The EU defence affairs, the future challenges of the European security

“[…] A Europe that protects; […] a Europe that defends at home and abroad […]” is a statement by President Juncker during the State of the Union Address in 2016.[1] External factors such as the rise and partial decline of DAESH in the MENA region, the terroristic threat, the Syrian instability, the migrants flow towards Europe are impacting on Europe.

While the political instability of EU Member States is mostly in the hands of national governments, the protection of the European borders needs to be implemented at a common level, through common policies and measures. Such actions have already begun to be undertaken by ad hoc European bodies in an international framework, focusing on a global strategy in the field of security and defence, based on the willingness of strengthening the relations with NATO, and allowing Member States to jointly develop defence capabilities.[2]

In front of the European Union there are challenges at the stakes. The most important and basic one is the need to lay the foundation for a European security and defence union.

Without making references to the past attempt to the creation of a European Defence Community in 1954, and later failure in discussing the need of a unified defence community for the EU Member States, we can certainly recall December 2016, when the EU leaders agreed on a plan for the implementation of the already existent Common Foreign and Security Policy. Among the priorities discussed in this context, the protection of the EU and its citizens and the ability to respond to external conflicts and crises sounded fundamental to mention. The following steps have been the setup, last year, of a Common Defence Fund, in order to finance and support joint research and development, the establishment of the first single command centre for EU military training, as well as the launch of Centre of Excellence to improve the EU capacity to address hybrid threats.[3] The implementation of a plan on security and defence just set the right path for the development of a common security and defence policy. The Implementation Plan on Security and Defence has being built on the EU Global Strategy for foreign and security Policy put in place in June 2016. The plan focuses on the objective of raising the ambition of the European Union’s security and defence policy. This plan led to the set of concrete actions to fulfill the three main strategic priorities derived from the Global Strategy, such as responding to external conflicts and crises, buildin the capacity of partners to respond and protecting the European Union and its citizens through external action. The setting up of these actions requires the cooperation with international partners, such as NATO. [4]

More recently, on June 2017, the EU leaders agreed to launch a more structured cooperation to strengthen Europe’s security and defence, leading to the 11 December 2017, when the Council established the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), in which all Member States are taking part, except for Denmark, Malta, and the United Kingdom.[5]. The PESCO is not a new structure since it was introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, where it has been foreseen that the EU Member States should have worked together permanently on the issues regarding security and defence. In addition to this, it is important also to highlight that the integration of the military planning by the EU governments is accompanied by an operations and weapons development, that will rely on a €5 billion fund.

This new initiative seems to be the start of a more integrated union also on the defence side, although establishing the PESCO did not solve other issues related to the future of the European Security: many other challenges can influence the future progresses of the setup of a unified defence system for Europe.

Firstly, it is necessary to say that several internal issues in the EU are characterising the work of the Union and the various projects, challenging also the structure of the Union itself. Just to mention few of them, the slow reprise from the economic crisis, the rise of a new nationalism and the political movements that claims for independence are threatening the security and stability of Europe.

In addition to these issues, one is fundamental: the lack of leadership and of a common strategic vision. Together with the rise of anti-EU feelings and ‘Eurosceptics,’ getting far and taking substantial decision on sensitive topic become hard.[6]

In this scenario, Member States must deepen cooperation and integration to guarantee Europe a common defence and security, that would position Europe on the global scene as the main actor of the international politics. One of the peculiarities of the Union, as well as his strength, is the importance of speaking with one voice, merging the decision of 27 Member States: this must be at the basis for future steps and the implementation of a common security.

Europe should complement NATO role for the single Member States, ensuring protection of the European territory, guaranteeing resilience and protection against different threats. To achieve this, the EU and NATO signed a joint declaration to reinforce their cooperation in seven strategic areas, such as hybrid threats, maritime issues, cyber security, capacity building, etc. On December 2017, the Council endorsed a series of proposals for concrete actions in areas, such as counter-terrorism, women and gender, peace and security and military mobility. [7]

Thus, it is important to put at the centre of the Union security the national security interests to create a connection with all European interests.

The light amelioration of the European economy in the last year is transforming European societies: today, according to recent data, Europe is proving to be able to create inclusive growth and to realise a political stability that has consequences on the social side. [8]

Considering this important aspect and the challenges that Europe needs to face, what is the future for European security? Some scenarios have been studied and included in the White Paper on the future of Europe (2017). The options are the following:

  • Carry on. This means that, as for the security aspect, Europe would concentrate its strength in fighting terrorism and following the needs of the national authorities, improving defence cooperation and allowing Member States to put on the table their military capabilities and to contribute to a better financial solidarity for abroad missions.
  • Nothing but the single market. This would mean reducing the role of the Union exclusively to economic issues. Tasks that are now in the hands of the Union would go, then, back in the hands of national governments.
  • Those who want more do more. This option would see each Member State decide if how much they intend to cooperate on specific issues, such as security. This would lead to the implementation of a joint defence industry with an increase in the time of reaction for missions abroad. In this case, it can be foreseen a partial fragmentation of the Union on several topics and the return in the hands of national governments of some decisions.
  • Doing less, more efficiently. This option would impact on security, increasing the cooperation among States regarding the border management, asylum policies, and counter-terrorism. In this context, the creation of a European Defence Union would be possible.
  • Doing much more, more together. The subject of defence and security would be prioritised and a European Defence Union would be created. The cooperation with NATO would be more pursued and Europe will actually speak and act as one.[9]

This last option is the one towards Europe is trying to heading now. Today, on defence subjects has been fund a point of contact among Member States, and the results of December 2017 have been an important step forward for the future of the Union itself. If the wave of nationalism in Europe will be drastically contained, there are high chances that the option of doing much more, more together will become reality. This would mean that Member States will continue to contribute to NATO as single and to rely on the European Union as whole, and would also guarantee an important role in foreign policy for the Union, recognised primarily as unified body.

To see which one of the scenarios presented above will become real, a deadline has been fixed for 2025.



[1] European Commission (2016, September 14). Speech State of the Union Address 2016: Towards a better Europe – a Europe that protects, empowers and defends. Available at

[2] European Commission (2017, June 7). Reflection paper on the future of European defence. Available at

[3] European External Action Service (2017, November 13). The EU strengthens cooperation on security and defence. Available at

[4] European External Action Service (2017, November 13). Implementation Plan on Security and Defence. Available at

[5] European Council (2017, December 19). EU cooperation on security and defence. Available at

[6] Archick, K. (2017, February). The European Union: Current Challenges and Future Prospects. Congressional Research Service. Federation of American Scientists. Available at

[7] European External Action Service (December 2017, 5). Defence cooperation: Council adopts conclusions on EU-NATO cooperation, endorsing common set of new proposals for further joint work. Available at        

[8] European Policy Strategy Centre (2018, January). Europe is back. Economic, Financial, Social and Technological Trends in a Changing World. Available at

[9] European Commission (2017, March). White Paper on the future of Europe. Available at

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