Common security and defence policy

The common security and defence policy (CSDP) is an integral part of the EU’s common foreign and security policy (CFSP). The CSDP is the main policy framework through which Member States can develop a European strategic culture of security and defence, address conflicts and crises together, protect the Union and its citizens, and strengthen international peace and security. As a result of the tense geopolitical context, the CSDP has been one of the fastest developing policies over the last 10 years. Since 24 February 2022, the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine has acted as a geopolitical reset for Europe and created further impetus for what should become an EU Defence Union.

Legal basis

The CSDP is described in the Treaty of Lisbon, also known as the Treaty on European Union (TEU), which entered into force in 2009.

More specifically, the workings of the CSDP are explained in Title V (General provisions on the Union’s external action and specific provisions on the common foreign and security policy), Chapter 2 (Specific provisions on the common foreign and security policy), Section 2 (Provisions on the common security and defence policy) of the Treaty of Lisbon. Section 2 comprises five articles: Articles 42 to 46.

The role of the European Parliament in the CFSP and the CSDP is defined in Title V, Chapter 2, Section 1 (Common provisions) and Article 36, and the funding arrangements for both policies is set out in Article 41.

The CSDP is further described in amendments to the Treaty of Lisbon, mainly Protocols No 1 (on the role of national parliaments in the European Union), 10 (on Permanent Structured Cooperation established by Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union) and 11 (on Article 42 of the Treaty on European Union), as well in Declarations 13 (Declaration concerning the common foreign and security policy) and 14 (Declaration concerning the common foreign and security policy).


The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who also acts as the Vice-President of the European Commission (VP/HR), occupies the central institutional role. Since December 2019, Joseph Borrell has been the VP/HR. He chairs the Foreign Affairs Council in its Defence Ministers configuration, which is the decision-making body for the CSDP. He is in charge of presenting CSDP proposals to Member States. The VP/HR is the head of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the director of the European Defence Agency (EDA).

The European Council and the Council of the European Union take decisions relating to the CSDP by unanimity (Article 42 of the TEU). Some notable exceptions are decisions relating to the EDA (Article 45 of the TEU) and Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO, Article 46 of the TEU), for which qualified majority voting applies.

The Treaty of Lisbon introduced a European capabilities and armaments policy (Article 42(3) of the TEU) and established that the EDA and the Commission work in liaison when necessary (Article 45(2) of the TEU), most notably when it comes to the EU’s research, industrial and space policies.

In addition, Article 21 of the TEU recalled that multilateralism is at the core of the EU’s external action. Accordingly, EU partners can participate in CSDP missions and operations. The EU is committed to deeper coordination and cooperation within various multilateral frameworks, in particular with the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but also with other regional bodies such as the African Union.


Since the Treaty of Lisbon, the CSDP has evolved significantly, both politically and institutionally.

In June 2016, VP/HR Federica Mogherini presented the ‘EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy’ (EUGS) to the European Council, a document setting out the CSDP strategy. Five priorities were identified: 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. The implementation of the EUGS should be reviewed annually in consultation with the Council, the Commission and Parliament.

In November 2016, the VP/HR also presented to the Council an ‘Implementation Plan on Security and Defence’ to operationalise the EUGS’s vision. The plan set out 13 proposals, including a coordinated annual review on defence (CARD) and a new single PESCO arrangement for the Member States willing to commit further on security and defence.

In parallel, Ms Mogherini presented a European Defence Action Plan (EDAP) to the Member States, with key proposals relating to the creation of a European Defence Fund (EDF) that focuses on defence research and capability development. These have been implemented over the last few years.

In June 2021, the EU launched a reflection on the future of European security and defence. This process led to the creation of the Strategic Compass, a policy document which lays down the EU’s security and defence strategy for the next 5-10 years. The Strategic Compass provides a framework of action for the development of a shared vision in the field of security and defence. The document was developed in three steps: a threat analysis, a structured strategic dialogue and further development and revision before adoption. The VP/HR Josep Borrell presented the initial version of the document to a joint session of EU Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers in November 2021.

However, in the context of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine (24 February 2022), the paper had to be significantly altered to take into account the destabilisation of the European security order and the subsequent change in the EU’s stance, ambitions and tools in the realm of defence. The third revision of the Strategic Compass integrated the Commission’s contribution to European defence (communication of 15 February 2022), while the fourth revision reflected the Versailles Declaration (10-11 March2022). On 24-25 March 2022, during the French Presidency of the Council, the European Council endorsed the final version of the Strategic Compass. The main objective of the Strategic Compass is to provide political guidance for the operationalisation of ‘strategic autonomy’ in four notable areas: crisis management, resilience, capabilities and partnerships. The process is designed to address the growing need for the EU to be able to act as a security provider.

Crisis management missions and operations are the most visible and tangible expressions of the CSDP. The Strategic Compass addresses the EUGS’s gaps in crisis management tools and institutions, for example by creating a new EU Rapid Deployment Capacity. In the 2021 report on the implementation of the CSDP, Parliament expressed support for the proposed ‘rapid entry force’. The Strategic Compass also aims to provide coherent goals and objectives for other initiatives and relevant processes (such as PESCO, the EDF and CARD).

While Parliament did not have a direct role in the establishment of the Strategic Compass, it must be kept regularly informed of the level of implementation and given opportunities to express its opinions on the process, in particular during briefings to the Subcommittee on Security and Defence (SEDE). Through its own annual reports on the CSDP, the SEDE subcommittee assumes a de facto advisory role on the CSDP.

The CSDP toolbox

Since 2016, the CSDP has achieved a number of successes, including the launch of PESCO; a permanent command and control structure for planning and conducting non-executive military missions; the EDF; the Civilian CSDP Compact; a strategic review of the civilian dimension of the CSDP; and an off-budget European Peace Facility (EPF).

The first CARD report was presented to EU Defence Ministers in November 2020, with the EDA acting as the penholder. It identified 55 collaborative opportunities across the entire capability spectrum.

In December 2020, the Council reached a provisional political agreement with Parliament representatives on a regulation establishing the EDF, in the context of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) for 2021-2027. The allocated budget for 7 years is EUR 8 billion.

Through the EPF, the EU will fund the common costs of the military CSDP missions and operations, thereby enhancing burden sharing between the Member States. By reinforcing the capacities of peace support operations and the capacities of non-EU countries and partner organisations in military and defence matters, the EU will increase the effectiveness of its external action. As of August 2022, the EU has provided around EUR 2.5 billion in military assistance to Ukraine through the EPF to help fend off the Russian invasion.

CSDP missions and operations

Since 2003 and the first intervention in the Western Balkans, the EU has launched and run 37 operations and missions on three continents. As of March 2022, there are 18 ongoing CSDP missions and operations (11 civilian missions and 7 military operations, including 2 in the maritime domain). About 4 000 EU military and civilian staff are currently deployed abroad. The most recent missions and operations have supported security in the Central African Republic (EUAM RCA), enforced the UN arms embargo on Libya (EUNAVFOR MED IRINI) and helped stabilise the Cabo Delgado region (EUTM Mozambique). EU decisions to deploy missions or operations are normally taken at the request of the partner country and/or based on a UN Security Council resolution.

Role of the European Parliament

The European Parliament is supportive of EU defence integration and cooperation. Parliament scrutinises the CSDP and can take the initiative of addressing the VP/HR and the Council (Article 36 of the TEU). It also exercises scrutiny over the CSDP’s budget (Article 41 of the TEU). Twice a year, Parliament holds debates on the implementation of the CFSP and the CSDP and adopts reports: one on the progress of the CFSP, drawn up by the Committee on Foreign Affairs; and one on the progress of the CSDP, written by the SEDE subcommittee.

The 2021 annual report on the implementation of the CSDP was adopted in plenary in February 2022. It focuses on the development of the EU’s security and defence doctrine through the Strategic Compass, CSDP missions and operations, crisis management, resilience, capabilities, partnerships and parliamentary oversight of the CSDP. Indeed, the annual report stresses the need for Parliament to be regularly informed and consulted on the planning, modification and evaluation of CSDP missions and operations, as well as on PESCO. The annual report emphasises that Parliament is ‘determined to play its full role in scrutinising the Global Europe instrument, in particular its peace and security dimension, and in the implementation of the EDF’. It expresses the expectation that Parliament and the SEDE subcommittee will be regularly updated on the progress in implementing the Strategic Compass. The threat analysis, included in the Compass, should also be linked to parliamentary consultations. Moreover, the annual report calls for ‘regular and transparent evaluation’ of all CSDP missions and operations. In line with the role of Parliament as the pillar of democracy in the EU, the annual report indicates that Parliament would like to see the input of the wider public taken into account in the CSDP within the framework of the Conference on the Future of Europe, and the translation of citizen input into ‘proposals and actions’. To enhance the parliamentary aspect of European defence, the annual report supports the establishment of a security and defence committee in Parliament and an EU Council of Defence Ministers.

Since 2012, on the basis of Protocol 1 to the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament and the Member States’ national parliaments have organised two interparliamentary conferences per year to debate matters relating to the CFSP.

In general, the Treaty enables Parliament to play a full role in the development of the CSDP, thereby making it a partner in shaping the EU’s external relations and addressing security challenges. In order to fulfil this role, Parliament holds regular deliberations, hearings and workshops devoted to topics such as civilian and military CSDP deployments, international crises with security and defence implications, multilateral frameworks for security, arms control and non-proliferation issues, counter-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 VP/HR’s 2010 declaration on political accountability, Parliament has participated in Joint Consultation Meetings organised on a regular basis to exchange information with the Council, the EEAS and the Commission.

Parliament also asks questions and makes oral suggestions to the EEAS on the CSDP, in particular during SEDE subcommittee meetings.


Jérôme Legrand