Mainstream perspectives on the development of EU security and defence policy

The EU is usually not described as a security and defence actor, let alone a military power. The Economist (February 2, 2019, 21) writes that ‘Europeans still seem better at producing bureaucracy than battalions’, referring to the attempts of the EU to increase cooperation in defence as a ‘paper Euro-army’. Such an understanding of EU security and defence policy as underdeveloped and weak is widespread amongst media, scholars and practitioners alike.

Although from its early beginnings European integration was supposed to provide security and peace for Europe, security and defence initiatives never really took off. In 1954, the European Defence Community (EDC) failed because the French National Assembly declined to ratify the EDC Treaty. Instead, the Western European Union (WEU) was established as an intergovernmental organisation outside the European Community. It mainly served as a discussion forum for European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which was already set up in 1949 (Bretherton and Vogler 2005). In fact, some European states long rejected a stronger role for the EU in security and defence because it would question NATO and the involvement of the US in the defence of (Western) Europe. This is the position of the so-called ‘Atlanticists’ such as the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and Poland, whereas ‘Europeanists’ — Germany and France — have traditionally favoured the development of a European security and defence policy (Bretherton and Vogler 2005; Howorth 2014). Some scholars also took the position that the EU should stay a ‘civilian power’ (Bull 1982; Duchene 1972) and not develop military capabilities, presenting an alternative to classic military powers such as the US. The 1993 Maastricht Treaty introduced the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), which remained strictly intergovernmental (Howorth 2014).The treaty mentioned that the WEU would be an integral part of the EU. The same year, the WEU decided on the so-called Petersberg Tasks, including humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping, crisis management, peace-making, disarmament and military advice (Bretherton and Vogler 2005).

The perceived failure of the EU to act effectively during the war in the Balkans — the first war on the European continent since World War II — in the 1990s changed the discourse. According to Bretherton and Vogler (2005, 191), there was one clear lesson: ‘that a more robust approach to conflict management in the early stages would have been preferable to the EU’s exclusively civilian efforts’. The Treaty of Amsterdam (1999) incorporated the WEU and the Petersberg Tasks in CFSP, and created the function of a High Representative for CFSP. Next, in 1998, in response to the Kosovo conflict, France and the UK adopted the Saint-Malo declaration calling for a European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) enabling autonomous European military action. ‘Saint-Malo’ motivated the European Council in 1999 to adopt the Helsinki Headline Goal, which set out to have 60,000 troops deployable by 2003, and, in 2000, to adopt the Civilian Headline Goals, planning 5,000 police officers, 200 judges and prosecutors and civil protection teams of 2,000 people. In 2003, the EU launched its first military operation and published its first common foreign policy strategy, the European Security Strategy (ESS) (Howorth 2014). However, the EU remained careful to avoid presenting ESDI’ as a competitor of NATO. The Lisbon Treaty of 2009 introduced a mutual assistance clause, which stipulates that ‘[cjommitments and cooperation in this area shall be consistent with commitments under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which, for those States which are members of it, remains the foundation of their collective defence and the forum for its implementation’ (Article 42(7) TEU). Together with the EU’s solidarity clause (Article 222 TFEU), which clarifies that a member state that is the victim of a terrorist attack will get assistance from the other member states, the EU has established a norm of collective defence while acknowledging NATO’s dominant role. The Lisbon Treaty renamed ESDI’ into the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP); it strengthened it institutionally by creating the European External Action Service (EEAS) and introducing a double-hatted High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security (HR/VP) who chairs the Foreign Affairs Council and is Vice-President of the Commission (see Chappell in this volume). Although over time former‘Atlanticists’, such as the Netherlands and Poland, have “shifted from an exclusively pro-NATO stance to one in which positive benefits are seen to derive from both NATO and CSDP’ (Howorth 2014,120), CFSP remained a predominately intergovernmental policy in which only the Council decides, mostly by consensus or, if voted on at all, unanimously (Vanhoonacker and Pomorska 2017).

It was only in 2016 that member states agreed to new initiatives for cooperation in security and defence. In a changing international context with the election as President of Donald Trump in the US, an assertive Russia and Brexit on the horizon, EU leaders pushed for more cooperation and spending in CSDP. The reforms are part of the implementation of the Global Strategy, which argues that ‘as Europeans we must take greater responsibility for our security’, and that ‘while NATO exists to defend its members ... from external attacks, Europeans must be better equipped, trained and organised to contribute decisively to such collective efforts, as well as to act autonomously if and when necessary’ (European Union 2016, 19). In November 2016, the Council agreed on a ‘new level of ambition in security and defence’ (EEAS 2018). It established a European Defence Fund (EDF) for research and development in defence equipment and technologies managed by the newly created Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space (DG DEFIS). On November 13, 2017, ministers from 25 member states — except for the UK, Denmark and Malta — signed a joint notification on permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) and decided to jointly develop capabilities, invest in shared projects and enhance operational readiness and contribution of their armed forces. The EU also introduced the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), enabling member states to coordinate their defence spending. A European command centre named Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) was set up, currently ‘only’ for military training missions but meant for military operations in the future (Tocci 2018).

Overall, concerns about damaging the transatlantic relationship have lost some significance. While some of these initiatives, such as PESCO, build on past proposals, member states show a growing commitment to implementing them. For example, within two years the Council adopted 47 projects within PESCO, ranging from military training to developing military capabilities (European Union 2020). Similarly, EU defence ministers expressed their (financial) commitment to make use of the EU battlegroups, i.e. two rapid reaction forces of 1,500 personnel on standby, which were established in 2007 but so far never employed (EEAS 2017b).

Member states also increased their defence spending by 3.3% in 2018 and 4.6% in 2019 (Council of the EU 2019). In fact, in 2018 and 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a European army (The Economist, February 2, 2019). The context of perceived crisis has created a sense of urgency to act and ‘protect’ Europe (Hoijtink and Muehlenhoff 2020).

As indicated above, the mainstream literature has focused on assessing EU (lack of) actorness in security and defence (Hill 1993; Holland 1995), and arguing that the EU should become a more autonomous military actor (Howorth and Keeler 2006). EU normative power scholars have challenged this assessment (Bjorkdahl 2011; Manners 2006). Manners (2006,183) argued

that militarization of the EU need not necessarily lead to the diminution of the EU’s normative power, if critical reflection characterised the process. However, I will further argue that militarizing processes beyond the crossroads provided by the European Security Strategy are already weakening the normative claims of the EU in a post-11 September world characterised by the drive towards ‘martial potency’ and the growth of a Brusselsbased ‘military-industrial simplex’.

Yet, most mainstream scholars find that even the policies initiated since 2016 do not make the EU a ‘serious’ actor in security and defence. They welcome the EU Global Strategy with ‘one-and-half cheers’ (Dijkstra 2016,371) and argue that the EU has to do more (Biscop 2016).This literature fails to analyse the implications of stepping up security and defence (cf. Kurowska 2012). It pays no attention to how CSDP affects gender relations and people’s security in and outside Europe. Moreover, it ignores how security and defence policies re-inscribe or change gender roles in their institutions, discourses and policies. Feminist research has started to address this gap.

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