EU member states must urgently coordinate European defence policy

By Barend Tensen
posted on March 24, 2014 in Leadership, Security/Intelligence

Barend Tensen argues EU member states must urgently coordinate European defence policy, to meet both moral and self-defence responsibilities

Democracy support and support for the rule of law are moral obligations for the EU. Those who live in freedom still have an obligation to support those who do not. The participation of the EU in international crisis prevention and the support for democracy worldwide, as well as the fight against terrorism, should be characterised as trans-boundary problems. This calls for a cooperative European approach.


A supranational approach

A military or civilian EU engagement should only be considered when the interests of several EU states are clearly affected and the Union has a realistic option for making an effective contribution to crisis response. In such a case, a strong defence framework such as the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is required.

With the CSDP in force, the gradual pooling of capabilities by member states can help reduce military expenditure and discourage high-risk go-it-alone actions. When the interests of multiple EU-members are at stake, a supranational approach within the framework of the CSDP is legitimised.


Improving European military capabilities through cost-effective solutions

The core of European security and defence policy – the idea of protection against (external) threats and challenges – should return to the centre of attention. There is currently a significant obstacle to overcome: European defence markets are fragmented and national defence capacities are not compatible with each other, which makes it hard to operate as a unity. Furthermore, defence budgets will be constrained for many years, because dealing with the economic crisis remains the top priority for the EU member states. In order for the national military capabilities to become compatible and complementary, restructuring is needed. Improving European military capabilities through cost-effective solutions, such as European pooling and sharing, is therefore desirable.

An additional development which makes it important for Europe to coordinate their defence policy is the fact that the United States has shifted its focus on foreign policy towards the Asia-pacific region. There is a growing reality of US military disengagement from Europe. The US and the EU remain each other’s most important partners in an emerging multipolar world in terms of economics, trade and investment. But from a strategic perspective, US military efforts no longer emphasise Europe.[1]


A matter of European political will

In the end, it is a matter of political will among EU member states to pave the way for the implementation of concrete steps. Strengthening the role of the European Defence Agency (EDA) within the framework of the CSDP could be one such step. Member states therefore have to invest in defence policies and be willing to coordinate their defence spending, but also their cuts. More political engagement from EU ministers is necessary to help prepare European military forces for the challenges of the coming decades.

[1] J. Howorth ‘CSDP and NATO Post-Libya: Towards the Rubicon?’ Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations Security Policy Brief 35, July 2012, accessed at on 29 February 2014