Why do European countries have military

German defense policy

Annegret Bendiek

To person

Dr. Annegret Bendiek is a political scientist and deputy head of the "EU / Europe" research group at the Science and Politics Foundation in Berlin. She researches and publishes, among other things, on the subjects of external relations and security policy of the EU (CFSP & CSDP).

For more than 60 years, Europe has been fighting for a common security and defense policy - also outside of NATO. Most recently, the European states have stepped up their military cooperation. Is the EU becoming a defense union?

The EU has carried out more than 30 civil and military missions since 2003. Since it does not have its own armed forces, the member states provide the soldiers and soldiers. In the EU training mission (EUTM) in Mali, Belgian soldiers are deployed alongside German and Dutch soldiers. (& copy dpa)

The "Europe of Security" as an integration policy narrative

"The times in which we can completely rely on others are a long way off," said Chancellor Angela Merkel in a campaign speech in summer 2017 that invoked the European spirit. She has reacted to the increasing signals from the USA that Europe will have to pay for its own security in the future. Not least because of this, the idea of ​​a "secure Europe" has gained in importance and is now reflected both in the multi-annual financial plan of the European Union (EU) and in the reform proposals for the future of the EU as formulated by French President Emmanuel Macron. In the words of Macrons, "une Europe qui protège" ("A Europe that protects"), including a common defense, should be understood as an opportunity for European integration. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, became even more specific and, in his speech on the State of the Union in September 2017, called for a "functioning European Defense Union" by 2025. Since then, the European planning staff of the Foreign and Defense Ministers have been working flat out on Europe "strategic autonomy" to be conceptually underpinned.

The ambitions associated with this goal diverge widely, also because the very first attempt to establish a European Defense Community (EDC) failed miserably in the 1950s. According to the so-called Pleven Plan, a defense community including a European army with uniform training and equipment was to be founded under the command of a European defense minister. With Germany's accession, Germany's occupation status was to end and the country was to be rearmed after the Second World War. The idea of ​​placing French soldiers under a German commander-in-chief, as provided for in the Pleven Plan, was not enforceable domestically in France shortly after the end of the Second World War. The EVG failed at the French National Assembly. In the end, things turned out differently: Germany became a member of NATO and founded the Bundeswehr. To this day, NATO is the key pillar of European defense.

New measures for European defense

60 years later, a new attempt is to be made: For the new "Europe of security and self-assertion" (Juncker), the defense ministers of the EU decided in December 2017 on several projects for cooperation in the European foreign, security and and defense policy agreed:
  • Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which defines common priorities for the 25 EU countries and aims to promote more joint armaments projects,
  • the Coordinated Annual Review on Defense (CARD), an annual report on the European defense landscape, which should also contain recommendations for national armaments projects, and
  • the European Defense Fund, a funding pot of the Commission, from which joint arms research is to be financed.
The political ambitions of a communitarisation of defense policy, however, are opposed by legal hurdles that can only be overcome by amending the European Treaties. While the EU Global Strategy (EUGS) of June 2016 stated that the EU's "defense cooperation" should become the "norm", the Lisbon Treaty (2009) only sees the goal of "the gradual definition of a common defense policy for the Union " in front.

But something is also happening outside the EU: In June 2018, nine European countries signed a declaration of intent to found the so-called "European Intervention Initiative" (EI2) - an idea of ​​French President Macron. The signatories include Germany, France, Great Britain, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, Portugal, the Netherlands and Spain. "EI2 does not include the creation of a new rapid reaction force", but is an initiative to create a "flexible, non-binding forum" of states that are "ready and able" to defend European security interests if necessary, says the declaration of intent . For multilateral integration one could become active within the framework of the EU, NATO, UN or in "ad hoc coalitions". For states like Italy and other allies, the door of the EI2 should remain open.


Common security and defense policy in the EU

The Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP, until the Treaty of Lisbon came into force: ESDP) has been a separate policy and field of action within the EU since 1999. As an integral part of cooperation in the common foreign and security policy (CFSP), it is still shaped by the individual member states (Articles 42 to 46 of the Treaty on European Union, TEU). The CSDP is intended to contribute to achieving the goals of the CFSP through crisis management measures. Their mandate is limited: the national defense mandate is not envisaged because the CSDP can only be deployed or deployed outside the Union territory. Use inside the EU is even contractually excluded. In Art. 42 Paragraph 1 TEU it is stated:

"[The CSDP] ensures the Union an operational capability based on civilian and military means. This the Union can use in missions outside the Union for peacekeeping, conflict prevention and strengthening of international security in accordance with the principles of the Charter of the United Nations. It fulfills these tasks using the skills provided by the Member States. "

In fact, since 2003 the EU has launched and carried out more than 30 civil and military CSDP missions in Europe, Asia and Africa.

The treaty (Art. 42 (7) TEU) also introduces a mutual assistance clause in the event of an armed attack on the territory of a Member State. France made use of this clause for the first time after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015. It roughly corresponds to the obligation under Article 5 of the NATO Treaty, which continues to take precedence for the EU member states that are also members of NATO. Member States can assist the affected country on a voluntary basis - but not necessarily with military measures.

In June 2014, the European Council (ER) passed a resolution to use military means only as a last resort and in compliance with the principle of subsidiarity and in accordance with national constitutional requirements, such as the German parliamentary scrutiny, and the prohibition of the deployment of the military inside. The democratic legitimacy in the area of ​​the CSDP is currently guaranteed at EU level through an inter-parliamentary conference. [1] It consists of representatives of the national parliaments and the European Parliament and serves as a forum for the exchange of views and experiences, but has no decision-making powers. To what extent such parliamentary control in security and defense policy can seriously contribute to the legitimation of such interventions remains a central topic for the reform debate on the future of the European Union.

Strategic differences, common goals

The ongoing strategic differences between the EU members and their different constitutional traditions in key foreign and security policy aspects remain dominant. This can be seen, for example, in the external energy policy towards Russia, but also in the struggle for a common position on the future relationship between Europe and the USA. Reforms that move below the threshold of a treaty change and promote a "Europe of various speeds" in foreign, security and defense policy are all the more sought after. In terms of security, as made clear in the Rome Declaration in March 2017 on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the EU states are fundamentally in agreement. [2]

The Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in 2009, made it possible to pursue legally binding (military) cooperation within the EU structures within the framework of the CSDP, as agreed by 25 member states with PESCO in December 2017. The specifically agreed projects range from the development of a logistical hub to cyber defense and a medical association. Great Britain, Malta and Denmark are excluded from PESCO. In order to be able to involve non-EU members in European security and defense policy, PESCO remains open to cooperation with partner states and allies. Also because the EU has so far not been able to do without the contribution of the USA, but also of Great Britain, to common security after Brexit.

Multinational: In the EU Atalanta mission to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia, the navies of different EU member states are working together. The photo shows Italian and Spanish ships on a joint voyage on October 23, 2015. License: cc by-nc-nd / 2.0 / de (CC, EU Naval Force (EU NAVFOR) Somalia - Operation Atalanta via flickr.com)

"Global Strategy" of the EU

On June 28, 2016, the European Union adopted a new "Global Strategy for the EU's Foreign and Security Policy" (EUGS). It forms the normative framework for the future direction of the CFSP. The team of authors around the current director of the Instituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), Nathalie Tocci, declares building resilience, i.e. increasing the EU's resilience to internal and external threats, to be the overarching goal. The legally non-binding document is intended to replace the European Security Strategy from 2003.

The term "strategy" is generally understood to mean a systematic pursuit of a certain goal or a systematic realization of a certain long-term interest. However, the presented paper hardly fulfills the three characteristics, i.e. a clearly defined objective, a fixed (longer-term) time horizon and a methodical approach. In this way, goals and priorities are described - e.g. that the EU wants to increase its defense capability within the framework of the CFSP and in particular to strengthen the stability of its southern and eastern neighbors - but without specifying clear steps or measures with which these goals are to be achieved.

With the "Global Strategy", the EU tries to react to fundamental global political changes: crumbling states in the immediate vicinity, international terrorism, the increasing aggressiveness of Russia in Eastern Europe and the growing fears in this regard of Poland and the Baltic States that measures of "hybrid" warfare destabilize the societies of Europe. Hybrid threats are characterized by a mixture of coercion, infiltration as well as conventional and unconventional methods on the part of state and non-state actors, without crossing the threshold of an officially declared war. In parallel to these trends, the EU is increasingly being called into question from within as a contemporary level of political action. Last but not least, the tangible likelihood that Great Britain could say goodbye to the EU's joint defense and armaments efforts by leaving the EU raises the question of how the EU can provide resilience in and around Europe.

A large part of the "Global Strategy" is therefore devoted to transatlantic relations and the renewed importance of NATO for Europe. There is talk of a "deepening of the transatlantic bond" (p. 4), of the fact that NATO remains the "most important framework for most member states" (p. 20), and that national defense planning is "in full coherence" ( P. 46) should take place with the planning processes in NATO. From this point of view, the term resilience very quickly loses its apparently groundbreaking relevance for the basic orientation of the "global strategy". Instead, it should rather be understood as an expression of a new division of labor between NATO and the CFSP / CSDP. Accordingly, Europe is still tied to NATO and concentrating its defense efforts as a European pillar of the alliance. The EU is thus setting the course for Europe's "defense union": it is responsible for civil resilience itself, while NATO is creating the superstructure for the Union's military resilience. In return, the NATO allies are demanding a continuous increase in European armaments spending and defense cooperation.

Cooperation between the EU and NATO

In view of the ongoing strategic disagreement and based on the conviction that greater involvement of the USA in European security policy is essential, it is therefore not surprising that at the NATO summit on August 8th and 9th. July 2016 in Warsaw a deepening of the cooperation between NATO and the EU was decided. The cooperation project ties in with the so-called Berlin Plus Agreement of 2003 and aims to strengthen the European pillar in the alliance. According to the framework agreement of March 2003 (Berlin Plus), which has formed the previous basis for joint military action between the EU and NATO, the EU is allowed to use NATO's resources and capabilities for military operations. The joint declarations of the two organizations in July and December 2016 also reflect the guiding principle of the global strategy that the territory of the Union can only be effectively defended through close cooperation between the EU and NATO.

During the Warsaw NATO summit in 2016, the defense ministers of the member states participating in the Framework Nations Concept (see box) decided to open up this initiative to cooperation with partner states and existing multinational institutions, including the European Defense Agency (EDA). This opening clause will also enable future cooperation with EU states that are not NATO member states. The fact that the CSDP is solely directed towards the outside world, that territorial defense is not provided and that an operation inside the EU is contractually excluded speaks in favor of the close cooperation with NATO. Nonetheless, national defense is a core task for NATO as a defense alliance.

In a nutshell

Framework nations concept

The Framework nations concept is an important proposal in the European debate on how different NATO countries can work together better militarily:

It is intended to allow European capabilities, such as air defense or a transport aircraft fleet, to be retained by states working together on a permanent basis. Because many European states are no longer able to provide militarily relevant units of associations on their own.

According to the concept, the European states should form clusters: groups from smaller and larger states should in future agree more intensively on who will keep which equipment (aircraft, tanks, etc.) and troops ready on a permanent basis. The cluster is managed by the "framework nation". Above all, this brings basic military equipment into the cooperation, e.g. logistics and command facilities. The smaller armies dock their special abilities on this backbone, such as air defense or pioneers. That way, all states would no longer have to hold everything and pay for it. As a result, there would be more money to get what the group needs.

More information: The framework nation concept, article by Björn Müller

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Security and Defense Implementation Plan

The European Council (ER) dealt with the subject of security and defense for the first time in 2008. Since then there have been many attempts to bring new momentum to these areas of the CSDP. However, without the consensus of all EU institutions, including the European Parliament (EP), these efforts petered out.

In its November 2016 report on the EU's future military cooperation, the European Parliament demanded that a newly created Defense Union enable closer integration of national troops and that the battlegroups that have existed since 2007 but have never been deployed in standing, i.e. permanently operational, units should convert. In addition, the member states should work together more intensively in the procurement of armaments, around 80 percent of which currently takes place via purely national markets. According to the Commission, this practice causes additional costs of up to 100 billion euros annually. During his State of the Union address in September 2016, Commission President Juncker urged member states to coordinate their defense efforts more closely. The previously mostly political declarations of the member states have become more legally binding from this point in time and this differs from previous initiatives in defense policy.

In a nutshell

EU battlegroups

The European Union has had fully operational so-called battle groups since 2007. These are military units that should be able to intervene quickly in the event of a crisis or conflict - worldwide.

Each of the 20 battlegroups set up so far consists of at least 1,500 soldiers. Most battlegroups are multinational, i.e. they consist of armed forces from several EU member states. Examples are the "Nordic Battlegroup" (Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ireland, Norway) or the "Weimar Battlegroup" (Germany, France, Poland).

Two battlegroups are always ready for action, and the associations are replaced every six months. The battlegroups should be able to carry out missions of 30 to 120 days independently.

To date (as of September 2018) an EU battlegroup has never been deployed.

More information: Factsheet of the European External Action on EU Battlegroups

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On November 14, 2016, the Council formulated targets for the implementation of the EUGS in the area of ​​security and defense. With this, the security policy ambitions of the EU were specified, the so-called Level of Ambition (LoA) was defined (crisis management, capacity building among partners, protection of the territory of the EU and its citizens). At the end of November 2016, the European Commission then presented the European Defense Action Plan (EDAP). With the European Action Plan and the European Defense Fund, the Commission has effectively advanced to become a security and defense policy actor.

In December 2016, the ER approved the implementation plan for security and defense and decided on concrete measures: a coordinated annual review of the defense, the introduction of PESCO, the establishment of a military planning and implementation team (MPCC) for training missions such as EUTM Mali and EUTM Somalia and the Reinforcement of the EU crisis response toolkit.

In December 2017, 17 projects in the areas of training, skills development and operational readiness were provisionally decided within the framework of PESCO. The financing plans in the area of ​​security and defense are even more far-reaching. If all of these are implemented, the EU would become the largest investor in collective defense research and technology in Europe. To this end, the Commission intends to support the European Structural and Investment Funds and the European Investment Bank (EIB) in financing the development of dual use goods and technologies. Furthermore, the general guidelines on public procurement are to be extended to the defense and security sector. This is intended to promote cross-border cooperation and promote the development of common industrial standards.

Last but not least, derived from the EUGS, the Commission is developing plans for the implementation of the "Integrated Approach", that is, the coherent use of military, civil and economic instruments, as well as stronger networking of internal and external security. In addition, the Commission and the EEAS have made proposals on how the resilience of the EU's neighboring countries should be strengthened. The underlying idea is that Europe can only become safer if the neighboring states themselves become more stable in order to be able to create a buffer zone for the EU.

European white paper as a litmus test

Even if these reforms have taken important steps towards a defense union, the Europeans are still a long way from an "army of Europeans" (Federal Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen) because of their divergent strategic interests. "The EU cannot replace NATO" and "the EU cannot defend itself on its own" are the conclusions of the NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg. The EU will therefore have to deal with fundamental questions relating to the setting of the course for foreign and security policy and the definition of the interests of the envisaged Defense Union, which some politicians are calling for a "European White Paper on Security and Defense" to be included. Because the envisaged "defense union" is to be regarded as ambivalent.

If "strategic autonomy" actually develops into a new core element of the integration process, this can mean a normative shift in weight for the Union, away from the cosmopolitan claim of market integration and towards a protectionist integration project. A Europe of security and defense should avoid a return of old patterns of confrontation, security dilemmas and a possible renewed arms race.


further reading

Bartels, Hans-Peter et al. (Ed.) (2017): Strategic Autonomy and the Defense of Europe. On the Road to a European Army?, Dietz Verlag, Bonn.

Bendiek, Annegret (i.E.): Defend Europe. The common foreign and security policy of the European Union, Kohlhammer Verlag, Stuttgart. Expected to be released October 2018.

Bendiek, Annegret (2017): Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU: From Transformation to Resilience, SWP Study 2017 / S 19, Berlin. Available online at: https://www.swp-berlin.org/publikation/eu-gemeinsame-aussen-und-sicherheitspektiven/.

European Commission (2016): European Defense Action Plan. Available online at: https://ec.europa.eu/docsroom/documents/20372/attachments/2/translations/de/renditions/native.

European Commission (2017): White paper on the future of Europe. Available online at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/betapolitical/files/weissbuch_zur_zukunft_europas_de.pdf.

European Union (2016): Common Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe - A Global Strategy for the Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union. Available online at: https://europa.eu/globalstrategy/sites/globalstrategy/files/eugs_de_0.pdf.

Wagner, Ringo and Schaprian, Hans-Joachim (eds.) (2018): Strengthen the ability to act - create stability. Reflections on the European Security and Defense Union, Friedrich Ebert Foundation Saxony-Anhalt, Magdeburg.