European Union External Action

The EU strengthens cooperation on security and defence

01/03/2018 - 17:27
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Since the presentation of the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy in June 2016, Member States have shown increasing interest in stronger cooperation on European defence issues. Thus the EU has identified and implemented concrete measures to strengthen the cooperation on security and defence through new structures and frameworks, enhanced oversight and coordination mechanisms as well as financing tools to trigger joint defence research and development.

What is the role of the EU in the field of security and defence?

Based on its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), the EU has a history as security provider through establishing civilian missions and military operations. Since 2003, when the first missions were launched under EU flag, 34 EU missions and operations were launched on three continents. Currently the EU conducts six military operations and ten civilian missions.

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The EU’s CSDP engagement is extremely broad: it ranges from military engagement on land and on sea to training activities for local security forces but also civilian experts e.g. in the field of demining or good governance and rule of law.

To ensure better coordination and cooperation on the ground the first ever single command centre for EU military training missions as currently conducted in Mali, Somalia and Central African Republic (the MPCC) was recently established.

New framework, tools and instrument to strengthen defence cooperation among Member States

In 2017, the EU moved fast on the implementation of the Global Strategy, in the area of security and defence (see also Timeline on Security and Defence). Options that had legally existed in the EU Treaties already for some time were activated, most notably the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). At the same time new tools and instruments were developed, such as the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), through which Member States will share their defence spending plans to better identify shortfalls, be more coherent and benefit from economies of scale.

Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) is an instrument to enable willing Member States to pursue greater cooperation in defence and security. Out of the 28 EU Member States, 25 have joined PESCO and thereby agreed to more binding commitments in the area of defence. Furthermore, participating Member States developed projects working together in groups to enhance military training and exercises, strengthen jointly their capabilities on land, air and sea but also for example in the ever more important cyber space. 



Another big achievement is the creation of a European Defence Fund to finance joint research and development. Collectively, Europe is the world’s second largest military spender. But it is far from being the second largest military power – because of inefficiency in spending and the inability of European armies to work together.


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None of these initiatives are stand-alone tools. They are part of a coherent EU mechanism involving all relevant EU institutions and entities including the European Defence Agency (EDA) as well as strong commitment and actions by the Member States to boost collaborative defence capability planning, development, procurement and operations.

In parallel, the EU is taking concrete measures to step up resilience e.g. by improving its capacity to become aware of, analyse and address hybrid threats through the Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats or the EU Security and Defence College (ESDC), which launched a cyber platform to boost cyber security capabilities across Europe.

In the current strategic environment, cooperation between the EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) is essential. Both organisations face unprecedented challenges emanating from the South and the East and 22 out of 28 EU Member States are also NATO Allies. Against this background on 8 July 2016, the President of the European Council and the President of the European Commission together with the Secretary General of NATO signed a Joint Declaration in Warsaw with a view to giving new impetus and new substance to the NATO-EU strategic partnership. This has led to a significant intensification of co-operation in all relevant areas.

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Why is stronger cooperation between Member States on Security and Defence important?

The security environment in and around Europe has become more complex and threats have multiplied. The EU wants to ensure security for its citizens in an unstable world. Today, guaranteeing our security means dealing with threats that transcend borders. No single country can address them alone, which is why the EU is encouraging and supporting Member States to cooperate more closely on defence.

This approach is also a response to the demand by the majority of the almost 512 million EU citizens, who want more security, stability and a coordinated, EU response to current threats (see also the latest Eurobarometer survey). This does not mean that we are heading towards an EU Army or 'Common defence'. Member States remain sovereign when it comes to their defence and military decisions. But the EU will continue to add its value through promoting increased cooperation and coordination to reach the required new level of ambition in EU security and defence.