EU defence: how Parliament wants to boost cooperation 


Faced with an unpredictable world, the EU is keen to boost defence in Europe. Discover how Parliament is helping to deliver on security.

MEPs call on EU countries to cooperate more on defence ©AP Images/European Union - EP  

68% of Europeans would like the EU to do more on security and defence policy, according to a Eurobarometer survey from March 2017.

While EU countries remain responsible for their defence and security - check out our fact sheets on the Common Security and Defence Policy and Foreign Policy - the European parliament has been a consistent and outspoken supporter of more cooperation on defence between EU countries for years. According to MEPs EU countries should show political commitment, increase investment, share information, pool resources and create synergies at EU level in order to better protect Europeans. These effortswould allow to create synergies, avoid duplications and increase efficiency to the benefit of all 28 EU countries without leading to the creation of a European army.

Enabling economies of scale

The EU is the world’s second largest spender on defence: in 2016 the US spent €546 billion in current prices, the 28 EU countries spent €206 billion, while the next biggest spender was China with €131 billion.  MEPs have been urging EU countries to increase expenditure on defence to 2% of their country's gross domestic product, but of course investment alone is not enough. EU countries waste an estimated €26.4 billion every year because of duplication in defence spending, overcapacity and barriers to defence procurement. Parliament has been calling on EU countries to purchase defence resources jointly and thereby benefit from economies of scale. In a resolution on the European defence union adopted in 2016,  MEPs identify ways for member states to pool capabilities, establish multinational forces and set up an EU headquarters to plan and command crisis management operations. This would allow the EU to react faster and more robustly to security threats.

Investment for defence research

The economic crisis caused defence budgets to drop sharply as did investment in related research and development. Parliament sees collaborative research projects as a solution. The EU budget could be used to support EU countries working together. To maximise the output and the efficiency of defence spending, the European Commission came up with the European Defence Action Plan and the European Defence Fund in November 2016. MEPs have welcomed these initiatives as good ways for the EU to add value and support the financing of measures commonly agreed by member states.

Improving cooperation

Parliament has been keen to make the most of the legal possibilities offered by the Treaty of Lisbon. MEPs concluded in a resolution on the EU's common security and defence policy adopted in March that the tools are in place but  that political will is needed to increase defence cooperation in the EU. Parliament would like to reinforce the status and the funding of the European Defence Agency (EDA), make full use of the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PeSCo) and make the EU Battlegroup system a part of it.

Another weak point that Parliament would like to address is the plethora of different weapon systems in the EU, making it more difficult for countries to work together. MEPs have  suggested that defence ministers could meet in a separate Council formation to better synchronise their planning and carry out a Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD).

  • The ability of different military organisations to conduct joint operations. Weak interoperability slows down the capacity to intervene 

More Nato or closer cooperation between EU countries?

Geopolitical shifts in the EU's neighbourhood, together with terrorism, cyber-attacks and energy insecurity make it clear that no EU country can face these challenges alone. Both the Treaty on the EU (article 42.7) and Nato (article 5) foresee a mutual defence clause. Although MEPs advocate “strategic autonomy” at EU level, in Parliament’s view, a European defence union would strengthen the EU’s partnership with Nato and should be developed in this spirit.

Parliament also underlined the need for further reflection on future relations between the EU and UK, particularly in the field of military capabilities. However, Parliament's position on the Brexit negotiations adopted on 6 April warned against any trade-off between security and the future EU-UK economic relationship

Debate on the future of European integration

The Commission is publishing five reflection papers until the end of June as a starting point for a debate on the future of European integration. Each paper is dedicated to a specific theme: Europe’s social dimension, globalisation, the economic and monetary union, defence and finances. The papers contain ideas and scenarios for what Europe could be like in 2025, but no specific proposals. The initiative finishes in mid-September when Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker delivers his annual state of the union address.