French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Big challenges are on the horizon for the EU. Bild: Picture-Alliance
Security-wise Europe cannot simply rely on its longterm allies anymore. The most important partners are France and Germany.
There are at least three reasons why the construction of a credible European Defence Union is no longer a choice but a necessity. First, Europe’s strategic environment has changed in recent years, due to numerous – and simultaneous – threats, on Europe’s territory (Russian belligerence, terrorist attacks, cyber operations, informational manipulations and organized crime) and in its neighborhood (the Middle East and Africa). An additional difficulty is the blurring of lines: between internal security and external defence, state and non-state actions, terrorism and crime.
Second, these challenges exacerbate the EU’s ongoing existential crisis brought on by the failure to ratify a constitution in 2005, the 2008-2009 economic crisis, the more recent migration crisis, and most obviously Brexit. The latter trauma has put us at a crossroads: either we passively attend Europe’s slow deconstruction, or actively further its construction.
Third, the current US administration’s foreign policy doctrine of “America First” and its demands for Washington allies to share a greater part of the burden is an additional incentive for Europeans to take their fate into their hands and acknowledge, as president Juncker did, that their protection “can no longer be outsourced” – or perhaps more realistically, should be outsourced to as little a degree possible. Strategic autonomy is certainly a worthy ideal but also a distant one, given that US-backed NATO still is the bedrock of European security.
The EU should meet its responsibility as a security provider, not only because it is the logical response to these structural challenges, but also because it is what the EU’s 440 million citizens expect: Europeans are increasingly preoccupied with their security, which is no longer seen as a given. 75% of the EU’s citizens support a common defence and security policy (Eurobarometer 88, November 2017). There is also political consensus among leaders on this issue, and the election of a proactive and pro-European president in France has given new life to this movement.
In other words, the planets are aligned. This is the opportune moment for action, what the Ancient Greeks called the Kairos, and we should not waste it.
It is already happening
European defence cooperation is already accelerating, as reflected by several recent examples of increased solidarity between states: the mutual assistance clause (Article 42.7) invoked for the first time in 2015 by France, in the wake of terrorist attacks; the involvement of ‘Northern’ States in the South (Estonians in RCA, Germans in Mali) and of Western states in the East (assurance measures in the Baltic states and Poland).
At the institutional level, there is an unprecedented level of cooperation. The last year alone saw the launch of a European Defence Fund (EDF); a cybersecurity package with, for the first time, defence elements; and most notably the permanent structured cooperation (PESCO). For the first time, defence research and development will be financed by European funds. A next logical step for the Commission could be the creation of a “DG” (directorate-general) defence.
There are also parallel state-driven initiatives outside the EU institutional framework, such as the French-led European Intervention Initiative (EII), gathering states that are able and willing to act militarily.
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