Foreign Policy Blogs

Talking Defense – Part 1: The Road to December European Council summit

EU defense

On December 19 and 20, 2013, the European Council will be discussing the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), simply known as European defense. In order to cover such event a multi-part analysis will be adopted comporting several dimensions: context; the meeting; reflections on the aftermath of the Council meeting.

All scholars and experts on European security and defense have been looking forward the end of the year of 2013, aside for Christmas, for this December European Council on the CSDP (as a side note, European Geostrategy has been producing interesting work on the Defense Summit). It seems that finally the CSDP will be at the top of the agenda. Jan Techau put it ironically “They [defense experts] have gotten so used to the pitiful state of affair of CSDP that the attention generated by the upcoming summit feels like a rare ray of sunshine. At long last, there is a debate! Finally, some people will listen!” Techau is right on when arguing there is a sense that most of the trauma could be solved with one Council meeting. We shall assess the wideness of the expectation-results gap after the meeting.

So far 2013 has seen some advanced discussions and high level meetings in order to prepare the December European Council meeting. The following calendar [below] posted on the European Council’s website illustrates quite well the road to the December Council meeting:

5-6 September – Informal meeting of Defense ministers in Vilnius

26 September –  Competitiveness Council – debate on the European Defence industry

15 October – Presentation of the High Representative report on the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)

18 November – Foreign Affairs Council (Foreign ministers) – debate on CSDP

19 November – Foreign Affairs Council (Defence ministers) – preparatory debate

17 December – General Affairs Council – debate on the draft European Council conclusions

19-20 December – European Council

Based on the report of the HR and some other documents there will be three avenues of discussion: First, the strengthening of the CSDP, known as operational effectiveness, providing the Union a solid and reliable instruments in order to address emerging and pressing issues – this has been a perpetual need and objectives since the Treaty of Maastricht –. Second, the enhancement of European defense capabilities by agreeing, and most importantly committing

Military spending (2011) by Daniel Fiott

Military spending (2011) by Daniel Fiott

to the famous Pooling & Sharing allowing better R&D in defense, cooperation and avoiding duplication. Third, reinforcing Europe’s defense industry allowing the development of a more integrated and competitive industrial base in Europe.

The first avenue of operational effectiveness shall be accompanied with a direct strategic revision, a work that has recently been overtaken by Towards a European Grand Strategy (TEGS). Since the 2003 European Security Strategy and its 2008 revision the EU has lacked of clear strategic vision and approach to its global role. In simple term, what is the national interest of the EU? What is the EU’ sphere of influence? What are its short-, mid-, long- terms threats and interests? How can the CSDP fulfill the EU and its Member States’ interests? Biscop asked a very similar question in a recent analysis, What do Europeans actually want to do with their capabilities? These questions are the foundations for a credible and relevant CSDP. How can the Member States seek to reinforce Europe’s defense industry and enhance Europe’s capabilities without a clear strategic agenda? The Arab Spring, and now its aftermath, has offered plenty of opportunity for the EU and its Member States to deploy and use the CSDP. None were taken [see Libya]. The shift of balance of power in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is having considerable impacts on regional stability and is ultimately directly threatening the EU. An unstable neighborhood is a direct challenge to the stability of the EU and its Member States. The Eurocrisis has affected the power of southern EU Member States, especially Italy and Greece, in providing basic border security and control. The rise of illegal immigration and all types of smuggling and trafficking into the Union is affecting the stability of the Union as a whole. The CSDP, properly used and sponsored, could be a powerful instrument in order to alleviate the radical and dramatic regional shifts in the MENA region.

Prior the meeting several aspects shall be kept in mind, one of them being the power relation between major Member States. Despite the election of François Hollande, whom had appeared at first unease with foreign affairs, and was elected for his domestic policies rather than his expertise in global politics, has demonstrated a continuity with his right-wing predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. In a matter of two years, since his election, President Hollande has already send combat troops in Mali, Central African Republic, and was ready to start a bombing campaign against the Al-Assad regime until Obama called it off. Ultimately, Hollande’s foreign policy is in direct continuity with the traditional Gaullist heritage. When it comes to Europe and the CSDP, French has expressed his frustrations – even though it was happy to sideline the CSDP during the Libyan campaign – with the limited deepening and integration of the CSDP. Nevertheless, “From a French perspective,” argued Hugh Carnegy of the FT “this highlights another frustration: the unwillingness of its EU allies to sign up to its longstanding vision of building an independent European defense capability.”

The usual French ally in CSDP matter, Britain, has been lacking of strategic vision for itself and Europe. Since the election of David Cameron, Britain has been more concerned in trying to bring back powers and competencies from Brussels to London than contributing to the deepening of the Union. Furthermore, Britain has implemented severe austerity measures hurting most of the different segments of the British economy and society including its foreign and defense policies. The lack of strategic vision from Britain may be the most important dimension in taking into account prior the European Council meeting. The most obvious example was the refusal by the House of Commons back in August to grant the Prime Minister to use force against the Al-Assad regime. Such limited strategic vision, present as well in the US as demonstrated by the recent PEW report, may affect the strategic vision and thinking of the Union for the coming decades.

As illustrated in this commentary and narratives emerging from Brussels, the EU and the CSDP do not lack of technicality and narrow administrative vision. What is missing for the EU and what should be the main aspect coming into the meeting is a grand vision; even it is too broad and too ambitious. Such statement is more of a wishful thinking than reality. The current pool of the European Heads of States and Governments is one of the major limitations behind any possible grand strategic change. Regardless of their political affiliations most of them share a very limited and narrow vision of domestic, regional and international policies. Their mottos is ‘in short-term we shall survive and maybe be reelected.’ Europe, the EU and the CSDP do not need short-term policies, but rather a new grand vision for the coming century.



Maxime H.A. Larivé

Maxime Larivé holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and European Politics from the University of Miami (USA). He is currently working at the EU Center of Excellence at the University of Miami as a Research Associate. His research focus on the questions of the European Union, foreign policy analysis, security studies, and European security and defense policy. Maxime has published several articles in the Journal of European Security, Perceptions, and European Union Miami Analysis as well as World Politics Review.