Common Security and Defence Policy

The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) sets the framework for EU political and military structures and military and civilian missions and operations abroad. The 2016 EU Global Strategy lays out the strategy for the CSDP, while the Lisbon Treaty clarifies the institutional aspects and strengthens the role of the EP. The CSDP has recently undergone major strategic and operational changes. It is continuing to evolve to meet security challenges and popular demand for increased EU responses.

Legal basis

The Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) is an integral part of the Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)[1]. The CSDP is framed by the Treaty on European Union (TEU). Article 41 outlines the funding of the CFSP and CSDP, and the policy is further described in Articles 42 to 46, in Chapter 2, Section 2 of Title V (‘Provisions on the Common Security and Defence Policy’), and in Protocols 1, 10 and 11 and Declarations 13 and 14. The particular role of the European Parliament in the CFSP and CSDP is described in Article 36 of the TEU.

Treaty provisions for the CSDP

Decisions relating to the CSDP are taken by the European Council and the Council of the European Union (Article 42 TEU). They are taken by unanimity, with some notable exceptions relating to the European Defence Agency (EDA, Article 45 TEU) and permanent structured cooperation (PESCO, Article 46 TEU), to which majority voting applies. Proposals for decisions are normally made by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who also acts as Vice-President of the European Commission (the HR/VP, currently Federica Mogherini).

The Lisbon Treaty introduced the notion of a European capabilities and armaments policy (Article 42(3) TEU), though this has yet to be framed. It also established a link between the CSDP and other Union policies by requiring that the EDA and the Commission work in liaison when necessary (Article 45(2) TEU). This concerns in particular the Union’s research, industrial and space policies, for which Parliament was empowered to seek to develop a much stronger role regarding the CSDP than it had in the past.

Role of the European Parliament

Parliament has the right to scrutinise the CSDP and to take the initiative of addressing the HR/VP and the Council on it (Article 36 TEU). It also exercises authority over the policy’s budget (Article 41 TEU). Twice a year, Parliament holds debates on progress in implementing the CFSP and the CSDP, and adopts reports: one on the CFSP, drafted by the Committee on Foreign Affairs and including elements relating to the CSDP where necessary; and one on the CSDP, drafted by the Subcommittee on Security and Defence.

Since 2012 the European Parliament and the Member States’ national parliaments have organised two inter-parliamentary conferences each year to debate matters relating to the CFSP. Inter-parliamentary cooperation in these areas is provided for by Protocol 1 to the Lisbon Treaty, which describes the role of the national parliaments in the EU.

Innovations in the Lisbon Treaty have provided an opportunity to improve the political coherence of the CSDP. The HR/VP occupies the central institutional role, chairing the Foreign Affairs Council in its ‘Defence Ministers configuration’ (the EU’s CSDP decision-making body) and directing the EDA. The political framework for consultation and dialogue with Parliament is evolving in order to allow Parliament to play a full role in developing the CSDP. Under the Lisbon Treaty, Parliament is a partner in shaping the Union’s external relations and addressing the challenge described in the 2008 Report on the Implementation of the European Security Strategy. That report states: ‘Maintaining public support for our global engagement is fundamental. In modern democracies, where media and public opinion are crucial to shaping policy, popular commitment is essential to sustaining our commitments abroad. We deploy police, judicial experts and soldiers in unstable zones around the world. There is an onus on governments, parliaments and EU institutions to communicate how this contributes to security at home.’

Issues of interest to the European Parliament

Parliament examines developments in the CSDP in terms of institutions, capabilities and operations, and ensures that security and defence issues respond to concerns expressed by the EU’s citizens. Deliberations, hearings and workshops are held regularly, devoted to topics including: civilian and military CSDP missions, international crises with security and defence implications, multilateral frameworks for security, arms control and non-proliferation issues, the fight against terrorism and organised crime, good practices to improve the effectiveness of security and defence, and EU legal and institutional developments in these fields.

Following the HR/VP’s 2010 declaration on political accountability, Parliament participates in Joint Consultation Meetings (JCMs) held on a regular basis to exchange information with the Council, the EEAS and the Commission. Given the key role that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) plays in underwriting European security, Parliament participates in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly with a view to developing the EU-NATO relationship while respecting the independent nature of both organisations.

CSDP in 2015/2016 – a policy in rapid evolution

While the CSDP did not change substantially in the first few years following the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009, it has great potential to evolve, both politically and institutionally. The principal achievements of the CSDP up to 2014 have been the consolidation of related EU structures under the aegis of the EEAS, and the Council’s definition of the EDA’s statute, seat and operational rules, as provided for in Article 45(2) TEU.

Parliament has taken the lead in scrutinising the advancement of the CSDP and analysing the policy’s setbacks. Parliament has also been urging the Council and the Member States to improve the policy’s effectiveness.

Recognising the need to provide a strategic impetus for heads of state or government, the European Council set a number of initial targets in December 2013 to advance the CSDP. It focused on three areas: increasing the effectiveness and impact of the CSDP; enhancing the development of defence capabilities; and strengthening Europe’s defence industry. It also tasked the HR/VP and the Commission with making an assessment of the impact of changes in the global environment of the EU, with a view to reporting on the challenges and opportunities arising for the Union, in particular in terms of security developments.

To maintain momentum on these issues, the European Council had asked the HR/VP to report on the state of implementation of the targets set in the December 2013 Council conclusions, and to make initial proposals for the way forward. At the European Council of 25 and 26 June 2015, the HR/VP was tasked with drafting an ‘EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy’ ahead of the European Council in June 2016. The Council reconfirmed the three main CSDP targets fixed in 2013. While recent developments seem to be moving things in this direction, political will and coherent and sustained initiatives are required to address the required enhancements to the CSDP. Parliament has, for its part, demonstrated its will to act and to pursue political initiatives in this field. As a first practical outcome, Parliament proposed funding a pilot project on CSDP research from the EU’s 2015 budget, implying that, for the first time, EU funds would be transferred to the EDA to conduct research on military requirements.

The EU Global Strategy, CSDP and the European Parliament

The Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy (EUGS) was presented to the European Council by HR/VP Mogherini on 28 June 2016. With its emphasis on security, its ambition for strategic autonomy and its principled yet pragmatic approach to Europe’s environment, the EUGS signifies an important change of philosophy from the 2003 European Security Strategy. The strategy identifies five priorities for EU foreign policy: the security of the Union; state and societal resilience to the East and South of the EU; the development of an integrated approach to conflicts; cooperative regional orders; and global governance for the 21st century.

In order to give effect to the new strategy, the EU will revise existing sectoral strategies and devise and implement new thematic or geographical strategies in line with the EUGS’s priorities. These will include a sectoral strategy specifying the EU’s civilian-military level of ambition, tasks, requirements and capability priorities. Member States welcomed the EUGS, and in July 2016 stated their readiness to continue the work in the implementation phase. To ensure a solid follow-up, the implementation of the Global Strategy will be reviewed annually in consultation with the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament.

On 14 November 2016, the Council was presented with an ‘Implementation Plan on Security and Defence’, intended to operationalise the vision set out in the EUGS with regard to defence and security issues. To match the new level of ambition, the Plan sets out 13 proposals which encompass a coordinated annual review of defence spending, a better EU rapid response, including through the use of EU Battlegroups, and a new single Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) for those Member States willing to undertake higher commitments on security and defence. In December 2016, the European Council endorsed the Implementation Plan and praised the new level of ambition. Moreover, the Council Conclusions called on the HR/VP to present concrete proposals on the development of civilian and military capabilities, on the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence, on the establishment of a permanent operational planning and conduct capability at the strategic level, on PESCO, and on the EU’s rapid response tools (e.g. EU Battlegroups). These proposals should be delivered in the first half of 2017.

The European Council reviewed progress in March 2017 at a ‘jumbo’ Foreign Affairs and Defence Council. The Council conclusions highlighted the establishment of the military planning and conduct capability (MPCC), a new structure to improve the EU’s capacity to react in a faster, more effective and more seamless manner, for the planning and conduct of non-executive military missions. They also take note of progress in other areas, including: the possibility of permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) as an inclusive, modular system allowing Member States to collaborate further in the area of security and defence on a voluntary basis; the possibility of a Member State-driven coordinated annual review on defence (CARD), which would establish a process for obtaining a better overview at EU level of issues such as defence spending and national investment as well as defence research efforts, thus better identifying and addressing shortfalls; and ongoing work in other areas, such as strengthening the EU’s rapid response toolbox, including the EU Battlegroups and civilian capabilities, capacity-building in support of security and development, situational awareness and defence capability development. 

The Council also noted the progress made in implementing the common set of proposals for EU-NATO cooperation after the Joint EU-NATO Declaration of July 2016 on cooperation, and of the Commission’s European Defence Action Plan. The EU Council will provide further strategic guidance in June 2017.

For its part, Parliament has continued to call for strengthened cooperation between EU Member States in the area of defence, as well as for the full implementation of the Lisbon Treaty as far as security and defence are concerned. In particular, in its resolution on CSDP implementation, Parliament noted ‘the ongoing initiatives, which should be followed through with concrete measures at the December 2016 European Council on Defence’. It requested sufficient funding and coordinated investments in the areas of security and defence. Last but not least, in a November 2016 resolution on a European Defence Union, Parliament called for a political decision to be made as far as implementing the Lisbon Treaty’s potential was concerned, identifying PESCO and crisis management capacity as key concrete elements of such a step forward. Parliament ‘encourage[d] the European Council to lead the progressive framing of a common Union defence policy and to provide additional financial resources to ensure its implementation’.

Parliament will continue to act at its level and within its competences to prompt and help achieve the EU’s objectives as a security provider in an effective and visible manner, as requested by EU citizens.

[1]See Title V (‘General Provisions on the Union’s External Action and Specific Provisions on the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP)’) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU); see also 6.1.1 on the EU’s foreign policy.

Jérôme Legrand