EU Security and Defence Policy [Archived]

The project of developing an independent European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) was launched by the Cologne European Council on 3-4 June 1999 as a distinctive part of the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). The aim of ESDP is to complete and thus strengthen the EU’s external ability to act through the development of civilian and military capabilities for international conflict prevention and crisis management. The central vision behind it is outlined in the security strategy document  ‘A secure Europe in a better world’  by Javier Solana, Secretary General of the Council. 

The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 was the first to contain provisions on the EU's responsibility for all questions relating to its security, including the eventual framing of a common defence policy. The Treaty defined these tasks as part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy. The Treaty envisaged that the EU, having no military capabilities of its own, will request the Western European Union (WEU) to elaborate and implement planned military measures on its behalf.  

The 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam incorporated the WEU's "Petersberg tasks" ("humanitarian and rescue tasks, peace-keeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking") into the Treaty on the European Union. This laid the treaty basis for the operative development of the ESDP.

In December 1998, at an Anglo-French summit in St Malo, the leaders of the UK and France decided on the need for a "capacity for autonomous action, backed up by credible military forces". The conflicts in Bosnia and Kosovo added impetus to discussions about the need for a European defence force.

At the Cologne Summit on 3 June 1999, European leaders agreed on a common defence strategy. Their stated desire to incorporate the dormant WEU into the EU by the end of the year 2000 was effectively achieved by the Marseilles Declaration of November 2000.

The Treaty of Nice (2000) entered into force on 1 February 2003. It contains amendments which reflect the operative development of the ESDP as an independent EU project.

The 15 Member States of the EU formally decided to create a rapid reaction force (RRF) of 60,000 men at the Nice European Council (December 7-9 2000).

In its final report of 16 December 2002, the Defence Working Group of the European Convention proposed the creation of a European Armaments and Strategic Research Agency that would incorporate closer forms of cooperation which already exist in the armaments field between certain Member States (OCCAR, LoI).

At their mini-summit on 29 April 2003, the leaders of France, Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg attempted to lay the groundwork for an EU military alliance. However, the event was widely seen as divisive and conducive to a two-speed Europe. 

The central aim of ESDP is to provide military and civilian assets for international conflict prevention and crisis management. Since the EU seeks to promote non-violent settlement of conflicts, alongside the military capabilities the EU aims to emphasise the development of civilian capabilities which focus on the four priority areas (police, rule of law, civilian administration and civil protection capacities) adopted at the June 2000 Feira European Council. 

ESDP seeks to strengthen and consolidate the EU's alliance with the US and Canada within the framework of NATO, and it aims to heed the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. ESDP's purpose is not to replace but to complement NATO. 

Although ESDP is conceived as part of CFSP and thus falls under the EU's second (intergovernmental) pillar, a successful ESDP will promote integration. 

The goal is not to create a European army. National armed forces remain under the control of the national commanders and will only be headed by a military supreme commander for the duration of any EU mission. The EU's historic first military operation beyond the continent - in Congo - lasted from 12 June till 1 September 2003. Code-named Operation Artemis, the operation was mounted at the request of the UN. The 1,400-strong multinational EU force was commanded by French General Jean-Paul Thonier. 


  • Constitution Treaty: The creation of an EU Foreign Minister, who will be both a member of the Commission and the Council, will allow for a greater streamlining of EU foreign policy, and an end to present rivalry between the Commissioner for external relations and Javier Solana, the High Representative of the Council. Title 5 of the treaty describes the EU's external relations in detail. 
  • Convention: according to the EU's draft Constitution, "The Union shall have competence to define and implement a common foreign and security policy, including the progressive framing of a common defence policy." Member states "shall support the Union's common foreign and security policy actively and unreservedly in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity." Several governments, especially the British, are insisting on retaining a national veto over issues pertaining to foreign policy and defence. The proposals do not call for majority voting on foreign policy unless heads of state and government, acting unanimously, order the ministers to take a vote. Defence is ring-fenced even further, with references in the draft Constitution to the primacy of NATO. Joint moves on foreign policy and defence will be by consensus only. The EU already has a common foreign and security policy, on paper. Agreement on the Middle East road map is an example of where Member States have agreed. Iraq is an example of where they have not. 
  • Commission: to support ESDP, the Commission outlined the long-term needs for a competitive European defence equipment industry in March 2003. Cost efficiency of defence spending, the maintenance of a competitive defence and technological industrial base, better access for EU manufactured goods to third country market, ethics and fairness in the arms trade, security of supply, and also the need to respect Member States' prerogatives are all important considerations in this sensitive area.
  • Council: the EU has stated that it wants to be able to deploy a rapid reaction force (RRF) of up to 60,000 men as part of its crisis management tools. They want access to NATO's planning, intelligence and logistical capabilities to fill in the gaps in their own capabilities. They refuse to allow any non-EU Member State to have a veto over the proposed activities of the RRF.
  • US: the Bush administration view of the development of ESDP is that NATO will have the right of first refusal over any tasks that the EU wants to undertake. It is also only willing to support EU action on the so called Petersburg Tasks and that any action taken must be planned at NATO.
  • Turkey: as a NATO member, Turkey has not been prepared to allow the EU access to NATO planning, intelligence and logistical capabilities if it does not have a say over the operations that the EU wishes to carry out.
  • Russia: does not object to the EU's development of ESDP. There are suggestions that it is beginning to accept that this is developing within a transatlantic context, not a purely European one. However, Russia is keen to play a role in any new European security structure that develops.

The referenda on the constitutional treaty of 2004 which, if adopted, will introduce a more powerful EU Foreign Minister, are to take place in a number of member states during 2005. The first referendum will be in Spain on 20 February. France, Denmark, Ireland and Poland are also expected to hold refernda during 2005. 

The unfolding of the EU biggest defence committment so far, the take-over of the NATO peacekeeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina, from the beginning of 2005, will be a crucial test case for the EU's defence ambitions.    

EU defence ministers agreed in November 2004 to establish 13 so-called battle groups that would be deployable rapidly for crisis management around the world outside the NATO framework. The groups, each 1,500-strong, should be operational by 2007. The first such group will be set up in 2005.

The EU must make determined efforts to implement the European Action Plan, which - among other things - calls for the creation of a capabilities development mechanism. The Union must also refine and test its crisis management procedures. In accordance with the "single set of forces" principle, the EU must coordinate its capabilities development with NATO. The EU's enlargement in May 2004 has further highlighted the need to strengthen solidarity, since participation in any concrete ESDP operation will remain voluntary.



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