EU must seize 2014’s momentum for a Defence Reform

By Håvard Sandvik
posted on March 20, 2014 in Leadership, Security/Intelligence

Håvard Sandvik urges the EU to seize 2014’s momentum for a Defence Reform.


“F*** the EU”. This exasperated statement by US Assistant Secretary of State Nuland reinforces one hard-to-miss fact: If Europe doesn’t get its act together on a Common Security and Defence Policy, it might risk a long-term weakening of its relationship with the United States. Excellent transatlantic relations are crucial for Europe’s continued security. It is time for Europe to use the momentum of the December Council Meeting on Defence to lower barriers to competition and pave the way for a common European defence market. Moreover, the EU needs a more ambitious Security Strategy, especially when it comes to the Neighbourhood Countries.

Europe has already had a taste of what it can achieve through pooling and sharing and as the Lithuanian Minister of National Defence recently pointed out “the Battlegroups have already proved themselves. It is a good tool for transformation”.1 However, the pace of transformation is too slow, and top-down driven. Developed in the context of the Cold War, the European defence market is one of the least integrated markets in Europe.2 Barriers to effectively outcompete a national defence contractor are high. The single market, however, has the potential to lower barriers, and in turn realising a competitive and efficient market, delivering the capabilities Europe needs.

To alleviate the short-term negative externalities of deregulation, the EU could provide a boost to positive incentives for European cooperation in the defence sector. As in other markets, actors must get used to new circumstances and lowering their opportunity costs from European cooperation will go some way in soothing the aches of a European defence market transformation. Both by freeing the defence market and by encouraging more European cooperation we will be able to gain those capabilities which it was so clear were lacking during the Libya campaigns.

Finally, the EU needs to define a new Security Strategy to replace the one adopted in 2007. Since 2007 we have experienced EU expansion, the Arab Spring and power struggles in the Eastern Neighbourhood. Countries in the region, as Grevi and Keohane points out, are playing the EU and Russia up against each other to extract maximum benefit.3 The EU needs a Common Security and Defence policy which will give us credibility and predictability in the eyes of our transatlantic partner.

While we might need to scale down global commitments in an updated Security Strategy, a commitment to an active neighbourhood policy is crucial. A Europe amid the flaming ruins of revolt, humanitarian catastrophe and terrorism cannot stay at peace, as the Lampedusa and Syrian refugee crises have shown us. We need to give the US a reason to listen to us on Ukraine and the rest, not just to fob us off on an incoherent and weak neighbourhood policy. The best way to go about this is to grasp the momentum left since last December.


1 Lithuanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union “The future of EU Battlegroups addressed in London” (October 2013)

2 Giovanni Faleg and Alessandro Giovannini (2012) “The EU between

Pooling & Sharing and Smart Defense: Making a virtue of necessity?” in CEPS Special Report No. 61, CEPS

3 Giovanni Grevi, Daniel Keohane (2014) Challenges for European Foreign Policy in 2014: The EU’s extended neighbourhood (Spain: FRIDE