Tuesday

13th Apr 2021

Opinion

Towards a more secure Europe

  • European leaders have to rethink their commitment to security and defence policy (Photo: Nato)

Since autumn 2008, the financial crisis and its implications has dictated EU policies. The pressure on EU governments to control expenditure continue to be enormous. Defence spending has not been immune. This raises important questions about how the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) of the EU can function in this new environment and if it can even survive austerity.

Some commentators see it only as a question of choices – how much does defence matter and where does it stand in national priorities. This misses a critical point. Without a strong security and defence policy in the EU, underpinned by credible military capabilities, Europe risks becoming a marginalised player.

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On March 29, in his speech on Polish Foreign Policy for 2012, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski painted a bleak picture.

“A divided Europe loses its chance to remain a key player in international trade and politics. Tired with defence spending stinginess and a general European inefficiency, the USA opt out of NATO. Russia fills the void left by the West in the East; China fills the void in Asia. The Arab world is engulfed by transformation crises. Europe is no longer a role model for anyone," he said.

This is evidently a worst-case scenario. But if the EU wants to contribute to promoting and preserving peace and stability and use actively and effectively instruments at its disposal for crisis management and conflict prevention, European leaders will have to rethink their commitment to CSDP.

Radek Sikorski observed, based on the experience of last year's Polish Presidency of the EU, that CSDP is impossible to implement in a group of 27 member states and stressed that the EU must initiate tighter cooperation between willing countries.

This is perhaps the solution. Europe’s role in the world can only be sustained through enhanced defence cooperation and a group of like-minded Member States ready to drive CSDP forward can be much more effective. Others may then follow suit.

In December 2010, Poland together with France and Germany launched the “Weimar Initiative” making it clear that there is a need to give a fresh impetus to CSDP and take bold decisions to make it more cost-effective and cost-efficient at the same time. One such bold decision considered was the proposal to establish permanent civil-military planning and command structures for EU operations.

Infrastructure, personnel and expertise for planning, command and control exist in all countries and military organizations in the form of military headquarters. Those headquarters are the link between the political decision-makers and military organisations.

Unlike NATO, the EU has no permanent military headquarters and specific structures and responsibilities are split between the Union and its Member States. In practical terms, this means that when a military operation is to take place, the EU has to activate different entities and bring them together.

Having EU headquarters would help to overcome the present shortcoming of the system where to launch an operation and activate an Operational Headquarters (OHQ) a Council Decision is required each time.

It would also significantly improve operational efficiency of EU crisis management and facilitate more effective use of resources. What is more, the EU can use the HQs of five of its Member States, or NATO structures or activate Operations Centre in Brussels.

This proposal, advocated vigorously for during Polish Presidency of the EU, failed to muster sufficient support, in particular due to strong opposition from the UK. However, it was not an entirely wasted effort as it led to a compromise agreement to activate the EU’s dormant ‘operations centre’.

For the first time since it was created in 2007, the dormant operation centre has been put in practice to help conduct the EU’s operations in the Horn of Africa.

The difficulties to take forward the Weimar Initiative exposed the inherent problems of CSDP and the fragile balance between the need to collectively improve military capabilities and the concerns over national sovereignty and power. The Weimar initiative is not a new idea for the European Union. Similar initiatives have failed in the past due to lukewarm political support. If the EU wants to remain engaged in crisis management and carry out complex civil-military tasks, European leaders have to finally pull their weight on security and defence.

The new US Defence Strategic guidance reorienting towards Asia-Pacific suggests that Europeans have to do more not less. If Europeans want the US to remain engaged and committed, they need to demonstrate a greater willingness to assume a larger share of the security and defence burden.

To do so in the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades is a real challenge for CSDP and will require a serious effort and continuous political momentum to get it back on track.

Common Security and Defence Policy can only be as effective and ambitious as Member States want it to be. Rethinking CSDP in times of austerity and strategic shifts will require revisiting approaches and ideas that might previously have seemed politically unacceptable but now are a necessity.

Radek Sikorski concluded in his foreign policy speech that stronger EU means offloading past burdens and past inhibitions. This is the way forward for CSDP.

Hristiana Grozdanova is an EU policy advisor at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bulgaria, working on issues related to Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU. Anna Maria Barcikowska is a Senior Officer at the European Defence Agency. The views expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the European Defence Agency. Both are members of the Atlantic Council’s Young Atlanticist Working Group. This article was first published on e-International Relations website

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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