Committee on Security and Defence

European security shrewdness: As worldwide economic, geopolitical and military competition increases and new security alliances are taking shape, Member States are increasingly isolated, but their military spending continues to break records. Given the reluctance of some Member States to establish a common defence union, how can the EU adapt its security policy to these unprecedented geopolitical developments?

Ivor Meštrović (Chairperson, HR)


The European Union has gone through a tumultuous pair of decades. The Covid-19 crisis has further changed the perception many countries have of their overall strengths and weaknesses, including their defence industries and systems. From the rise of aggressive Chinese foreign policy to the latest AUKUS Agreement, the EU’s foreign affairs and security sector have been more and more fragmented, both industrially and politically, and, in turn, more isolated, yet the EU is becoming an increasingly relevant global player. Member States have never reached profound common agreement on joint European defence and security undertakings. This is at odds with what the majority of European citizens seek on an European level because the citizens want the EU to do more in terms of its foreign and security policy, as is shown on the map.

Main Actors

The European Council

The European Council creates the general direction of the EU. Meetings of this Council are attended by respective heads of state or government. During the meetings they are tasked with creating not just the general direction of the Union, but also the necessary consensus for it. Therefore, it is of utmost importance for the European Council to set the agenda clearly, especially when it comes to topics of high stakes and interest (such as this one).

National governments, the Council of the EU

Member States work mainly through the Council of the EU. The Defence configuration of the Foreign Affairs Council is particularly relevant because it consists of all Member States Defence Ministers, ensuring each and every one has a say in the decision-making process. Moreover, although security is under the jurisdiction of Member States, the EU plays a special role. Simply put, the EU may act according to its own view, but ultimately it cannot go against the wishes of Member States.

The European Commission, High Representative for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy

The European Commission is the sole legislative initiator and principal and overreaching executive institution of the Union — from execution of the laws to coordination of Member State cooperation. Specifically, one of the Commissioners — the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy — is a key player here as he heads the European External Action Service, diplomatic service which also deals with security policy, Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex; executive force which protects the external borders of the Union), as well as the European Defence Agency (EDA). EDA brings together all Member States defence proceedings and structures. This is a relatively new agency for the EU, however its relevance has been rising for years. Another very relevant actor is the European Union Military Staff  (EUMS) which provides early warnings, situation assessments, strategic planning, concept development, training, education, and support of military partnerships.

By Sofia Kasapidou (Media Team Member)

Past: Actions Taken

  • The Union has its own policy on defence and security —the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) — which is mainly centred around helping Member States meet their needs and wishes. It built upon the previous EU security and foreign affairs policies, created the European External Action Service, and set foundations for further European defence and security policy. One of the key documents is the Civilian CSDP Compact which encompasses political commitments regarding joint European security and defence policy. Military Planning and Conduct Capability is the central body for military strategery of the policy. It extensively cooperates with the Directorate-General of EUMS and EDA to support and improve European defence capabilities and further develop CSDP.
  • Berlin Plus Arrangement between North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union further shaped the defence and security policy by providing NATO facilities to the EU and, de facto, made it a principal pillar of the EU defence. NATO-EU cooperation was further developed in 2016 with a joint declaration and another one in 2018.
  • The Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) was initiated in 2017. It is a program in which 25 of the 27 (Malta and Denmark opted out) national armed forces pursue structural integration. This Cooperation is a very active instrument, as its latest factsheet reveals, however it is mainly centred around short-term to medium-term projects.
  • Coordinated Annual View on Defence, implemented in 2017, is tasked with providing Member States with the analysis of the current defence situation and identify potential areas of cooperation.
  • The European Defence Fund (EDF) was also established in 2017 and was allocated a significant budget throughout the years for “more efficient spending in joint defence capabilities, strengthening European citizens’ security and fostering a competitive and innovative industrial base”. The infographic provides more information about its expenses.

Present: Existing Issues

The general direction

European defence and security has always been a thought-provoking subject. Since the 1950s it has been discussed in one way or another, especially when it came to the European Defence Union. Through time, the EU moved towards developing a joint defence. Many of these ideas greatly varied in their vision and scope. Same can be said for incumbent proposals. However, all of them required either concrete action on the matter or the complete abandonment of the concept of common European defence and security cooperation.

Strategy, institutions, and coordination

The main issue of any defence and security policy is the strategy. At the moment, the EU has its own goals, but lacks a thorough and long-term strategy that includes every Member State. Additionally, there are several coordination issues, namely in cooperation between armed forces, as well as intelligence communities. When coordination exists, it is very limited, especially in intelligence as many Member States are still wary of another State possessing confidential information unless absolutely necessary. Another strain on further development is the fact that there is no institutional embedding. What is more, the lack of substantial solutions and cooperation has resulted in certain Member States creating pacts of their own, such as the Franco-Greek defence pact, Aachen Treaty, and the Qurinal Treaty.

Fragmented defence industry

Current EU law allows for a strong fragmentation of the Member State defence industries, as this is perceived to be of vital national importance. This means that there is a significant amount of diverging interests, and different regulation in the Union. In order to innovate, many seek to speed up the EU’s soft and slow coordination and overturn its weak position to legislate which further amplifies the problem. This is relevant in the fields of military research and development, cybersecurity, hybrid threats, as well as the defence industry in general which is usually one of the most heavily-regulated industries due to its existential importance. Consequently, the fragmentation derogates European defence in many ways, as the EU Parliament has noticed.

Question of Borders

Frontex has gained more relevance in the last few years as it became a significant EU external border protection force. It usually cooperates more with police forces than armed forces. However, the questions surrounding border security are one of the highest European priorities and rightfully so, as the EU has been seeing immense pressures on its external border.

Future: Challenges Ahead

What now

If the Union seeks to progress towards a European Defence Union  and ensure coherence and consistency in the Commission’s work linked to defence, the main question is how to actually do it while bringing everyone together. This vague common vision in the Strategic Compass as of late 2021 provides the necessary foundation for further development, but it is unclear what kind of cooperation, structure, and Member State partnership the Union seeks to achieve. This is also seen in the opinions and perceptions of the citizens’, as they seek more, but it is not clear what exactly that more is. Therefore, the fundamental problem remains how to do substantially better while ensuring Member State consensus.

What should be the EU’s role?

Another question poses if the EU is to do more — what kind of role should it play geopolitically? Should it continue to be a big advocate for intervention only as a peace-keeping force in cooperation with the UN, whether diplomatically or militarily, or should it reconsider its approach to suit either extreme (heavy interventionism or complete isolationism).

European Defence Union of Issues

The lack of a common vision and plan of action further amplify the underlying problems as they are merely talked about, not acted upon. The aforementioned issues are not solved, yet other questions line up, such as the EU’s cooperation with third countries, not just in its neighbourhood, but also on other continents. This cooperation is anything but clear. Most importantly, the Union lacks central coordination as there are many different instruments which are not integrated efficiently.


Although the EU already has some form of cooperation with NATO, it is unclear if the current state of cooperation is viewed positively by all involved. Possibilities range from almost full integration to leading a completely independent policy from it. This is further linked to the quarrels regarding European strategic autonomy.

Strategic autonomy?

Strategic autonomy is the ability of a country to pursue its own defence and foreign affairs interests in the way it deems necessary. The calls for  European strategic autonomy have been amplified by several European heads of states and governments, as well as active discussions of non-European NATO members on the matter in the past few years. Alliance and cooperation with NATO have been questioned as well. However, this is a much contested idea that is supported and opposed based on many various motivations.