Outcomes of the December Defence Council

By Matteo Ricci | 17 January 2014

To quote this document: Matteo Ricci, “Outcomes of the December Defence Council ”, Nouvelle Europe [en ligne], Friday 17 January 2014, http://www.nouvelle-europe.eu/node/1780, displayed on 23 August 2017

On the 19th-20th December 2013, the European Council dedicated a significant portion of its meeting to the issue of defence, the first time it has done so since 2008. This article analyses the decisions made at the Council meeting and aims to determine their impact on the future of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

 

Introduction

The December meeting was originally expected to be the Defence Council, an occasion to take stock of the progress made, stimulate a general debate on the question of Europe's defence needs and discuss next steps.

As the meeting date approached, however, more pressing matters took precedence: the situation in Ukraine and the difficulties of the job market for example. Even the concomitant crisis in the Central African Republic and the subsequent French intervention were unable to bring defence back to the centre stage.

Even so, the CSDP was not completely put aside and member states spent half of the meeting discussing defence issues. Decisions were made on three different macro-areas: the effectiveness of the CSDP, Europe's defence capabilities and the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB).

Improving the effectiveness of the CSDP

The European Council meeting took place exactly two weeks after the start of the French intervention in the Central African Republic (CAR). In their closing document, the Heads of State and Government (HoSG) praised President Hollande's decision to act in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 2127 (2013). The fact remains, however, that France decided to intervene alone in CAR because, as was the case with Mali in January 2013, the EU was not ready and not willing to act.

Besides a generic call to «improve the EU rapid response capabilities, including through more flexible and deployable EU Battle groups as Member States so decide» no concrete decisions were made on ways to streamline and improve the CSDP decision-making and burden- sharing system. As already shown in another article, the current structure does not encourage countries to act. In order to address the problem of the financing of EU military operations, on the eve of the Council meeting, French President Hollande proposed to create a common EU fund to finance operations undertaken by one or more Member States but approved by all. This proposal was however rejected and Angela Merkel said on the matter that «we are not going to pay for operations over which we do not have control».

In the end, the main decision regarding the CSDP itself was to put the High Representative, in cooperation with the Commission and the European Defence Agency (EDA) in charge of working on two strategy documents: an EU Maritime Strategy to be adopted by June 2014 and a Cyber Defence Policy Framework to be presented by 2014. No mention of a revision of the EU Security Strategy, a document that dates from 2003, was made.

Enhancing Europe's defence capabilities

Regarding defence capabilities, this sector is still fully under member states’ control and the Council had therefore very little leeway to act directly.

It once again called on member states to increase their cooperation through «Pooling and Sharing» initiatives as well as via the EDA, citing the positive examples already in place, such as the European Air Transport Command.

Concrete commitments were however limited. The European Council was only able to endorse the decisions made by the Council of the EU in November. This means that Europeans, under the leadership of the EDA, will try to develop capabilities in four specific fields: 1) long-range reconnaissance drones, 2) air-to-air refuellers, 3) satellite communications and 4) cyber capabilities. The strength of this commitment was however put into question at the end-of-meeting press conference, when British Prime Minister Cameron declared that «We should not be looking at EU-owned drones, tanker fleets and we need to be very careful to write this down in language people can see that this is not being contemplated » further adding that NATO would remain the «bedrock» of UK security.

In this regard, it is important to remember that, in order to enhance cooperation, the NATO Secretary General was invited to speak at the beginning of the meeting and the final communiqué recalled that the CSDP «[...] will continue to develop in full complementarity with NATO in the agreed framework of the strategic partnership between the EU and NATO and in compliance with the decision-making autonomy and procedures of each».

Europe's industrial defence sector

Almost no progress was made in the area of industry. The Council only welcomed the Commission’s and the EDA’s initiatives to create a true EU-wide defence market. In the end, the Council only identified three major themes that should constitute a priority for the Commission: 1) promotion of research into dual-use technologies, i.e. technologies that can be applied to the defence as well as to the civilian sector, for example those connected with space flight, 2) harmonization of industrial standards, to prevent items certified in one Member State from having to be re-certified in others and 3) improving Small and Medium Enterprises’ (SMEs) access to the defence sector, as they are a key source of innovation.

Conclusions

As everyone feared, outcomes of the Council meeting were rather disappointing. The Council made relatively few decisions and even fewer specific commitments. In particular, no agreement was reached on what is probably the most urgent need, namely the revision of the ten-year-old EU Security Strategy. The decision to work on two sector-specific documents, maritime strategy and cyber defence, constitutes however a step in the right direction and might open the way for a more comprehensive revision in 2014.

Another key issue, the industrial consolidation of the EU defence sector, has also been largely ignored. The Commission has been trying to eliminate the barriers that prevent the establishment of a true common defence market since 2009, but member states still oppose this process as they continue to favour their «national champions». The economic difficulties currently encountered by two of these champions, BAE Systems and EADS, should have clearly demonstrated that this policy is becoming less and less sustainable.

Even the few concrete commitments that were made, regarding drones and tankers for example, are not new and were challenged by the British Prime Minister David Cameron immediately after the end of the Council. This raises the question of the UK’s increasing Euroscepticism. Once one of the promoters of Europe's defence integration, the UK has recently been reluctant when it comes to making progress in this field. It even envisages to leave the European Defence Agency.

In the end, even though the final communiqué starts with «Defence matters», the attempt to stimulate a public debate about EU's defence policy has failed. On a positive note however, Heads of State and Government have decided to dedicate their June 2015 meeting again to defence, a significant improvement given the five year gap that separated the last two defence council meetings. The political and social conditions may then allow the Council to make commitments that will have a true impact on the CSDP.

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