The two-day informal EU Defense ministers meeting in Riga sent an interesting signal to EU Member States and their commitments to European security and defense. This informal meeting consisted in discussing current issues and preparing the up-coming European Council discussion on defense in June 2015. The informal meeting permitted for EU defense ministers to look at a series of issues such as the EU’s fight against hybrid threats, strategic communications and the EU’s rapid response capacity.
But France’s Defense Minister, Jean-Yves le Drian, did more than simply seat and listen, he called his European counterparts for greater burden-sharing, responsability and help in the war against radical Islamists in Africa and the Middle East.
The question of European defense, under the umbrella of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), has been an area of low motivation from European capitals. Historically, the interest in European defense has come and gone (read here a review on a book on the CSDP). The last serious defense meeting took place in December 2013, three years after the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty (read here, here, and here analyses on the Defense summit). The large European Council meeting agreed on three axes in order to boost cooperation and ultimately strengthen the CSDP:
- increasing the effectiveness, visibility and impact of the CSDP
- enhancing the development of military capabilities
- strengthening Europe’s defense industry.
The 2013 European Council’s conclusions ended by a call to evaluate the progress during the European Council’s meeting in June 2015. At the time of the Council’s meeting, the message from European leaders was simple, ‘Defense matters.’
France’s Call for Solidarity and Burden-Sharing
In his declaration ensuing the meeting, French Defense minister, Jean-Yves le Drian made some alarming comments about the lack of urgency of his European partners in recognizing the environing threats and addressing them accordingly. He declared that “I came in order to bring a message of emergency to my European partners and friends. An alert about the risk that we won’t be present. We are facing a multiplication without any precedents of challenges and threats for the security of our European citizens.”
Aside from the urgency of the threats, Jean-Yves le Drian asked a fundamental question: “We are 28 States within the European Union, but how many are we to really tackle in solving crises in our neighborhood?” He went on arguing that “the weigh of the European security is not equally distributed. France will continue to take care of his share of the burden, but only its share. We are waiting for our partners to join us.”
Challenges and Threats to EU Security
“In the current security environment in which we are faced with new and complex threats,” said Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, “unity is required more than ever.” The European neighborhoods require a clear attention, agreement on strategies, and implementation of clear policies.
Since 2011, the French have been very active and led the Europeans in their efforts to promote peace and stability south of Europe. The war in Libya, military interventions in Mali and Central African Republic (CAR), the large counterterrorist operation Barkhane, and airstrikes in Iraq are the most obvious illustrations. The rise of the Islamic State (IS) continues to occur and destabilize the region of the Middle East and now North Africa. The arrival of IS in Libya is changing regional geopolitics. Egypt feels threatened and started airstrikes against IS (and recently bought 24 Rafale combat jet to France. However, both events may not be related) in Libya. With IS on the shore of the Mediterranean, Europe is directly threatened.
On the Eastern border, Ukraine has become a battlefield between the West and Russia. A week after the February Minsk agreement, the combats are still raging, which are a clear violation of the cease-fire. The hopes ensuing the Minsk agreement seemed to have been short-lived as the tensions and conflict in Eastern Ukraine continue. The EU and its Member States are unprepared to now addressing Russia and certainly fight over control of territories. In a very critical 128-page report, titled The EU and Russia: before and beyond the crisis in Ukraine, produced by the House of Lords’ EU Committee (and published on February 20th, 2015), the British Parliament analyzed the shortfalls and failures of the UK and EU to tackle the Russian challenge. Several points can be underscored: first, the Committee claims that “Russia has been gradually turning away from Europe.” The report highlights two reasons linked to this shift: first, the EU failed to build an “institutional framework;” second, a continuous disagreement over the “shared neighborhood.” Additionally, the report takes a very critical tone against the EU and its Member States when writing:
“We also observe that there has been a strong element of ‘sleep-walking’ into the current crisis, with Member States being taken by surprise by events in Ukraine. Over the last decade, the EU has been slow to reappraise its policies in response to significant changes in Russia. A loss of collective analytical capacity has weakened Member States’ ability to read the political shifts in Russia and to offer an authoritative response. This lack of understanding and capacity was clearly evident during the Ukraine crisis, but even before that the EU had not taken into account the exceptional nature of Ukraine and its unique position in the shared neighborhood.”
So the EU and its Member States are confronted to a wide-array of issues, challenges and threats. “We [Europeans] have not the choice” claimed Maciek Popowski, a European diplomat. “We cannot cherry-pick a crisis over another. We must confront the threats from the East as from the South.” As opposed to other countries, the EU Member States have a solid advantage as they are 28 plus NATO. With 28 armies, 28 defense spendings, the EU should not be in a position of cherry-picking its crises, but rather addressing serious and rigorously all of them (especially with four Member States with some of the largest defense budgets in the world as illustrated below). The solution is in part burden-sharing.
In his essay, L’Europe dans la tempête, Herman Van Rompuy, former President of the European Council, wrote about two principles when reflecting on his first days in office and in trying to save Greece from defaulting in 2010: responsibility and solidarity (p.9). This ‘shared responsibility,’ as he writes, does not solely apply to monetary matters, it fits perfectly the case of defense policies and matters. Responsibility: EU Member States must address their defense shortfalls at the national and European level and be ready to act; Solidarity: EU Member States ought to think in terms of European interests and contribute to security efforts for the sake of the Union. Ultimately, Jean-Yves le Drian’s call for greater distribution of the burden and solidarity should not be perceived as a criticism, but rather as a wake-up call for Europe to address its challenges and guaranteeing the future of European defense and security.