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Luxembourg Conference


European Security and Defence Policy: where do we go from here?


Colin Cameron,

Secretary-General of the European Security and Defence Assembly (Assembly of WEU)


14th annual EURODEFENSE conference, Luxembourg

27 September 2008, Presentation no. 1 (11.00-11.30), followed by a discussion (11.30-12.00)


I am full of admiration for the way in which EURODEFENSE works. Its network of associations is active throughout Europe in order to help promote an awareness of the European countries’ common interests and develop a European defence culture. It draws up practical proposals for decision-makers at national and European level in order to help European defence move forward. Congratulations for doing such a useful job!

European security and defence: the state of play

On 4 December 1998 at the Franco-British Summit in Saint Malo, France and the United Kingdom agreed on the importance of giving the European Union a “ capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces”.

Six months later, at its Cologne Summit on 3 and 4 June 1999, the European Council decided to give the Union the structures it needed in order to conduct the so-called “ Petersberg missions”. Those crisis-management missions – already included in the Amsterdam Treaty – were fully incorporated into Article 17 of the Nice Treaty, which remains in force. They will be further expanded under the Lisbon Treaty, assuming that it is ratified.

Successive European Councils have streamlined the objectives of EU crisis-management missions and the ways and means of achieving them. The result is a European doctrine based on a combined military and civil approach to crisis management.

What the European countries have achieved together is undoubtedly worthwhile. Since 2003, the European Union has carried out some 21 operations in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Our action in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Moldova in particular, as well as in the Palestinian Territories and Indonesia, has been useful and indeed in some cases decisive for promoting peace and development. The EU is also present in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Chad.

While the ESDP can justifiably be described as a success story, there is no denying its recurrent structural weaknesses. It does not have means commensurate with the stated international ambitions of the EU member states or with the expectations of Europe’s international partners: it lacks financial resources. It is hampered by member states’ capability shortfalls and by the unwieldiness of decision-making procedures based on unanimity. The Lisbon Treaty includes a number of innovations that will help the ESDP to function more efficiently. However, this will not be enough to guarantee its optimum development in the long term. It was hard to get together the capabilities for the EU’s recent military operation in Chad and the Central African Republic, and for the EU police mission in Afghanistan and the rule-of-law mission under preparation in Kosovo. Finding 200 EU observers to deploy to Georgia next week has meant depleting other operations, although now that France and Spain are sending contingents from the Gendarmerie and the Guardia civil, we now have more than enough boots on the ground.

Should we not rather be using our standby units for these operations? What is the point of defining headline goals if no use is made of the resulting capabilities? Under the 2003 Headline Goal (defined in 1999) the EU was to be able to deploy within 60 days and sustain for at least one year in the field military forces up to 50 to 60 000 strong – precisely the size of the Eurocorps, yet so far the EU has never used it!   The 2010 Headline Goal (defined in 2004) made provision for national, bi-national or multinational combined arms rapid reaction forces some 1 500 strong and deployable within 10 days in an external theatre of operations for up to 120 days. These “battlegroups” would have been ideally suited to the two operations in the DRC and Chad, yet here again, more for political than practical military reasons, no use was made of them! [EU Battlegroup standby schedule: July-Dec. 2008 ( UK and Germany)] [AMF(Air)]

Furthermore, the 2003 European Security Strategy (ESS) needs to be amended in order to take on board the latest geopolitical developments. On 14 December 2007, the European Council deemed that the time had come to carry out a review of the ESS adopted four years earlier, with a view to improving or supplementing it. Indeed, although this Strategy is sound, it does have a number of gaps. For example, it is not very explicit to say the least about the EU’s relations with NATO and with third countries. There are some major omissions, in particular as regards the role of nuclear weapons and space in European security. In view of new threats like terrorism and cybercrime, the revised ESS must be geared more to the concept of security as a continuum between its external and internal aspects. Other factors must also be taken into account: for example, the crucial security challenges facing the Union in the neighbouring Mediterranean and Black Sea regions and Russia’s comeback as a world player and its leaders’ willingness to use its energy resources as a means of coercion and to intervene militarily in regional crises such as the ones in Georgia. The rise of China will also be decisive for international security. Asia as a whole merits only one line in the current European Security Strategy…

The Lisbon Treaty: expected major innovations

The Lisbon Treaty amending the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty establishing the European Community was signed in Lisbon by the Heads of State and Government of the 27 EU member states on 13 December 2007. The aim was for it to be ratified before the elections to the European Parliament in June 2009.

On 12 June 2008 all eyes in Europe were on Ireland, the only country to have organised a referendum in order to ratify the Treaty. Irish voters rejected it by a clear majority of 53.4%. Three years after the French and Dutch rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in May and June 2005 (by a majority of 54.67% and 61.6% respectively) the EU’s political and institutional crisis is far from having been resolved. On 20 August 2008, 24 out of 27 member states had ratified the Lisbon Treaty. Ratification procedures are under way in Sweden and the Czech Republic. The Polish Parliament has approved the Treaty but the Ratification Act remains to be signed by the Polish President. The question is what to do about the Irish “no” vote. The vote would probably have gone the same way in various other member states had they dared hold a referendum. As stressed by the late Bronislaw GEREMEK (historian, MEP and Polish Foreign Affairs Minister from 2000 to 2007) in an interview with the French daily Le Monde in June 2008, “the three consecutive “no” votes in France, the Netherlands and Ireland signal a misunderstanding between the European institutions and citizens. In democratic societies institutions don’t need to be loved, but they do have to be effective and legitimate and inspire confidence”.


Assuming that the Lisbon Treaty is one day fully ratified (with a second vote taking place in due time in Dublin, as was the case for the Nice Treaty), new possibilities for European cooperation will be opened up in the field of security and defence.

The European Council will have an elected President with a two and a half year mandate renewable once. What sort of European President do we want? The post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will be created, merging the functions of the current High Representative for the CFSP/Secretary-General of WEU (Javier Solana) and the Commissioner for External Relations (Benita Ferrero-Waldner). A European External Action Service will also be set up.

Article 42 of the Lisbon Treaty refers to “Provisions on the Common Security and Defence Policy” (formerly the European Security and Defence Policy, ESDP) and will replace Article 17 of the Nice Treaty.

It confirms the intergovernmental character of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) which remains subject to specific rules and procedures, in particular the unanimity rule. However, in order to enable the EU to function efficiently, it will be necessary in other spheres of EU competence to replace the weighted vote established in Nice with a double majority voting system (meaning a majority of both countries and citizens).

The Lisbon Treaty contains a clause on mutual assistance in the event of armed aggression (Article 42.7). However, being neither non-binding nor automatic, it is not comparable to Article V of the modified Brussels Treaty or Article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Moreover, it is stipulated that this clause “shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States” and that “for those States which are members of it, NATO remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation.”

The Lisbon Treaty confirms the role of the European Defence Agency “ in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments” and stipulates that it “shall identify operational requirements, shall promote measures to satisfy those requirements, shall contribute to identifying and, where appropriate, implementing any measure needed to strengthen the industrial and technological base of the defence sector, shall participate in defining a European capabilities and armaments policy, and shall assist the Council in evaluating the improvement of military capabilities” (Article 42.3). However the Agency’s budget is still too small and we could surely be more imaginative in using the Agency – develop it maybe as a coordinator for common training, whether for the European Security and Defence College for example or for forming pilots for the A400M or maybe for administrating the military Erasmus scheme proposed by Hervé MORIN.

The treaty makes provision for permanent structured cooperation (PSC) among member states whose military capabilities fulfil higher criteria, with a view to the most demanding missions (Articles 42.6 and 46). It also provides for the possibility of entrusting missions to a group of states that are willing and have the requisite capabilities (Article 44). However the protocols appended to the treaty make it clear that such “structured cooperation” undertakings would be confined in reality to the efforts made by all countries in order to attain the 2010 Headline Goal approved by the EU member states. The recent non-paper on PSC by the Spanish MOD also emphasises training as a possible starter likely to evoke consensus in member states.

In view of the new threats to European security, the Lisbon Treaty makes provision for expanding the range of Petersberg missions in order to include “joint disarmament operations, humanitarian and rescue tasks, military advice and assistance tasks, conflict prevention and peace-keeping tasks, tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peace-making and post-conflict stabilisation. All these tasks may contribute to the fight against terrorism, including by supporting third countries in combating terrorism in their territories” (Article 43).

Finally, member states will be bound by a solidarity clause in the event of a terrorist attack or natural disaster: “The Union and its Member States shall act jointly in a spirit of solidarity if a Member State is the object of a terrorist attack or the victim of a natural or man-made disaster. The Union shall mobilise all the instruments at its disposal, including the military resources made available by the Member States, to (…) assist a Member State in its territory, at the request of its political authorities, in the event of a terrorist attack (…)” (Article 222).

However, the question of a common defence seems to be put off indefinitely: “The common security and defence policy shall include the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy. This will lead to a common defence, when the European Council, acting unanimously, so decides” (Article 42.2). However we are still a mighty long way from a European nuclear deterrent or indeed anything too muscular and the “d” in ESDP is a very small one.

An unlikely European defence

As stressed in a recent article by Jean-Sylvestre MONGRENIER, Associated Fellow at the Thomas More Institute, “European defence is not an historic necessity”. Institutional arrangements have their advantages but also their limitations. The European institutions are a means of putting cooperation between states on a permanent footing, facilitating decision-making and conducting the common policies agreed by states. However, institutions cannot make up for the lack of a common political will or for divergences of geopolitical views.

The prime function of defence policies is to ensure the protection of nations and of their territory. NATO and the EU are composed of sovereign states which own the military capabilities to be deployed in theatres of operation. Hence it is first and foremost at the national level, within each member state, that political battles have to be waged if we are to respond to the common challenges and promote defence efforts. It is therefore important to explain to European citizens what is at stake. In fact citizens are often bolder and more clearsighted than the political decision-makers with regard to these vital issues! All of us who specialise in the area of security and defence have a duty in this respect. EURODEFENSE is very well-placed to play a major role in this domain.

The European Security and Defence Assembly, of which I have the honour of being the Secretary-General, is composed, precisely, of national parliamentarians from European countries who have a particular interest in security and defence questions.   Parliamentarians, as the peoples’ representatives, have the job of scrutinising everything that concerns the lives of their fellow citizens. That will not change with the Lisbon Treaty, quite the contrary! The members of the national parliaments will continue to vote defence budgets and take the decision to deploy troops on European or international missions. Our Assembly provides a forum for reflection and analysis in which national parliamentarians from European states, EU members and non-members alike, can share and debate their ideas concerning the ESDP. The Assembly, through its political recommendations, promotes greater European integration in the field of security and defence. It enables the members of the national parliaments of European countries to exercise interparliamentary scrutiny of the ESDP, which for the moment remains firmly in the intergovernmental sphere.

The transformation of the EU into a vast “pan-European commonwealth” [Cf. Jean-Sylvestre MONGRENIER] does not rule out a strengthening of the ESDP, but does make it difficult to set up any European defence worthy of the name. The aim of the ESDP is not the territorial defence of Europe in the traditional sense of the term. This will for a long time to come remain the supreme responsibility of individual states, and of NATO for those states which are members of it. The ESDP is focused on crisis management and missions outside the sphere of collective defence. Its aim is nevertheless to give the Union the ways and means of contributing to world stability as well as to guarantee its own security, by intervening anywhere in the world where this is deemed necessary by the 27 EU member states.

Our civil-military capabilities must live up to our political ambitions, which is why it is urgent for European governments to develop mechanisms enabling them to more easily pool their resources (in particular combat helicopters, strategic lift and space-based assets), as well as to improve the effectiveness of their capabilities on the ground. It is therefore necessary to draw up the principles for effective and complementary cooperation between NATO and the ESDP, while making genuine means available for a European defence. There is absolutely no point in inventing new concepts like the Helsinki Headline Goal or the EU battlegroups – which our military are doing their best to put into practice – then refusing to make use of the resulting forces! In this area, a key proposal is the development within the Union of a joint operational civ-mil planning structure [cf. Hochleitner’s comprehensive paper].

For reasons of critical mass, the future of European defence will be played out de facto between Paris, London and Berlin, but these are having trouble with driving forward the process. The risk is that we could end up with a “soft” or enfeebled Europe instead of the “hard core” that is being advocated as a solution to the flagging pace of European integration. All the other European states are capable of playing a useful role in the ESDP. Italy and Spain of course have an important part to play, as well as all the other countries like Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece with a particular interest in European issues, not forgetting to mention the countries of central Europe, from the Baltic to the Black Sea. We should recall that countries like Ireland, Poland, Sweden and Austria are currently contributing to the EUFOR operation in Chad and the Central African Republic with large contingents on the ground.

Europe does not want “enemies”. What it sees all over the world are potential “partners”. Yet Europe cannot be a global player in the world of tomorrow without a security apparatus to ensure the safety of our citizens. The very existence of the EU and its member states’ survival depend on it.