EU foreign and defence ministers welcomed the first blueprint of what the bloc’s future military strategy could look like, marking only the very start of the debate. Some member states, however, already signalled amendments are to come in the next steps of the process.
The EU’s Strategic Compass, meant to bolster the bloc’s military capabilities in light of the new threats facing the EU, is to “set out a common strategic vision for EU security and defence for the next 5-10 years”.
On late Monday (15 November), EU foreign and defence ministers had jointly received their first run-down of the document, drawn up by the EU’s diplomatic service (EEAS) and national security agencies.
EU leaders are likely to receive an amended version in December, while the final document is set to be approved in March next year, during France’s EU Council presidency.
It’s not just “another policy document, it’s a guide for action,” the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell told reporters after the meeting.
According to him, the new strategy should be the stepping stone for the EU to become a security provider and more ambitious to react to crises and threats in its near neighbourhood.
“This approach was very broadly supported by the ministers,” Borrell said, adding that he will present “at least” two more drafts in the next months based on feedback from member states.
EU diplomats confirmed that members states have responded “rather positively” to the new blueprint.
“We’re happy because the document is realistic but at the same time ambitious,” Slovenian Defence Minister Matej Tonin, whose country hosts the EU Council presidency, said ahead of the meeting.
“We need some fine-tuning – one is about Russia, another thing is around the Mediterranean,” Tonin added.
According to EU diplomats, on the latter issue, two member states asked for Turkey to be explicitly named as a threat in the threat analysis section of the upcoming document, meant to spell out security challenges to the bloc.
However, some initiatives in the leaked 28-page draft have faced criticism over the perceived gap between the EU ambition laid out in the document and the capabilities and willingness at present.
One of the more controversial blueprint proposals is the creation of a joint military intervention force, dubbed EU Rapid Deployment Capacity, by 2025 that will “allow to swiftly deploy a modular force of up to 5,000 troops, including land, air and maritime components”.
Speaking to reporters, Borrell defended the idea envisioned in the draft as being well-suited to deal with ‘hybrid’ crises that blur the traditional war and peace categories.
“Such a team could temporarily support national actors in front of concrete situations like the one that we are witnessing in Belarus, Poland and Lithuania,” Borrell said. “Today, we do not have these kinds of tools.”
Poland and Lithuania on the other hand expressed reservations about the planned modular force of up to 5,000 troops, meant to be deployed quickly for specific missions.
The EU’s already existing battle groups, they pointed out, have never been used because of disputes over funding and a reluctance to deploy.
“There was broad consensus that the EU Rapid Response Capacity should be based on improved existing battle groups, but it will require discussions on unanimity or more flexibility in decision-making,” one EU diplomat told EURACTIV.
Together with the other Baltic states and Denmark, their bottom line was that any new EU military concept should not be at the expense of NATO, but rather in addition to it.
Asked again about a potential duplication, Borrell called for the EU’s plans to be actually “a way to make NATO stronger, through making the EU stronger”, an idea which according to him has received support from US President Joe Biden.
Belarus on their minds
The push for a more consolidated European defence strategy comes amid heightened concern over Russian military build-up in and around Ukraine, tensions at the Polish-Belarus border and a new flare-up of fighting along Armenia’s border with Azerbaijan.
EU foreign ministers had agreed on Monday to impose a new round of sanctions on the regime in Minsk, expected to target airlines and entities involved in organising the scheme.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said on Tuesday that the alliance was deeply concerned about Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko’s strategy of putting migrant lives at risk, offering Poland support.
“We are deeply concerned about the way the Lukashenko regime is using vulnerable migrants as a hybrid tactic against other countries and he is putting the lives of the migrants at risk,” he said.
“We stand in solidarity with Poland and other affected allies,” Stoltenberg told reporters as he arrived for a meeting with EU defence ministers.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]