In this context of insecurity all along the border of Europe, the time seems right to take stock of the progress achieved in the field of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The June European Council, indeed, alongside hot issues such as the situation in Greece, migration and the so-called « Brexit », devoted some time to the issues of security and defence.
An insightful discussion on the outcome of the European Council was held on the 15th July at the European Defence Agency, with the presence of institutional representatives, scholars and experts.

« Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free. The violence of the first half of the 20th Century has given way to a period of peace and stability unprecedented in European history« . This was the incipit of the European Security Strategy, drafted in 2003 by the then-High Representative for CFSP Javier Solana. Only twelve years after its publication, the security context around Europe could not look more different. Indeed, since the beginning of European integration, Europe has probably never been surrounded by as much instability and insecurity as today, and the long economic crisis across Europe has severely undermined the continent’s prosperity for a long time to come.
The time seems right to take stock of the progress achieved towards a genuine European defence, even because the current situation has recently led many observers and representatives of Member States to call for a renewed commitment to the development of the Common Security and Defence Policy. The June European Council, indeed, alongside hot issues such as the situation in Greece, migration and the so-called « Brexit », devoted some time to the issues of security and defence.

In the one-page conclusions on security and defence, the European Council acknowledged the need to act in three main areas:
a) The renewed European Union Internal Security Strategy;
b) The ongoing process of strategic reflection with a view of preparing an EU global strategy on foreign and security policy (which aims at updating and replacing the 2003 European Security Strategy);
c) The further development of both civilian and military capabilities and strengthening of Europe’s defence industry.
Concerning the latter point, the European Council underlined the importance that the Member States allocate a sufficient level of expenditure for defence. At the same time, it endorsed the « preparatory action » initiative, aimed at using the EU budget for research and development (R&D) in the field of defence.
Much emphasis was also placed on the need to mobilise EU instruments in order to counter hybrid threats. Moreover, the need to intensify the partnerships with the UN, NATO, OSCE and the African Union was underlined.
Finally, the European Council conclusions expressed the institution’s willingness to come back regularly to discussing security and defence in its meetings.

There were many expectations for the summit to be groundbreaking. But was the June European Council a milestone on the path to closer defence cooperation between EU member States, or was it rather a sign of the inability or unwillingness of the EU leaders to address the issue? This question was at the core of the event organised by the Institute of European Studies of the VUB, Egmont Institute for International Relations, and European Geostrategy. The event, called « Milestone or Maelstrom? European Defence and the 2015 Summit« , was hosted by the European Defence Agency (EDA) in Brussels on the 15th July.

The institutional views

The first roundtable was chaired by Sven Biscop (Egmont Institute) and presented the views of EU and national institutional actors.

In opening the roundtable’s discussion, James Copping (European Commission, DG Grow) welcomed the commitment by the European council to come back regularly on the issue of European defence policy. He outlined the distinctiveness of the European Commission’s approach – that is, alongside the engagement in short-term actions, pursuing long-term policy objectives and trying to develop a genuine internal market in defence. In this respect, he explained in detail the Commission’s proposal for a preparatory action in the field of defence R&D, which aims at testing the possible added value of funding research in the field of defence through EU actions, which could better take into account defence priorities than the current EU research programmes with a civil focus. However, he underlined, this initiative is not intended to replace national funding, which plays a crucial role.
Always with a view to having a long-term approach, Copping highlighted the importance of the work on the new security strategy, which will help define the EU security priorities and therefore will allow the Commission to better target its initiatives.

Caimin Keogh (EEAS/EU Military Staff) provided the impressions on behalf of the EU Military Staff regarding the June European Council. In his view, prior to the summit there was such an emphasis on security and defence issues that this may have created an inflated sense of what to expect, and therefore at first reading the outcome, from a security and defence perspective, may seem quite modest when compared with the 2013 European Council. However, on reflection, many of the known key EEAS « deliverables » were provided for in the Council Conclusions and some important insights were further developed, such as the concept of a nexus between internal and external security, which is, according to Keogh, extremely important.
He then spent some words on the security review, which he described as welcome and very positive in itself.
Concerning the question of the role of the EU Military Staff in making the « D » in CSDP more relevant he underlined EUMS’ visible presence in Brussels and its role in developing concepts and advices for the Military Committee for the consideration of the Political and Security Committee (PSC). He highlighted the fact that groundbreaking concepts such as the current discussion on Capacity Building had, as its genesis, lessons learnt from military CSDP missions (i.e. Train and Equip). He also stated that military CSDP missions can often be the « most visible expression of CSDP in action », though this does not take from the critical contributions of civilian CSDP missions.
Finally, he concluded, the key question for European defence will now be determined by the level of ambition of Member States: only Member States can make the « D » in CSDP relevant.

Arnaud Migoux (French Permanent Representation to the EU) looked at the outcome of the June summit from a French perspective. To begin with, he expressed its disappointment that the European Council did not endorse formally the conclusions of the May Foreign Affairs Council and that a clear clause of rendez-vous was not indicated.
In his view, a conjunction of several factors explains the fact that the conclusions on security and defence were so modest. First, the defence topic was brutally overcome by other pressing issues (particularly Greece). Secondly, the absence of new developments and innovative proposals from the member States related to CSDP also played a role. Thirdly, he pointed out, if on the one hand there is an authentic renewal of European interest in defence issues, on the other hand following the Russian crisis this renewal of interest seems to benefit NATO more than CSDP. Finally, according to Migoux, there is a feeling among the Europeans that CSDP is progressing at its own (very slow) pace and there is a sort of fatigue in front of institutional deadlines which do not necessarily match with the timing of the ongoing work.
However, Migoux stated that the four areas mentioned in the conclusions fit well the French priorities in the security realm. If the development of a new European Security Strategy is positive in itself, the French would like this new document to be very synthetic and operational, as well as focused on security issues. « We must be careful », he warned « not to have a long drafting process ».
Finally, he welcomed the reference to defence budgets in the European Council conclusions (« The recovery of national defence budgets is a crucial issue ») and the initiative on capacity building in support of security and defence. The priority, he concluded, is now to implement these initiatives, including the key initiatives that are « Train and Equip », the Preparatory Action Research in the area of CSDP (which should not be seen as an excuse to decrease national spending on defence R&D), and the continuation of work on common capability programs.

Graham Muir (European Defence Agency) recognised that we are living through a maelstrom, a state of disorder, but he is confident that the June European Council was a milestone in European Defence. Indeed, he did not share the disappointment voiced by the other panelists and underlined that, despite the difficulties and the major ongoing crisis, more time was devoted to discuss defence issues than in December 2013.
Concerning the EU global strategy on foreign and security policy, Muir highlighted the need to recognise that the EU cannot be a global player if it has not the military and defence capabilities to do so. Therefore, in his view, the strategy should also take into account the importance of the industrial and technological basis that is required to ensure those capabilities.
Muir then argued that the preparatory action initiative is a major opportunity, as it the first time that the EU budget is used to fund defence research. However, he warned, there is also a risk – that is, that the member States use this initiative to further cut their investments in R&D.
To conclude, he strongly called on the member States to use EDA as a vessel for increased cooperation. Indeed, he noted that despite the member States’ rhetoric about cooperation, the latter has actually been declining during the last few years commensurately with the reduction of national defence budgets.

The first panel was followed by a keynote speech delivered by Ambassador Pierre Vimont (Carnegie Europe), former EEAS Secretary General. First of all, he invited « CSDP fans » not be alarmed by the scarcity of space devoted to security and defence during the June European Council, since, he explained, it is normal that Heads of State and Government tend to focus on the very topical issues which may not necessarily correspond to what was on the agenda. However, he added, there is still much work to do in CSDP, and we are still stuck on a situation in which the member States are the undisputed masters. Therefore, he concluded, « if you don’t have the political will from the member States, then you won’t do much ».
Secondly, he raised the issue of hybrid war, and explained that the EU is working in close cooperation with NATO on this.
On the European Security Strategy, Pierre Vimont welcomed the decision by the High Representative Federica Mogherini to proceed differently from her predecessor Javier Solana, with a two-stage process and going step by step. In the end, he argued, the final product will be much more ambitious than the Solana document, and there will much outreach to member States and to the think tank community. Most importantly, Vimont argued that the EU will have to deal with some issues that it has tried so far leave aside: what does the EU want to do with CFSP and CSDP? What kind of geopolitical actor does the EU want to be? For this reasons, the ongoing exercise will be much more complicated than what the member States do with their White Papers on defence, as it will be about much more fundamental issues of this kind. In this respect, Vimont stated that, because of the security situation (Ukraine, Libya, etc.), it is no longer possible to continue arguing that the EU is a soft power.
The last question raised by Vimont was: what do we mean by Europe as a security provider today? In his view, this issue is very much linked to EU’s neighbourhood, since the EU has lately been frequently asked to provide security by its neighbours (e.g., Ukraine recently asked for the EU to set up a peacekeeping force at the Ukraine-Russia border). According to Vimont, the EU must be able to give some answers to its neighbours, not only in the East but also in the South, where Tunisia faces a serious terrorist threat.

The academic and think tank views

The second roundtable was chaired by Daniel Fiott (VUB) and gathered some representatives of important think tanks and academic institutions.

Jo Coelmont (Egmont Institute) highlighted three main strategic shifts currently under way. First, China is seeking to regain the position it had in history (which is « the most important power shift since centuries »). Secondly, we are witnessing the delayed ramifications of two major events of the 20th century: the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and that of the Soviet Union. In this context, if the United States seem to be reorganising their strategic priorities (putting China as the first priority, the Middle East as the second, and Russia as the third), they still regard the European Union as an indispensable partner (as it is underlined in the 2015 US National Security Strategy). And the US, Coelmont argued, are an indispensable partner for the Europeans as well.
CSDP, according to Coelmont, was good enough to lead « altruistic operations » outside Europe until a couple of years ago. However, he believes that the period is over that « one building at the Schuman roundabout is taking care of internal security and two other buildings are taking care of external security ». We are now dealing with comprehensiveness, Coelmont argued, and internal and external security are intrinsically linked. Therefore, he concluded, CSDP is no longer fit for purpose, which leads frustration to arise in the EU. At the same time, it must be noted that this level of frustration led in 1998 to the Saint-Malo Declaration which gave birth to European Security and Defence Policy, which therefore leaves space for hope. Yet, Coelmont, argued, « hope is not a strategy ».
Subsequently, Coelmont welcomed the fact that a strategy is finally in the making, and that this word is no longer taboo. In his opinion, this will considerably help alleviate the problems of CSDP, as a strategy is most importantly an organising principle. In his view, a comprehensive approach without a security strategy is « a hallucination », and it is what the EU has been trying to do since Saint-Malo. He also welcomed the activation of a top-down process – that is, Heads of State and government talking about defence – stating that « anyone familiar with the EU knows how much process matters ». As Coelmont argues in a recently published collection of essays (see « For further information »), « this strategy in the making is the unique instrument to ensure comprehensiveness ».
According to Coelmont, the strategy should be followed by the launch of a Permanent Structured Cooperation within the European Defence Agency, with member States committing on a voluntary basis to harmonise their respective defence plans and to contribute to strengthen the European defence industry through the EDA. After this, an eventual European White Paper on defence will only have added value if the member States have ownership of this project.
Finally, Coelmont pointed out that, on the use of force, there is a growing consensus among the member states (including the so-called neutrals and a country such as Germany) that CSDP and the military are « at given times the indispensable catalyst for implementing all other EU external action policies ».
To sum up, as Coelmont concludes in his essay, « the ingredients for making a CSDP fit for purpose are there […]. CSDP fatigue is doomed to evaporate rather soon ».

Other panelists then outlined three major problems that the EU is currently facing in the security realm. First, Russian revanchism in the Eastern neighbourhood; secondly, a problem of demographics in the Mediterranean; thirdly, the issue of (the lack of) European cohesion, especially in the light of the problem of sovereign debts.
Then, some propositions aimed at helping disentangle these problems were put forward.
To begin with, it was argued, if the EU can manage the cohesion problem, it will be able to manage the other problems as well. Conversely, in the absence of cohesion, Poland must prepare by itself for a possible scenario of being invaded, Italy must cope alone with the issue of migration, and so forth. « If we stick together », it was argued, « even the big problems are manageable ».
Secondly, the need to define priorities both in time and in space was stressed, and the desirable order of priorities was outlined as follows: the Eurozone, Russia (which poses an immediate challenge but will unlikely remain a major threat over a generational time horizon), and the Southern neighbourhood (which is the most fundamental and the longest-term threat, but has not fully materialized yet). At the same time, it was underlined, if we spend too much time on the Eurozone challenge, the other problems will grow in importance and come closer in a geographical sense.
The third recommendation concerned capability development, which should range from heavy capabilities on land and airpower for lighter forces to stabilisation contingencies, « train and assist » and maritime patrol capabilities.
Finally, in order to manage the so-called « gun-versus-butter conundrum », it was argued that States should pay for defence even in a period of budgetary constraints, because « the welfare state will not survive without the sovereign state ».
Therefore, it was pointed out, in order to be fully able to address the security challenges surrounding Europe, it is most urgent for the EU to solve the Eurozone crisis and the issue of cohesion.

Vivien Pertusot (IFRI Brussels) highlighted four main points.
To begin with, he noted the resurgence of bilateral and “minilateral” cooperation outside traditional institutions. In his view, this is not a passing phenomenon, and it is gradually becoming a pattern. As Pertusot explains in his essay contained in the collection “The Common Security and Defence Policy: national perspectives” edited by Daniel Fiott (cf. “For further information), the growing dissatisfaction of European countries with multilateral organisations is due to two main reasons. On the one hand, it takes (too much) time, energy and resources to reach a common agreement and implement decisions; on the other hand, these consensus-driven organisations tend to produce agreements on the lowest common denominator due to divergent ambitions and capabilities among members.
The second point he raised was that “perceptions matter”. Indeed, EU countries perceive CSDP institutions as far too integrationist, although they are intergovernmental institutions, and therefore they are not ready to commit to them.
Thirdly, he argued that member States should first change their way of thinking. Indeed, they often do not see the EU and NATO as effective tools for defence cooperation. Then, strategic communications by the EU institutions on how they can help member states in the field of defence cooperation is further needed.
Finally, he shared the recommendation of other panelists that the preparatory action launched by the EU should not be at the expense of the national investments in defence.

Dick Zandee (Clingendael Institute) expressed his doubt on the ability of a new strategy to provide direction on the common security priorities of all EU member states. Indeed, he pointed to the reality of diverging security interests in Europe: the understanding of security is very different today in the Baltic States and in Italy. Even a prosperous Eurozone will not change this situation since the roots of security perceptions are geographical and historical. Thus, in the East the focus will be on territorial defence to counter Russia’s threats while in the South the major concerns will be related to the fall-out of the instability and conflicts in the Middle East and Africa. In capability terms it also implies some divergency, because for security at Europe’s eastern borders a partial return to heavy weapons (some prepositioned) will be needed while deployments to Africa will require more robust expeditionary forces.
Secondly, he argued that deeper defence cooperation can only be realised in small clusters of « good neighbours » that share security interests, have comparable security cultures and trust each other, rather than in wide cooperation efforts gathering all « distant friends ». However, NATO and the EU would still have a role to play, namely in the overall coordination of capability needs and in monitoring and assessing the results. For organisations like EDA there is also an important role to play in development of capabilities that are needed by all member states, such as command & control, intelligence, reconnaissance and medical.

The event was closed by the speech of Jorge Domecq, Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency.
Domecq underlined that, in the context of security and defence policy, member States remain the central actors, and that their political will and vision of what they want this policy to be is essential for coming out of the current problems.
In assessing the results of the June European Council, he stressed the relevance of three concrete elements: the mobilisation of EU funds, the idea of paving the way for a possible defence R&D program, and the fact that the European Council will come back regularly on the defence issue.
Finally, he outlined the main challenges that the EU is currently facing in the security and defence realm. First, he mentioned the need to increase defence spending. In this respect, he argued, the US military strategy should be a wake-up call for Europe, as the US’ rebalancing towards the Asia-Pacific area is doomed to increase in the following years. Secondly, he stressed the need to adapt our defence posture to hybrid warfare, especially by focusing on cyber defence. Finally, he pointed out the need to substantially enhance R&D.

Giulia Bonacquisti

For further information:

 European Council Conclusions, 25-26 June 2015: EN:

Council Conclusions on CSDP, 18 May 2015 (EN):  

– Daniel Fiott (ed.), The Common Security and Defence Policy: national perspectives (EN):

– European Geostrategy, Interview with Jorge Domecq (EN)