The European security situation has grown increasingly fragile – primarily as a result of the activities of ISIS and other terrorist groups, Russia’s aggressive behaviour, as well as violence and instability in the countries near Europe. This means that Europe, in order to defend itself and increase its security, must do more. Defence cooperation between the European countries has been moderate and hopes have mainly been on NATO, although not all EU countries are members of NATO. In NATO’s context, the situation where three-quarters of all the expenses are paid by the USA alone and Europe is laying responsibility for its own security mainly on the Americans, cannot last forever.
Firstly, I would like to say that the role of NATO has been, is and will continue to be important, but Europe must contribute much more and take advantage of all the possibilities for increasing security and defence capability, especially in the European Union context.
This is the reason why the European Parliament is preparing a report on intensifying defence cooperation in the EU, also known as the European Defence Union. I have been appointed as its rapporteur. The main purpose of this report is to highlight the areas where and how the EU could do more than it has in order to support and complement NATO. This includes the recommendation to the EU countries to spend 2% of their GDP on defence, financing the infrastructure and establishing the Schengen of defence. We can endlessly talk about increasing the efficiency of defence costs, which is necessary, but in order to reach a certain level of quality, we need quantity.
The Treaty of Lisbon gives the EU far better opportunities for defence cooperation than which have been used so far. Thus the European defence cooperation can be significantly improved in the existing legislative framework. One might ask – why hasn’t it been done before. Likely the main reason is that there has not been a great need for it, since the security situation did not deteriorate significantly in the previous years. But the times are different now. Since the Paris terror attacks last autumn, the terror risk in the EU has drastically increased and the majority of the EU citizens think that security is something the EU should pay much more attention to and spend more resources on. The situation in the immediate vicinity of the EU is also deteriorating. In addition to the war in Syria, the last couple of years have seen Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, increasing instability in Egypt and Libya, as well as in African countries south of them, coup attempt in Turkey, tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia etc.
However, there is no real point in talking about the European army yet or scaring the sceptics with it, because at the moment it is unrealistic. Furthermore, there is also no reason to say that the EU defence cooperation is weakening NATO. This is simply not true, on the contrary – for years, NATO has been wishing to see the EU as a partner who could complement NATO and support it with its capabilities. Let us not forget that not all EU countries are in NATO and their systematic inclusion is necessary.
The Defence Clause is Empty
Thus the circumstances require that the EU defence cooperation and partnership with NATO be much more concrete and efficient. Creating the security and defence capability set out in the EU Treaties has not progressed much, although Article 42 foresees gradual development of the EU defence policy, which would lead to the establishing of the EU common defence. The same article of the Treaty provides for the establishing of defence institutions and defining of European joint capabilities and armament policy. Furthermore, the EU’s activities should be compatible with those of NATO in order to strengthen it and make territorial, regional as well as global security and defence capability more efficient.
At the European Council meeting on defence in June 2015, the heads of EU Member States demanded that Europe cooperate more intensively and systematically in the field of defence, including through the use of EU funds. After the Paris terror attacks on 17 November 2015, France proposed using Article 42 and requested assistance from other Member States. Only a few of them had the necessary will and capability to provide any assistance at the time.
Thus the EU and its Member States must make more effort and start doing what has been left undone in defence policy. The Lisbon Treaty gives the European Defence Union a solid footing and therefore it is reasonable to establish it and tie it to the EU’s next multiannual political and financial framework.
Unfortunately it is often so in the EU that actions are decisively undertaken only after something has already happened. So has been the case with the refugee crisis and terror attacks for example. Bringing defence cooperation to the next level would also be of preventive nature, because on the contrary case it might be already too late.
The EU battle groups reached full operational capacity already in 2007, but so far they have not been used. Even though they were established for performing military tasks, which serve humanitarian purposes or are related to peacekeeping and peacemaking. Having said that, the parties could not agree on using a battle group in the case of for example Mali or Central African Republic, where the nature of the activities would clearly have corresponded to the goals of the battle group. But now the battle groups must be adapted to the context of the changed security environment and we must be ready to deploy them operatively.
With the exception of the creation of the European Defence Agency, no other concrete element of the EU common security and defence policy has been conceived so far. At the same time, according to the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, the EU must systematically promote defence cooperation in all fields of defence capabilities in order to be able to react to external crises, build capacities of the EU partners, ensure Europe’s safety and also establish a strong European defence industry which is of critical importance in ensuring the autonomy of Europe’s defence activities.
Cooperation with NATO Is the Key
Cooperation with NATO is clearly the key for developing the capability of the EU and its Member States. On 8 July 2016, the presidents of the European Council and of the Commission together with the Secretary General of NATO signed a joint declaration, which emphasises the need to strengthen EU and NATO defence and security cooperation, and states that it must include increasing joint resilience in the east and south as well as investments in defence. Both the EU and NATO are of the opinion that they must improve the compatibility and synergy of their activities, because it would strengthen NATO’s role in the security and defence policy as well as in collective security.
There are a number of issues where the EU could improve its internal security cooperation as well as its cooperation with NATO and make it more practical with fast and clear decisions. At the moment the movement of the defence forces personnel of the allies is troublesome, bureaucratic and time-consuming. The administrative processes of the EU Member States are unreasonably slowing down the cross-border movement of the rapid response forces inside the EU. The EU must create a system that changes it. The system would coordinate the fast movement of the personnel and equipment of the defence forces for the purpose of a common security and defence policy task where the solidarity clause is invoked or in case of the obligation to provide assistance and support with all available resources. In other words – the so called defence forces Schengen should be established.
2% for Defence in the EU
Naturally, the EU countries must also set a goal of spending 2% of their GDP on defence as the NATO members have done. This would give a clear signal of the joint positions of the EU and NATO. In order to carry out the EU defence policy, we must contribute additionally from our common EU budget and the right place for this would be the EU’s multiannual financial framework.
In addition to the practical side, the use of EU money for increasing defence capabilities is also a clear sign of solidarity and it would allow all Member States to improve their military capabilities through joint efforts.
The initial action plan for the EU common defence policy or defence union must also include NATO projects that concern combating hybrid threats, operational cooperation, including at sea, migration, cyber security and defence, defence capabilities, strengthening the technological and industrial base in the field of defence, military exercises as well as security and defence capabilities of EU’s neighbours in the east and south.
The EU can financially support, for example, the placement of international NATO battalions to the EU Member States at the eastern border by backing the building of the necessary infrastructure such as roads, barracks and other facilities. At the moment, the majority of this burden is on the shoulders of a few specific Member States who due to their geopolitical location need increased presence of the allies. At the same time, the increased presence in specific countries serves as a protection for all EU and NATO countries and thus the solidarity-based distribution of additional costs is justified.
The EU must also gear up the defence research programme and start developing a common European capabilities and armament policy. This comes with the need to contribute more to strengthen the industrial and technological base of the defence sector in the EU Member States with the view of decreasing dependency on third parties.
The European defence industries market must function better and be more accessible so that the Member States would have the possibility to make their defence and security budgets more efficient. Unfortunately, no reliable policy for European defence industries has been drawn up so far, which would ensure better competitiveness, transparency and less bureaucracy.
The practical steps also require a political framework in order to ensure sufficient political attention. Therefore it would be reasonable to create the position of the European Commissioner for defence and set up regular meetings of the EU Defence Ministers. Furthermore, it is also necessary to establish the headquarters for the EU military operations in order to facilitate the cooperation with NATO as well as plan and carry out EU’s own operations.
The Members States that are ready to undertake more binding commitments towards each other could set up a permanent structured cooperation within the EU, in the framework of which it would be possible to establish multinational forces that can be made available to the common EU security and defence policy. An option would be the further development of the EU battle groups system.
However, the EU cannot create something that functions without the active participation of the Member States. In order to develop the defence policy, a binding agreement between the EU Member States and institutions is required. Such agreement should establish all EU defence policy initiatives, investments, measures and programmes.
More than ever, Europe can and should contribute to its security before it is too late. Unfortunately there are areas, where handling the consequences cannot compensate the damages. Defence and security is one of those areas. This preventive goal is the purpose of the European Defence Union. NATO and the EU have plenty of opportunities for strengthening European self-defence and deterrence. Then EU can finally become the long-awaited serious partner for NATO.