch into a ‘Geopolitical Commission’ is a further step in the right direction. The EU needs to develop ‘European strategic autonomy’ by becoming a credible and effective global actor. That means being able to take on a responsible, tangible, proactive and prominent leadership role on the international stage and unlocking its political potential to think and act like a geopolitical power with a meaningful impact.

There is an urgent need to strengthen the EU’s resilience and independence by reinforcing our Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). This policy must remain committed to peace, regional and international security, human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. This reinforced CFSP should be more coherent, including not only traditional soft power, but also a strong Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

Since the EU conceived the CSDP at the Cologne summit in 1999, it has launched 34 missions and operations in fields such as such as conflict prevention, peace-making, peacekeeping, crisis management, joint disarmament operations, military advice and assistance as well as post-conflict stabilisation. Currently, the EU is present on three continents through the deployment of ten civilian and six military missions.

European strategic autonomy must take on a more practical form in the areas of foreign and security policy, industry, capability and operations

However, the EU has yet to make adequate use of its abundant CSDP resources. We should continue working on making the CSDP civil and military missions more robust, improving their operational capacity by means of increased flexibility, efficiency and effectiveness on the ground. Their mandates must also become more encompassing, streamlined and clear. New instruments such as the European Peace Facility could enhance solidarity and burden-sharing between member states when it comes to contributing to CSDP operations and could help to increase the effectiveness of the EU’s external action.

In general, a European defence strategy should be drafted as a necessary supplement to the 2016 Global Strategy. In addition, an EU white paper on security and defence would be an essential strategic tool to reinforce the governance of the EU’s defence policy. While progressively framing the European Defence Union, it would provide for strategic long-term planning and allow for the gradual synchronisation of defence cycles across the member states.

A genuine and operational European Defence Union should be established within the next five years. In this regard, the EU should make best use of the already existing mechanisms and instruments, such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), military mobility and the European Defence Fund (EDF), which aims at improving national and European capabilities and enhancing the efficiency of the European defence industries. PESCO and the EDF should constantly be evaluated, in order to ensure the provision of adequate resources in line with national commitments and also to implement EU decisions effectively and coherently.

Achieving ‘European strategic autonomy’ will have to be based on increasing member states’ capabilities and defence budgets, and on strengthening the European defence technological and industrial base. European strategic autonomy must take on a more practical form in the areas of foreign and security policy, industry, capability (joint programmes, investment in defence technologies) and operations (financing of operations, capacity building for partners and the capacity to plan and conduct missions).

The missions have come a long way since 1999 and there is considerable evidence of ‘learning by doing’ and improved performance over time

The EU should take action to defend its interests, either independently or, preferably, within an institutional cooperation framework, such as NATO and the UN. The EU-NATO strategic partnership is essential for addressing the security challenges facing Europe and its neighbourhood. For the EU it is further important to maintain a strong and close defence and security cooperation with the United Kingdom. The UK’s participation in CFSP and CSDP instruments would be a welcome addition.

CSDP missions must be given the human and material resources to maintain peace, avoid conflicts, strengthen international security and reinforce European identity. By overcoming persistent structural weaknesses, disparities in member state contributions and the limits of its mandates, the effectiveness of these CSDP missions and operations could be strengthened in the near future. The missions have come a long way since 1999 and there is considerable evidence of ‘learning by doing’ and improved performance over time.

As the EU security environment continues to change significantly and new threats emerge, the CSDP and its missions have to develop further to solve unprecedented challenges. The European Parliament should continue to play a pivotal role in this process.

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