Many politicians have spoken, many policymakers have written and many analysts have analysed. And most of them agree: the world is changing; Europe faces a volatile security environment; the mix of challenges is unprecedented. So now is the time for the members of the European Union to be serious about defence cooperation.

One of the people who has understood the urgency of the matter is Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Besides publishing the highly-anticipated EU Global Strategy, Mogherini and her team have been working on three proposals that aim to make European defence stronger and more agile.

Recently Mogherini stepped forward with the Implementation Plan on Security and Defence, which introduces measures to put in place the security and defence aspects of the EU Global Strategy. She launched the European Defence Action Plan, which creates conditions for efficient defence spending and an innovative industrial base. And she published a follow-up Implementation Plan for the Joint Declaration on EU-NATO cooperation.

These three initiatives have the potential to provide the changes and reforms that European defence cooperation needs so badly to be more successful.

The European Commission is a relative newcomer when it comes to the field of defence, and is stretching the limits as to what is permitted under the Treaty of Lisbon. The 1998 Saint-Malo declaration, for example, was a bilateral agreement between France and the United Kingdom that paved the way for the creation of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

What the three initiatives put forward by Mogherini have in common is that they place the Commission in the lead in creating a more attractive framework, whether it be a European defence market or closer cooperation with NATO on operational matters.

“This move by the EU is not entirely new – the Union has acted in security and defence for years. What is new is the scale of actions”

This is exactly what the EU should be doing. To achieve practical cooperation, it should assist member states and help them to coordinate efforts to increase defence cooperation.

This move by the EU is in itself not entirely new – the Union has acted in this field for years, with institutions such as the European Defence Agency, tasked with joint capability development and research. What is new rather, is the scale of the proposed actions.

With the Implementation Plan on Security and Defence, Mogherini proposes more detail regarding the practicalities of the defence and security side of the EU Global Strategy. The plan sets out a level of ambition in security and defence that includes prioritising capability development, deepening defence cooperation and adjusting the EU structures to deal with situational awareness, planning and conduct. The plan also includes financial measures and investigates possibilities for permanent structured cooperation.

The European Defence Action Plan focuses on creating favourable conditions for increased and more efficient defence spending by member states. It initiates a European Defence Fund to support investment in joint research efforts and the joint development of defence capabilities of strategic importance. The plan also creates conditions for investment in the European industrial base as a way of stimulating badly-needed openness and competition in the European defence market.

22 out of 28 NATO countries are also members of the EU. To avoid unnecessary duplication and enhance cooperation in the fields of hybrid threats, maritime issues, cyber security and capacity building, among others, Mogherini brought forward an Implementation Plan for the Joint Declaration on EU-NATO cooperation.

“It is the member states who decide how effective and fruitful the initiatives proposed by Mogherini will be”

Its detailed proposals are the most far-reaching since the creation of the CSDP. They are a major leap forward – and one may wonder why these initiatives were not taken sooner. The simple answer is that the situation was never as urgent as it is today. Never has the EU been under pressure from threats that are so many in number and so diverse in scope; both internally and externally. European defence needs European efforts now more than ever.

Perceptions matter too. The media and politicians have been wary about the idea of an EU army, which presumably is the ultimate objective of these plans.

But current proposals are not about an EU army but rather about creating conditions for member states to invest in capabilities more effectively, avoid unnecessary duplication and simplify cooperation. They would allow for more cooperation between, for example, the Netherlands and Germany, or the Visegrád countries. The plans should also give room for hugely important bottom-up defence initiatives between the countries.

In the end however it is important to point out that it are member states who decide how effective and fruitful the initiatives proposed by Mogherini will be. Member states should look critically at the proposed plans. But the proposals should help tackle the capability gap that member states – and as a consequence the EU – suffer from.

It should be borne in mind that the European Commission can only shape the framework and create the necessary conditions for increasing the effectiveness of defence spending and cooperation. Should Mogherini’s initiatives fail to be successfully implemented by member states or prove to be otherwise inadequate, Europe risks losing the momentum to achieve major progress on the European defence cooperation and integration.

If today’s security environment ultimately proves not conducive to achieving the results needed, one should seriously wonder whether it ever will be.

IMAGE CREDIT: CC / FLICKR – European External Action Service