Security, Defence & Crisis Response

Questions and answers: Crisis Management basket – a background for the Strategic Compass

Brussels, 12/07/2021 - 13:47, UNIQUE ID: 210506_6

As the global security environment is deteriorating, the European Union and its Member States face an increasing number of complex threats and challenges. In order to respond to these adequately, there have been rapid developments to strengthen the EU in the field of security and defence. With a comprehensive set of defence initiatives that have been implemented since 2017, the EU has taken defence cooperation to a new level. As a credible actor and reliable partner, the EU now also needs to provide more clarity about its strategic goals. With the Strategic Compass, Member States have embarked on a journey to define what they want to be able to do to strengthen the EU, namely when it comes to responding to external crises, building the capacity of partners and protecting the Union and its citizens. Demonstrating the immense political will at the highest level, EU heads of state affirmed their commitment to and provided clear guidance on the Strategic Compass in their Conclusions in February 2021.

As indicated by the Council in June 2020, the Strategic Compass will define policy orientations and specific goals and objectives in four clusters: (1) crisis management, (2) resilience, (3) capability development, and (4) partnerships. These four dimensions are interconnected. It is crucial to set clear and ambitious goals across them, if we want the EU to become a more effective security provider, a more responsible and reliable partner. As the Strategic Compass is to provide political guidance for civilian and military planning processes, it should contain concrete proposals for action as well as timelines for implementation.

Member States have entrusted the High Representative with the task of acting as the penholder for this vital process. The role of the EEAS is therefore to structure and facilitate the debate amongst EU Member States as well as to draft the final document.

The first step in the process of developing the Strategic Compass was the presentation of an intelligence-based “comprehensive, 360 degrees” independent analysis of the full range of threats and challenges the EU currently faces or might face in the near future. For more information, about the Threat Analysis you can read this MEMO.

This memo explains the ongoing process for the formulation of the Strategic Compass.

How is the workflow on the Strategic Compass evolving?

The Threat Analysis presented to Member States in November 2020 showed that the EU needs to strengthen its collective capacity to respond to the threats and challenges it faces.

On that basis, EU Member States have a strategic dialogue to reflect on their ideas and proposals for each of the four baskets. This strategic dialogue phase kicked off in early 2021 with a first broad overview of key issues and questions (Scoping Paper) provided by the EEAS in February.

Until mid-2021, Member States will discuss their concrete ideas to strengthen our operational engagement, reinforce our resilience, develop the necessary capabilities and enhance our work with partners. We need to progress in all four areas in parallel. Workshops, organised by Member States and think tanks, will stimulate discussions between officials, academics, experts as well as ministers during this stage.

Based on Member States’ input, the EEAS presented in April and May three non-papers that focus on Crisis Management, Capabilities/Emerging and Disruptive Technologies and Partnerships. These internal non-papers have been prepared in close cooperation and consultation with the European Union Military Staff (EUMS), the European Commission and the European Defence Agency (EDA). They build on the Scoping Paper and focus on 1) how to improve the effectiveness and flexibility of the EU’s operational engagement as well as on how to enhance the readiness of Member States’ forces; 2) how to ensure that the EU has the necessary capabilities to act and protect itself; and 3) how to strengthen cooperation with partners, both international organisations and individual partner countries. A final non-paper on the aspects of resilience will follow.

What does this mean in practice?

Crisis Management

The EU’s operational engagement through its CSDP missions and operations contributes to build peace and security in different countries and regions affected by conflict and instability. They also enhance the security of the European Union and its citizens.

The Strategic Compass aims to further strengthen the EU’s role in crisis management, using the different instruments at its disposal in a coherent way, including the recently established European Peace Facility. It should set clear goals and objectives to enhance the effectiveness of the EU’s operational engagement and strengthen the collective readiness to react to future crises.

To improve the effectiveness of our operational engagement, for example, we need to think about possible incentives for the force generation as well as more flexible and robust mandates for our CSDP missions and operations.

We have made progress in that direction with EUTM Mali and Operation Atalanta by expanding their mandates. For Atalanta, for instance, in addition to the fight against piracy, the operation will now counter drug and arms trafficking. As regards Libya, Operation Irini has also been fulfilling a robust mandate since it was launched one year ago, inspecting vessels suspected to be in breach of the UN arms embargo.

We also need to improve the readiness of our military. The EU and its Member States should be ready to deploy rapidly in order to respond quickly to future crises through combat or stabilisation operations, as well as maritime or even an air operation, in line with the Level of Ambition that derives from the EU Global Strategy of 2016.

On the side of the civilian CSDP, it is equally important to intensify the implementation of the Compact adopted in 2018, for example by implementing the commitment undertaken by Member States to be able to deploy 200 personnel within 30 days.


Conflicts and crises unfold in highly complex and usually unpredictable ways. If the EU wants to make a credible contribution, it needs the necessary civilian and military capabilities to act quickly and decisively.

EU Member States have a single set of forces, which they can use in different frameworks. Both civilian and military capability planning requires clear political guidance. The Strategic Compass seeks to provide more specific goals and objectives for the planning and development of the required capabilities to implement the EU Level of Ambition. It also aims at deepening European cooperation in the development, planning and use of these civilian and military capabilities, with the aim to reduce fragmentation and increase interoperability.

As the Threat Analysis has highlighted negative trends in the international security situation and rapid technological developments, the EU needs to be much more ambitious and coordinated in maintaining its competitive edge and promoting technological sovereignty, especially in the area of autonomous systems and digital technologies. Examples include machine learning in order to facilitate better image analysis used for missions and operations, AI-supported decision-making based on sensors or hypersonic weapons. The level of cooperation and integration of the most advanced military technologies will determine whether Europeans will possess the means to independently pursue common security objectives.

It is therefore important for the EU to foster a coherent and long-term approach to address these challenges, for instance by scaling up investments in these technologies, ensuring synergies between civil, military and space industries and exploring the possibilities for cooperation with NATO.

What was the discussion on the Crisis Management basket about?

There are two main questions to answer i) how to improve the effectiveness and flexibility of our operational engagement (CSDP missions and operations) and ii) how to enhance the readiness of Member States’ forces so that the EU is better prepared and able to react swiftly to future crises.

Concerning the effectiveness and flexibility of the operational engagement, it contains proposals in the following areas:

  • Speeding up CSDP decision-making;
  • More robust/flexible mandates;
  • Train & Equip;
  • Flexibility;
  • Force Generation;
  • Strengthening cooperation between CSDP and Justice and Home Affairs;
  • Planning and Conduct.

To enhance the readiness of Member States’ forces, proposals have been made in the following areas:

  • Developing scenarios further: we need to give further guidance to our military on what kind of future crisis scenarios they need to be prepared for. Our threat analysis should be the basis for this work.
  • Putting it into practice: we currently have scenarios that are used for capability planning. This is useful for filling capability gaps. We also need serious scenarios for operational contingency planning: for example an initial entry operation, a stabilisation mission, a maritime or possibly an air interdiction operation. The armed forces can then use these scenarios for training and exercising together.

What will be discussed in the Capabilities basket?

The Strategic Compass should give clear guidance, provide political/strategic orientations and set clear objectives and goals to:

  • review the Union’s civilian and military capability needs in light of the evolving security situation and provide a coherent vision on the future military forces and civilian capacities, e.g. what do we need in order to have forces that can be deployed rapidly in a wide variety of crises and for different tasks, how can we ensure that these forces are resilient enough to deal with the impact of hybrid or cyber threats and what are the requirements for the EU’s civilian missions;
  • further deepen European cooperation in planning, developing, delivering and using these capabilities through the EU framework, looking at all the initiatives and tools we have already put in place to increase cooperation and to see how they can be connected in a more coherent and efficient manner in order to ensure that we have the right capabilities for the tasks at hand at the right time;
  • strengthen the European Technological and Industrial Base including in particular an enhanced common EU approach to emerging and disruptive technologies in the security and defence domain, taking into consideration what opportunities as well as risks new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence or the security of technology supply chains mean for the EU in the context of a changing geopolitical environment.

What are the next steps in the Strategic Compass?

Building on these discussions and the input provided by Member States, the High Representative will prepare a draft of the Strategic Compass to be presented to Ministers in the second semester of 2021 for discussion and guidance. The goal is for the Council to adopt the Strategic Compass in March 2022, in line with the Statement of the Members of the European Council of February 2021.

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