You are here

Stagnation of the ESDP

01 February 2002

"Revolutionary", it was called, the development of EU defence after the famous Franco-British summit in St-Malo, early December 1998. In the period from St-Malo to Nice, we witnessed the creation of an elaborate and well-functioning EU defence institutional framework, working out EU defence policy. Simultaneously Headline, capability and Police goals were set in order to create a pool of forces and other tools available to back up such policy.
Seen from this perspective, 2002 made a rather disappointing start. Admittedly, much time and effort are needed to implement the multitude of proposals and initiatives that flowed from Cologne, Helsinki and Feira and which were formalised at Nice. However, one cannot escape the impression, and not for the first time in EU history, that institutional arrangements are tackled first and extensively, whilst more political will and resources are needed in more crucial fields, in this case foremost assets and capabilities.
Insufficient additional financial resources have been provided by member states and therefore only about half of the agreed-on projects for strengthening defence capacities were accomplished in 2001 and mostly the easier ones. Successful exceptions comprise the creation of an Airlift Coordination Cell, the European Amphibious Initiative, the A400M (hopefully), increased cooperation among France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Finland on, among others, air-to-air refuelling and Search and Rescue (SAR) as well as British, German, French and Italian cooperation on Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) capabilities. Overall, however, interest but especially faith has been fading in some countries regarding realisation of the goals. Clearly, the momentum of the embarrassing European track record in Kosovo seems to be disappearing.
Then came the horrifying events of 11 September 2001. Not only does it largely de-rail the ESDP plans (strategy, goals, geographic limits and character of possible operations, military and civil means, etc) but international anti-terrorism coalition-building and the military campaign in Afghanistan has put "EU commonality" under significant strain, putting the CFSP/ESDP acquis in danger. Possible contributions by EU member states to the US campaign increased the struggle within the EU, between the "haves" and the "have-nots". This in turn has negated the pragmatic leadership that was very slowly developing in Europe in the fields of security and foreign affairs, with the trilateral tête-à-tête in Ghent and the semi-War Council in Downing Street as the worst examples. And finally, we are faced with EU political apathy.
The events of 11 September should have been exploited to the fullest at a moment when public opinion would have supported more expenditure for better defence. The terrorist attacks also provided the best pretext (for once) for the EU to act at 15 as every EU member state condemned the attacks. It is unlikely that any other future crisis, unless a similar one, is going to provoke such a consensus among the EU member states.
Indeed, the EU has been very active in promoting a judiciary and economic counter-terrorism policy. Important steps were taken such as more anti-terrorist specialists under Europol and more counter-terrorist cooperation among member states through joint investigation teams, COTER, the Working Party on Terrorism and the Working Party on NBC and EU-coordinated civil protection measures.
However, a proposal to push for increased national spending on the ESDP in the wake of the terrorist attacks was rejected on 12 October 2001, during the informal Defence Ministers meeting in Brussels. No revision of the Headline Goal or reconsideration of the Petersberg tasks are planned either and no consensus has been reached on a suggestion to include the fight against terrorism as an ESDP mission. The Declarations of the Police Capabilities Conference and the Capabilities Improvement Conference, issued on 19/20 November 2001, did not even contain one word on 11 September.
What does this mean? Do we really need a direct terrorist attack on an EU member state before serious action will be undertaken and resources provided? Has experience thus far in equipping Europe not shown clearly enough, that progress is very slow and that waiting for the "moment suprême" is too dangerous because it will be too late to develop the necessary means?
The 11 September disaster has revealed the disparity and broadness of threats. Far more instruments are needed in effectively countering any of these threats than have even been discerned thus far. 11 September also showed the vulnerability not only of the US but also of the rest of the world. Security and defence have now become global and thus the European focus on its "near abroad" looks increasingly anachronistic. Counter-terrorism should become a legitimate part of the ESDP, with a global focus and increased emphasis on crisis prevention. As is widely recognised, the EU has the potential to play a significant role here, especially as regards the broadness of its gamut of instruments, not least economic, and fill a gap in this "redefined security" in this "reconfigured strategic environment".
The Laeken Declaration on the Future of the European Union, annexed to the Laeken Presidency Conclusions, talks of the essence of "the EU acting as a power resolutely doing battle against all violence, all terror and all fanaticism" and proposes updating the Petersberg tasks. Hopefully this will at least comprise all aspects mentioned before, strategy, goals, geographic limits and character of operations, military and civil means. This means acquiring the necessary military and civilian tools as well as more financial input: in short, the EU still needs to decide if it wants to exist or not as an international actor.