architecture of EU Defence Policy is strongly influenced by the
historical conditions preceding its evolution. For more than thirty
years, any military role of the European Communities had been out of
the question. The only attempt to achieve military integration in
Europe – the European Defence Community – had failed in 1954.
Ultimately, under the conditions of the Cold War, European security
could only be guaranteed by the United States and therefore had to be
organized within an Atlantic framework. This led to a long-lasting
split between military and political/economic integration in Europe.
The European Communities remained strictly limited to the latter,
while military integration was exclusively a matter of NATO. When the
new European Union – more than thirty years after the Treaties of
Rome – finally turned to the field of defence policy it was a
latecomer. Therefore, any EU defence policy had to be integrated into
the preexisting and highly sophisticated Euro-Atlantic security
structures with NATO in the foreground.
this background there were specific objections which made the
establishment of an EU defence policy a highly controversial project:
the clear preference of some Member States, in particular of the UK,
for keeping the defence dimension within the Atlantic Alliance; the
undeniable difficulty to give the EU a defence role without damaging
the integrity of NATO and without costly duplications of NATO’s
defence structures; the general unwillingness to give up sovereignty
in military issues; and the neutrality policy of some Member States
(at the time: Ireland). Moreover, it was a fundamental shift from the
deeply rooted tradition, perception and self-conception of the
Communities, and then of the EU, as a purely “civilian power”.
defence policy, against all odds, found its way into the Maastricht
Treaty, had much to do with rifts within the Atlantic Alliance:
European fears as to the reliability of the American security
guarantee and quarrels about burden sharing. Moreover, there were
interests at stake in strengthening the process of European
integration in general. This led to a characteristic mixture of
defence based motives and integration based motives behind EU defence
further development of EU defence policy can be divided in four
as a set of legal rules in the Maastricht Treaty (1992/93), based
on the WEU as military arm of the EU. This stage remained largely
the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), triggered
by the Balkans Crisis and the UK giving up its traditional
opposition on the summit of St. Malo (1998/99). These years of
almost revolutionary change saw the establishment of the EU as a
defence player, bypassing the WEU, building its own
politico-military institutions and operational capabilities.
the failure of the Constitutional Treatyand
financial crisis. The Treaty of Lisbon codified the essential
achievements of the ESDP (now: Common Security and Defence Policy,
CSDP) but added little new. Beyond that, CSDP lost political
priority and got bogged down in daily routine and lack of
with a number of fresh initiatives – notably the establishment of
– as an attempt to induce a new dynamic to enhance the European
military capabilities. Early signals for such a new trend can be
traced back to the European
Council in December 2013 but it is only since 2017 that genuine
policy steps have been taken in that direction.
Essential features of the CSDP-architecture
essential features and elements of the CSDP-architecture mirror the
above-mentioned framework conditions:
- Twofold dimension: CSDP consists of an operational dimension and a capability dimension. The operational dimension relates to the conduct of military operations under the auspices of the EU, including the establishment of the necessary institutional structures. The capability dimension deals with the development of military capabilities in the armed forces of the Member States by way of coordinated armaments policy and defence planning mechanisms. This capability dimension has been an integral part of the ESDP-project since St. Malo. It has the purpose of providing the EU, in the long run, with a more capable military instrument, but also of strengthening European defence in general.
- Scenario crisis management: CSDP, in its operational dimension, has been designed for international crisis management, not for collective self defence against a direct armed attack (cf. Art. 42 para 1 TEU with its limitation to operations outside the EU territory). Although the Treaty of Lisbon has introduced a collective defence clause (Art. 42 para 7 TEU) this clause establishes merely a horizontal support obligation between the Member States. It does not provide for any military role of the EU in this context.
- EU force structure: The EU does not have military forces of its own. CSDP is based on national armed forces of its Member States, including headquarters. National contingents are temporarily placed under EU operational control and made available for EU operations or – on a rotational basis – assigned to EU military formations (battlegroups). Moreover: There is no legal obligation for Member States to make such troop contributions. The EU force generation process is strictly based on voluntary contributions, fully respecting national sovereignty. These restrictions of the EU force structure are ultimately enshrined in the rather enigmatic distinction between the common defence policy and a (yet to be achieved) common defence in Art. 42 para 2 TEU.
- Co-existence with NATO: CSDP has been designed to complement but not to replace NATO. Remarkably, the TEU explicitly confirms that CSDP is compatible with NATO policies and obligations (Art. 42 para 2 TEU). CSDP has been built on the principles of no de-linking (from the Atlantic Alliance) and no unnecessary duplications (of NATO structures and capabilities). This includes the “Berlin plus” option of falling back on NATO command structures (rather than installing separate EU headquarters) and the harmonization of defence planning processes. In operational terms, CSDP remains limited to small military missions; its trademark is civil-military cooperation in crisis management. By contrast, high intensity military operations and collective self-defence have been left to NATO. Ultimately, however, both organisations have to draw on the same single set of forces of their Member States.
are, essentially, three reasons for the renewed CSDP-dynamic since
2017: The erratic stance of US foreign policy under President Trump
with its rather hostile attitude towards NATO; the new confrontation
with Russia since the Crimean Crisis in 2014; and the Brexit which
has left CSDP without its main internal opponent. However, the impact
of Brexit is ambivalent because it deprives the EU of a crucial
military contributor. Thus, CSDP gains political momentum but loses
these developments have increased the urgency of the CSDP project,
they do not fundamentally change its underlying conditions. The
traditional cornerstones that
cannot replace NATO and that Member States will not give up their
ultimate sovereignty in military affairs have remained unchallenged
so far. Therefore it is very likely that CSDP will not radically
change its face in the near future. Accordingly, the current new
initiatives leave the established features of CSDP intact.
bulk of the new initiatives – with PESCO at its heart – do not
address the operational dimension of CSDP, i.e. the conduct of
military operations. They are concerned with the capability
dimension. In sum, they are a combination of renewed efforts to
engage the notorious capability gap which becomes even more dramatic
after Brexit. To achieve this goal they aim at establishing a system
of deeper, more systematic and more closely monitored cooperation in
armaments policy, defence planning and building efficient force
structures. This goes along, in the framework of PESCO, with a
certain legalization of commitments which, formerly, had been purely
second tendency to be expected is a certain push for more
independence from NATO (Europeanisation). Duplications which have
been avoided so far will be no red lines anymore. A first small step
has already been taken by upgrading the so-called Military Planning
and Conduct Capability as strategic headquarters for a (small)
executive military operation.
are reasonable steps in the right direction. Efforts to tackle the
notorious capability gap of the European armed forces are of primary
importance. However, the impact of the new initiatives should not be
overestimated. Their scope and ambition, as well as their legally
binding force, is limited. Ultimately, everything depends on the
continuous will of the Member States to fill them with life, to
invest more in defence, and to give up some sovereign strongholds.
Therefore, grand labels like a “European Defence Union” are
rather misleading. In particular, there is no “European Army” in
sight. For the foreseeable future, there is no return to the European
Defence Community of the 1950s. A more realistic solution is a
cooperative network of national armies, systematically using the
concept of pooling & sharing. This is the path entered by the
current initiatives. But for the time being, they are no more than
fragmentary pieces of a puzzle which will require a great deal of
time, efforts and resources if it is ever to be completed.