European Defence Policy: Prospects and Challenges

Politics - September 18, 2023

When we talk about defense in the European Union, what are we really talking about?

From a legal point of view, the European Union has a Common Foreign and Security Policy (better known as CFSP). The CFSP is one of the so-called three pillars of the EU. It was established in 1993, and is specifically aimed at preserving peace, strengthening international security, promoting international cooperation, and developing and consolidating democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Although with the CFSP, the defense sector has made progress over time. But until today the European Union does not have a European common army, so defense policy is mostly managed by each member state at the national level, even if collaborating one with each other.

And, in this respect, perhaps, with the momentous geopolitical shift that has come about since Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine, the European Union has at some historical junctures found itself struggling to bring needed aid to the Ukrainian people.

Over time, not only the people, but also and especially European institutions and political leaders have become aware of how the issue of defense and security cannot be addressed solely at the national level and separately, but how a common and joint approach is needed.

For the European institutions, mainly the European Parliament and the European Commission, improving defense cooperation is a priority to be pursued at all costs.

A priority that must be pursued by following what is enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty in Article 42, including participation in NATO and the principle of neutrality.

In a special way, the European Parliament has always supported cooperation, increased investment and resource sharing to promote synergies at the EU level to ensure better protection for European citizens.

Over the past seven years (from 2016), many concrete initiatives have been put in place with the aim of supporting greater cooperation and strengthening Europe’s defense capability.

Initiatives that among other things have also been well received by the public. In fact, according to the latest available data dating back to 2022, published by Eurobarometer, the percentage of European citizens who said they were in favor of a common defense and security policy was as high as 81 percent of the population in Europe. In addition, 93 percent said they agreed that it was important to act together to defend EU territory. Finally, 85 percent of Europeans responded positively regarding the need for defense cooperation to be enhanced at the EU level.

These initiatives were put into practice with the aim of not only providing more resources, but also stimulating greater efficiency and facilitating cooperation by engaging in the development of new capabilities.

Among the most structured and high-performing initiatives is the Permanent Structured Cooperation (the so-called PESCO), launched in December 2017. Nowadays, there are many collaborative projects falling under it, including, for example, with binding commitments including a European medical command, a maritime surveillance system, mutual assistance in cyber security, rapid response teams, and a joint EU intelligence school.

It is also interesting the so-known framework of FED, which stands for European Defense Fund, which opened in June 2017 and was the first European fund used to co-finance defense cooperation. This fund on April 29, 2021 was financed at the behest of members of the European Parliament with 7.9 billion euros from the Union’s long-term budget (2021-2027).

In addition to this, to implement its defense, the EU has also strengthened its cooperation with NATO. Projects in this area have to do, for example, with cyber-security, joint exercises and counter-terrorism. In addition to this, there is also a plan to facilitate military mobility in Europe so that it is easier to react and intervene in crisis areas more quickly and easily, both from the point of view of personnel and equipment.

When we talk about missions, these have also been made more efficient. And again, since June 2017 with a new command and control structure, crisis management has been improved.

For defense actions to produce concrete and tangible results, resources must obviously be invested. And resources, especially on the defense side, must be substantial, both economically and in terms of people and strategy. According to data from the European Defense Agency dating back to Dec. 8, 2022, the maximum spending allocated to defense by the European Union is 2021, with a total of 214 billion euros. This figure is 6 percent higher than the figure for the year of 2020. Also, according to the latest published data, defense spending has increased by about 16 percent, with investments related to defense equipment and research and development.

In 2023, European defense policy accelerated dramatically and experienced a new approach in conjunction with the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine in February 2022. The war made the European Union realize the need to strengthen its international presence, including and especially in terms of defense. But not only that. because another weakness that was discovered with the start of hostilities on Ukrainian territory was the need to accelerate and improve arms production.

In this regard, last July 13, the members of the European Parliament approved funding of 500 million euros intended to increase the production of ammunition and missiles, exactly for the purpose of helping Ukraine by increasing deliveries to the country and at the same time supporting individual member states to replenish stocks (this is the so-called ASAP, or Act in Support of Ammunition Production).

European institutions are also working in order to strengthen the so-called EDIRPA, or The European Defense Industry through the Joint Procurement Act, so that it can help fill the most urgent and critical gaps. This will make it easier for European countries to move forward and jointly purchase defense products such as weapon systems, ammunition and medical equipment. In addition, EDIRPA aims to strengthen the European defense industrial and technological base and promote cooperation in defense procurement.

Finally, just a few months to, last June 2023, the EU Parliament and Council approved an agreement regarding new measures to incentivize member countries to jointly purchase defense products and support the EU defense industry. With this new instrument, a budget of 300 million euros will be available until 2025.

Given the above-mentioned overall picture regarding the defense policy in the European Union, it seems pretty much clear how much progress has been made since the establishment of this policy as outlined in the treaties. However, it is also evident how until the war in Ukraine broke out dramatically, the European Union had kept investment in this area on the back burner.

Even today, the lack of a common army on some fronts can be said to be a shortcoming, due to the fact that member states are often unable, on their own, to cooperate and produce a foreign policy that is truly compatible and suitable for cooperation with other parties.

Despite the various visions one may have on this controversial issue, which is the creation of a common European army, it should still be remembered how investing in a common European defense policy, firmly shared and supported by each member state, is central to dealing with even the most acute crises and to making the European Union itself secure both internally and externally.