In our second Quarterly Security Briefing, we focused on the outcomes and decision taken at the EU Foreign Affairs Council’s Defence configuration on May 13-14. We addressed the results and their implications for European security and defence structures as well as Europe’s international commitments and operations.
Before kicking off the debate, Jamie Shea, Senior Fellow at Friends of Europe and moderator of the event, presented Friends of Europe’s latest publication, the ‘Vision for Europe’ that includes proposals and recommendations for stronger European defence structures and cooperation.
The debate, held under the Chatham House Rule, covered several key topics: the security situation and development in the Sahel region; EU-NATO defence cooperation; the challenges of hybrid threats; and an evaluation of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) and related capability development priorities.
The last few years have seen EU member states gradually boost their defence budgets and investments in defence projects. This has been facilitated by mechanisms like PESCO, the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) and the European Defence Fund (EDF). Member states are increasingly using these tools when planning their own defence expenditure.
However, to guarantee and uphold a certain level of effectiveness and coherence, these mechanisms require constant evaluation and further development. In this regard, the ministers adopted a specific time frame to push PESCO forward, identifying new projects only every two years. So far 34 projects have been established, but not all of them have made sufficient progress.
With regard to the participation of third states in PESCO projects, participants discussed the possibility of a post-Brexit UK involvement in these mechanisms. However, since these were designed for EU member states in the first place, third parties are only supposed to be included on an occasional basis.
The next key point on the agenda focused on the need for better instruments in EU external crisis management. Threats and challenges in areas like the Sahel region require a comprehensive approach - especially in Mali, where the security situation has been destabilised by terrorism and organised crime. In particular, participants pointed to the complex challenges and the nexus between development and security and development and democracy building.
Mechanisms like the Military Planning Conduct Capability (MPCC) can help to coordinate and improve operations in a European ‘safety belt’ in Africa. A regionalisation of CSDP missions in the Sahel, as well as the exchange of experience and the cooperation with local and regional actors like the G5, is indispensable to further enforce its security and defence. In addition, more needs to be invested, not only in effectiveness but also in trust-building measures between security actors and the population.
In this context, the debate also focused on the EU’s role in Asia and potential bases of cooperation. Like in Africa, the EU can provide crucial structural support and expertise in a wide range of areas, such as maritime security. The EU and Asia can also learn from each other in the domains of cyber and non-proliferation, by sharing technological know-how and best practices.
Despite a growing propensity for unilateralism in certain countries, multilateral approaches and solutions remain central to addressing today’s challenges to international and regional security. That applies not only to Europe, but also to other actors, like China or the US. Multilateralism can also play a role in Europe’s ‘strategic autonomy’, which includes the establishment of effective capabilities, that can be applied if needed. (However, this ‘autonomy’ should not aim at a duplication and concurrence of structures and mechanisms, but rather emphasise complementarity.)
The final part of the debate addressed EU-NATO defence cooperation. In recent years, both institutions have reinforced their commitment to cooperation through joint declarations and staff cooperation. In seven key areas, one of them being ‘hybrid challenges’, both partners have prioritised detection and evaluation of potential threats. Given the re-emergence of geostrategic competition, hybrid challenges play a larger role in modern day conflicts. Through common exercises, an exchange of experience and best practices, substantial progress has already been made.