Following last December’s EU Summit and its conclusions on CSDP, the European Policy Centre (EPC), the Centro Studi sul Federalismo (CSF) and the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) hosted a policy dialogue on the prospects for European defence. A panel of practitioners and experts from EU institutions and research organisations discussed a wide range of issues but the main focus was on budget cuts and need for cooperation.
Discussion was started by Ciancarlo Chevallard (CSF) who reminded the audience that defence has always been sensible topic and was long kept out of the EU’s agenda but since the creation of CSDP, despite its modest means and limited structures, it has produced a number of successful missions. There is an increased need for cooperation as well coordination of civilian and military means in the EU’s disposal due to the financial crisis. A common defence policy and increased collaboration between national defence systems is necessary to optimise expenditure as well as the use of material and human resources. Pooling and sharing is a significant way to reduce costs but so far the progress in it has been slow. Due to the current duplication of equipment and programmes, critical savings can be easily achieved through cooperation which would also increase interoperability.
Majority of discussion circled around the impact of financial crisis on national military capabilities through budget cuts and how the need to be economical has influenced the debate on cooperation. Defence budgets are often the first ones to be cut as national military systems are seen as costly and as easy way to reduce expenditure. Vincenzo Camporini (IAI) emphasised that to maintain a capable military system in Europe in the current financial climate, integration is necessary. This will result in some countries having to give up certain capabilities and rely on others. There has been already been a decline in interoperability and modernisation has been slow. Defence ministries need to have open discussion to address the issue as even the largest member states cannot maintain complete self-sustainability.
Stefani Weiss, from Bertelsmann Stiftung, introduced her organisation’s research project that included a case study on the fiscal added value of integrating European land forces. She highlighted the fact that the European armies have to improve their efficiency and modernise and suggested that efforts should focus on pooling and sharing. From the research project, it was concluded that integration would be possible without reducing defence capability and there is a potential to save 3-9 billion euros per year already through salaries.
Budget cuts are driven by need for efficiency but before any cuts are made, the survival of vital resources to protect ourselves today as well as in the future needs to be ensured. Claude-France Arnould (EDA) stated that as long as the EU lacks a commander in chief, the integration of defence forces remains a hypothetical discussion. Until then there is a need for structures that support cooperation and respect sovereignty. Other panellist agreed that the certain level of defence capabilities is a must to provide security at home. Defence is not only about standing on the border waiting for the attack, it is also about security in normal society. If there is insecurity in our neighbourhood or beyond, for instance in the Balkans, it will create a threat to our society through a possible spill over effects. By sending armed forces to create peace to areas with instability, the EU can secure our own societies and that this is an important role for today’s armed forces. The increase demand for EU as a security provider, for instance in Africa, provides a pressure to deliver. With the United States wanting the EU to become more involved and carry its share of the burden, this is another factor contributing to the need to cooperate.
The December Council has set the agenda for the next two years, not just for Brussels but also for member states who must engage in the debate on CSDP development. Not all CSDP missions are big in terms of number of personnel but they have significant influence. Comprehensive approach gives EU an edge and if security and defence are kept on the agenda, results will be seen. There continues to be political will to deploy missions, with a decision already made on the operation in CAR and a civilian mission to Mali is in the talks.
During the questions from the audience, the panel was reminded of the value of defence even though it might not always be completely obvious. Peace and security are invaluable and governments need to understand this. He pointed out that the EU and NATO are duplicating things in their pooling and sharing processes as well as both having separate piracy operations in Somalia despite sharing a large number of members. This is an issue in the face of budget cuts, especially for those EU member states that also belong to NATO. There is a need to cooperate between two organisations and it is happening. There are, however, differences between the organisations with the EU not being a strictly military organisation. The cooperation can be improved but there is already a history of successful cooperation, in Kosovo and Afghanistan for instance.
The audience raised the question whether the Athena mechanism and the funding for CSDP missions should be revised. The panellist in general agreed that Athena should be revised but disagreed on to what extent. Some argued that the mechanism needs a complete overhaul to get rid of the free rider problem whereas others claimed that it only needs tweaking and especially extension of its scope, in addition to reminding that it is not the sole mechanism funding the missions. Maciej Popowski (EEAS) reminded the audience that there already is a mandate for adjustment of Athena mechanism and a routine review of its coming up.