The idea of a common defence policy for Europe dates back to 1948 when the UK, France, and the Benelux signed the Treaty of Brussels.
- A Defensive alliance composed of ten Member States, founded in 1948 and modified in 1954;
- the WEU provided the framework for the creation of a European defence policy;
- Following the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon, all functions of the WEU have effectively been incorporated into the EU, and the WEU was closed down in 2011.
The Western European Union (WEU) was a defensive alliance composed of ten Member States: Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom. The primary purpose of the organisation was to offer mutual military assistance in case of external aggression and it provided a strong basis for the development of European defence cooperation.
The foundations of the WEU were laid by the Treaty on Economic, Social and Cultural Collaboration and Collective Self-Defence signed in 1948 by the UK, France, and the Benelux countries, known as the Brussels Treaty. The Treaty attempted to turn European ideals into reality, envisioning a collective self-defence effort to keep the continent safe following the devastation of the Second World War.
Following the failed attempt to create the European Defence Community (EDC), the Treaty of Brussels was modified in October 1954 to bring about the WEU. This decision created a new organisation that was able to incorporate also Italy and Germany. The core objectives of the WEU were defined as follows:
- To create a firm basis for European economic recovery in Western Europe;
- To offer mutual assistance to member countries in resisting any policy of external aggression;
- To promote unity and encourage positive integration in Europe.
In case of an armed attack on a signature state in Europe, the solidarity and military assistance clause (Article V) in the amended Brussels Treaty obliged the other signature states to ‘afford the Party so attacked all the military and other aid and assistance in their power’, ‘in accordance with the provisions of Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations’.
When the economic and social competencies were gradually handed over to the European Communities, the Council of Europe and other bodies, the WEU became an organisation dealing purely with defence matters, although the implementation of Art.V was de facto left to NATO, to which all WEU members belonged.
Between 1954 and 1984, the WEU was mostly used as a forum for consultation and discussion, making significant contributions to the dialogue on European security and defence. In 1984, following a joint meeting by the defence and foreign ministers of WEU states in Rome, a declaration was made that is widely perceived to represent a ‘reactivation’ of the WEU. The declaration affirms that the WEU should broaden its scope, widening the focus from internal European matters to consider the potential implications of crises in other regions for European security.
In November 1988, a Protocol of Accession was signed by the WEU Member States with Portugal and Spain. The ratification process, completed in March 1990, expanded the WEU membership to nine. With the end of the Cold War, the WEU continued to enlarge. In 1991, at Maastricht, WEU members invited EU Member States to accede to the WEU or to gain observer status. Greece became the tenth Member State in 1995 on the basis of a special understanding, with Ireland and subsequently Austria, Finland, Sweden and Denmark becoming Observers upon their accession to the EU. Simultaneously, other European members of NATO (Iceland, Norway and Turkey) were invited to become Associate Members of the WEU, which they accepted. An additional status of Associate Partner was created in Kirchberg, (Luxembourg) in May 1994, allowing the ten new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe which had signed a Europe Agreement with the European Union to participate in the activities of the WEU: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
In November 1989, the WEU Ministerial Council decided to create a WEU Institute for Security Studies in Paris, France. The primary goals of the institute were to promote and raise awareness of a European security identity through academic research and seminars. Two years later, the council decided to set up a WEU Satellite Centre in Madrid, Spain. The centre’s mission was to provide analysis of satellite images and collateral data to support decision-making.
Following the renewed determination to develop the operational capabilities of the WEU, the organisation launched operations which included:
- A minesweeping operation in the Strait of Hormuz, (Operation Cleansweep) - 1987/1988;
- A joint naval operation with NATO in the Adriatic Sea, (Operation Sharp Guard) - June 1993/ October 1996;
- A police and customs operation with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on the Danube - June 1993/October 1996;
- A police contingent in Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina - July 1994/October 1996;
- A Multinational Advisory Police Element in Albania (MAPE) - May 1997/May 2001;
- A Demining Assistance Mission to Croatia (WEUDAM) - May 1999/November 2001;
- A general security surveillance mission in Kosovo - November 1998/July 1999.
In late 2000, at the WEU Ministerial Council in Marseille (France), the Member States agreed to transfer the organisation’s capabilities and functions to the EU. Following two distinct Council Joint Actions, on 1 January 2002, the Western European Union Institute for Security Studies and the Satellite Centre became the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) and the European Union Satellite Centre (EUSC) respectively. In turn, the establishment of the European Defence Agency (EDA) in 2004 built on the foundations laid by the armament organisation and group within the WEU.
Following the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon, which containes a mutual assistance clause, all functions of the WEU had effectively been incorporated into the EU. Consequently, the organisation was closed down on 30 June 2011.