European Security and Defence Union: Myth or Reality?

After the publication on March 1, 2017 of the White paper on the future of Europe, European Commission launched a debate on the long-term development of the EU in various fields, including the social dimension, the impact of globalization, the economic and monetary union, a common security and defence policy and the future of the European financial system. It devotes separate reflection papers to each of the abovementioned areas, aimed at discussing possible scenarios at EU level.

On June 7, 2017 European Commission released a document entitled “The Future of European Defence”, which outlines the major trends and challenges in the field of common security and defence policy and also three scenarios of possible joint activities in this area. A number of strategic, political, economic and technological factors determines the need to increase cooperation between EU Member States in the field of common security and defence policy. Strategic factors include growing threat from the Russian Federation, terrorism and migration crisis, unstable political regimes in Africa and the Middle East as well as climate change, depletion of resources and demographic crisis that lead to conflict and instability around the world.

However, a changing nature of transatlantic partnership, stemming from new trends in US foreign policy under Trump administration, increases the responsibility of Europeans for their own security. Political factors relate primarily to the expectations of the EU citizens. According to numerous polls, security issues are the top priority for Europeans.

Among the economic and technological factors are the variety of weapon systems and their interoperability between different Member States, the mismatch in military spending to modern realities and the transformation of the nature and character of threats due to the technological progress. In particular, Member States have 17 types of battle tanks, 29 — destroyers/frigates and 20 — fighter jets, while the US 1 type of battle tanks, 4 — destroyers/frigates and 6 — fighter jets. The EU spends 1,34% of the GDP ($227 billion) on defence, while the US — 3,3% ($545 billion). Nowadays there are no clear boundaries between internal and external security of the country, given the rapid growth of non-traditional challenges, such as hybrid war, terrorism, cyber attacks, the use of chemical, biological and radiological weapons. Crimes in cyber space become a new frontline of a modern warfare.

European Commission’s reflection paper “The Future of European Defence” outlines three scenarios for possible common actions in the field of security and defence. They are the following: Security and Defence Cooperation (scenario #1), Shared Security and Defence (scenario #2) and Common Security and Defence (scenario #3). Under the first scenario cooperation in security and defence will be carried out mainly on voluntary basis, and decisions will be made based on the specific threat. EU Member States will not be obliged politically and legally to pursue a common policy in this area. The EU will continue to deploy small-scale civilian and military missions abroad, aimed primarily at security and defence capacity building of a country. The issue of combating terrorism and cyber threats will be addressed at the national level and in close cooperation with NATO. Comparing to the current level, the intensity of intelligence sharing between Member States, transparency of defence planning and research funding will be increased. On June 7, 2017 European Commission launched a European Defence Fund, aimed at promoting efficient spending of the Member States on military purposes and avoiding duplication in project financing.

Scenario #2 (“Shared Security and Defence”) provides for enhanced cooperation between Member States to facilitate greater financial and operational solidarity in the relevant field. The role of EU institutions in combating hybrid and cyber threats, terrorism, strengthening border control and energy security will be increased. The EU and NATO will strengthen their cooperation in the field of crisis management, conducting surveillance missions and raids against terrorist groups. EU’s civilian and military missions will play a prominent role in ensuring the stability of states in neighboring regions. Sharing intelligence to analyze and assess risks and threats will become systematic. It will also undertaken steps towards improving defence planning, interoperability of capabilities between EU Member States and joint military procurement with the support of the European Defence Fund.

Scenario #3 (“Common Security and Defence”) provides for the establishment of security and defence union under the auspices of the EU. According to the paragraph 2 of the article 42 of the Lisbon Treaty, EU’s common security and defence policy will lead to a common defence in case of the positive decision of the European Council. At the same time, it does not contradict the security and defence policy of certain Member State and their commitments within NATO. The common security and defence union would complement NATO and promote better protection of Europe against various forms of aggression. The EU will be able to deploy large-scale missions abroad, including operations against terrorist groups, naval expeditions and active confronting cyber-attacks. In close cooperation with intelligence services of the Member States monitoring and evaluation of security risks, planning for emergencies will be systematically carried out. The military forces of the Member States will be deeply integrated, being able to conduct joint military exercises. Decisions to deploy such kinds of missions will be taken at the EU level. The EU institutions will also coordinate the elaboration of strategies to counter threats in cyber-space due to the systematic exchange of information, technology and joint doctrines. The European Border and Coast Guard will be operating based on the European naval forces and reliable intelligence. The European Civil Security Service will be established to respond to natural and man-made disasters. The common defence market will be protected from external influences. Arms procurement will be funded from the EU budget. The European Agency for Defence Studies will promote the technological independence of the EU.

Thus, vulnerability and insecurity of the European Union in the face of modern threats and challenges can be explained by the low level of integration in the field of security and defence as well as weak coordination between Member States. The proposed reform scenarios for the future of European defence intend to strengthen the Union and adapt it to the modern realities. Disregard of such an important area as security and defence may have long-standing repercussions.

Viacheslav Holub

Expert, Foreign Relations and International Security Programmes

I was borned in 1990 in Pavlograd, Dnipropetrovsk region.


National university of Ostroh academy (2013). Specialization: master in international relations, political analyst, translator.

I have passed internships at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine (2011, 2013, 2014-2015), Committee of Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine on European Integration under Internship program at the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine administered by NGO “Intern’s League”.

Work experience:

October 2015 – August 2016 — public service at the State Agency on Energy Efficiency and Energy Saving of Ukraine.

August – December 2016 — expert in internal policy at the International Centre for Policy Studies.

From January 2017 — expert in foreign policy and international security programs at Razumkov Centre.