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European defence finally on track

After long decades of construction, recent years have seen the Union's defence and security policy get off the ground in a number of areas, notably on the maritime front, which IHEDN auditors are studying this week.


Following in the footsteps of other areas of cooperation on the continent, after economic union, the construction of European defence was born out of the rubble of the Second World War.


At the time, the stakes were twofold: to avoid a return to the wars between Germany and France, and to protect against the Soviet threat. As Stalin's reign intensified the Soviet threat, Western Europe understood the need to rearm the Federal Republic of Germany, which was on the front line against Moscow and its satellites.

This was the European Defence Community (EDC) project, championed by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman until the Treaty of Paris signed in May 1952 by six countries. It was never ratified, as the death of Stalin the following year eased geopolitical tension, as did the armistice in Korea and the French withdrawal from Indochina in 1954. And until the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was NATO, created in 1949, which ensured the collective defence of Western Europe.

At the beginning of the 1990s, the USSR no longer existed and the European Economic Community (EEC) had become the largest customs union in the world. Signed by the 12 Member States in 1992, the Maastricht Treaty included a section giving Europe a diplomatic and strategic capacity: the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). While the ambition of European diplomacy is shared by all, the military dimension is merely mentioned as a possible, if not desirable, next step.

On 22 May 1992, at the 59th Franco-German summit in La Rochelle, President Mitterrand and Chancellor Kohl created the Eurocorps, the first European army corps under the aegis of NATO. This last point prevented the emergence of an autonomous European capability, until the United Kingdom reversed its position at the end of 1998.


In 2001, just as September 11 ushered the world into a new era, the Common European Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) was added to the CFSP, with appropriate institutional tools, notably the EU Military Committee and the EU Military Staff. As a result, the Union can now deploy peacekeeping or peacemaking missions around the world, or train foreign armies: EUROF Concordia in Macedonia, Artemis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Mali, etc.

The European Defence Agency (EDA) was created in 2004. Javier Solana, the EU's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy (1999-2009), made it clear: "Whether we like it or not, the European Union is a global player. It must be prepared to share responsibility for security in the world". In 2007, the Treaty of Lisbon established the European External Action Service (EEAS), responsible for managing the EU's civilian and military crisis response capabilities. Article 42.7 establishes a mutual defence mechanism in the event of aggression by one of the Member States on its territory.

Gradually, the deterioration of the geopolitical context (Arab springs in 2011, wars in Syria, Iraq, Libya, then Crimea, Daech attacks in Europe), and the gradual disengagement of the United States are encouraging the development of European strategic autonomy.


Just after the Brexit, on 28 June 2016, the European Council adopted the European Union's Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. (EHUMS). The document defines the EU's strategic priorities and defence requirements in the new context, and stresses the notion of strategic autonomy, so that the European Union is not content to be a "soft power", but a complete power, capable of autonomy and freedom of action.


"Strategic autonomy is first and foremost developed on a sectoral basis, starting with the defence industry", explains Pierre Harochea researcher in European security at the Institut de Recherche Stratégique de l'École Militaire (IRSEM). "We must avoid total dependence on a player who has the capacity to bring Europe to its knees if it decides to turn off the tap. That player could be Russia, China, or even to some extent the United States. If the policy of one of these players were to change, the EU's strategic autonomy would provide for alternatives through other partnerships, its own capabilities and various solutions".

The European Council on 14 and 15 December 2017 celebrated the official birth of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PSC) and the European Defence Fund (EDF). The former aims to bring together a "hard core" of States around inclusive and ambitious projects, as a complement to joint actions. The countries that join undertake to regularly increase their defence budgets and investment in research.

The EDF aims to facilitate the financing of this enhanced cooperation. For the first time, the European budget will support the defence industry through the co-financing of research and development projects and the joint procurement of equipment. The European Parliament has agreed to an exceptional budget of €7.9 billion for the period 2021-2027.


The war in Ukraine will give Europe the opportunity to put these tools, and the notion of strategic autonomy, to the test. The Strategic Compass, the first White Paper on European defence, has been developed since 2020 through 52 colloquia and seminars to gather contributions from Member States, is adopted at the European Council on 24 March 2022, one month after the Russian invasion.

A roadmap for the next ten years, the compass sets out concrete actions to be taken, including a mechanism to monitor implementation and clear milestones in four key areas: operations ("Act"), resilience ("Ensure Security"), defence investment ("Invest"), and partnerships ("Work in Partnership"). It stresses that Russia's actions make it a direct and long-term threat to Europe's security. It also points out that China is both a partner in certain areas of cooperation and an economic competitor and systemic rival for Europeans.

The EU is thus taking a new step forward in its defence and security policy, in order to face up to the competition between powers, to the persistence of crises in its neighbourhood and to act wherever its action is required: seas and oceans, airspace, exo-atmospheric space, cyberspace and information space. In concrete terms, the Member States are committed "to develop an EU rapid deployment capability of 5,000 troops to respond to different types of crisis".

the european union's maritime challenges

Seas and oceans count for a lot more than we might think if we confine ourselves to a purely continental vision of the EU. From 27 to 29 March, thanks to the contributions of numerous players and experts in the sector, the students in the "Maritime issues and strategies" major at the IHEDN national session reflected on the major issues of "The European Union and maritime issues".


The educational pack prepared for them by the IHEDN stresses that "with 22 out of 27 States bordering an ocean and six seas (the Mediterranean, the English Channel, the Baltic, the Black, Irish and North Seas), and shores three times as extensive as those of the United States, the EU is the world's leading maritime economic power". According to the European Commission, the maritime economy generates added value of €500 billion a year and 5.4 million jobs. 40 % of the EU's GDP and 40 % of its population come from its maritime regions, through which 40 % of its internal trade passes. With a commercial fleet representing 40 % of the total fleet, the EU has 1,200 commercial ports through which 3 billion tonnes of goods and 350 million passengers pass every year.

Behind the crucial economic, human and environmental issues, such as fisheries, migration and natural maritime and coastal problems, the strategic dimension of Europe's maritime space has also had to wait a long time for real political consideration: the first "Integrated Maritime Policy (IMP) for the EU" dates from 2007, and includes the maritime safety dimension among many others (fisheries, research, information systems, energy, etc.). In 2014, a framework directive for maritime spatial planning was adopted. However, despite the importance of the issues at stake and the many challenges facing the marine world, there is currently no body responsible for taking a global vision into account.


Adopted in 2014 and revised in 2018, the EU Maritime Security Strategy (EUMS) aims to a note of the Centre d'études stratégiques de la Marine in June 2022, to affirm "Europe's ambition to become a global provider of maritime security". It follows on from the first European naval military operation, Atalanta, launched in 2008 under the CSDP off the coast of Somalia to protect World Food Programme (WFP) vessels from pirate attacks, and extended for the last time until December 2024 with broader missions and scope (UN arms embargo in Somalia, fight against the Chababs, etc.).

Another prerequisite for the EUMS: from 2013 to 2016, the EU carried out the CRIMGO project in the Gulf of Guinea (Critical Maritime Routes Gulf of Guinea) to combat piracy, in particular by training the armies of coastal states. The GoGIN (Gulf of Guinea Interregional Network) succeeded it in 2016, and GoGIN+ underlines the EU's "maritime security provider" aspect. The latter is exclusively dedicated to the EU's Information Exchange System. Architecture in Yaoundé for maritime safety. On Europe's shores, a strategy for the Mediterranean has been announced for the coming years.

The EUMS therefore aims to strengthen and systematise Europe's capacity to deploy in maritime areas by focusing on a number of key areas:

  • external action, via the CFSP and its military and civilian operational strands, the CSDP, EU policies and strategies such as those on the Gulf of Guinea and, soon, the Mediterranean;
  • Enhancing situational awareness, maritime surveillance and information-sharing capabilities;
  • the development of EU and Member State capabilities;
  • mutual risk management and protection of critical maritime infrastructures ;
  • strengthening research and development, particularly technological research;
  • a logic of synergy between NATO and the EU in defence planning, based on complementarity and interoperability, despite the heterogeneous position of the Member States of the two organisations.