Germany’s EU Council Presidency: Kick-Starting the Search for European Security under Multipolarity

24 October 2019   ·   Barbara Kunz

Strengthening the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy should be a top priority for the German Presidency of the EU Council in 2020. Berlin should step up its partnership with France, stick to its PESCO commitments and help initiate big picture thinking about European defense, including a more constructive discussion about European strategic autonomy.

During Germany’s upcoming EU presidency, the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) should be among the top priorities. In light of a deteriorating security environment and a changing transatlantic link, further strengthening the EU in this long neglected policy field is key: while it took a full five years from CSDP’s inception in 2009 to be put on the Council’s agenda in 2013, the field has at last seen considerable progress since 2016. The overall objective must be to enhance the European Union’s ability to be a credible security and defense actor. It is from this larger objective that a cascade of priorities should be derived.  

Berlin should focus on both “intra-CSDP” matters aimed at improving CSDP and its capabilities, as well as on “extra-CSDP” matters, i.e. issues pertaining to the EU’s role in the wider context of the European peace and security order. In addition, Germany also has homework to do on the national level as a prerequisite for credible German leadership.

Taking PESCO commitments seriously: Germany should lead by example

“Within” CSDP, a number of issues should be considered priorities. These include, first, to make three major projects a success which have emerged over the last years, namely the Coordinated Annual Review on Defense (CARD), the European Defense Fund (EDF) and the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). For PESCO to deliver, it is especially important that Member States consider commitments made as binding. Therefore, only if Germany fulfills its own PESCO commitments can it insist on others doing the same, ideally together with France (Paris considering this point absolutely crucial).

Moreover, though they are not (yet) linked to the EDF, making sure the recently launched Franco-German projects – the Main Ground Combat System and the Future Combat Air System – do not fail is critical given that they draw attention and will be crucial for future European defense industrial cooperation. This also means that Germany has to decide on the Tornado’s successor in a way that does not endanger Europe’s defense industry. The fact that France and Germany finally reached an agreement on weapons export control in October 2019 removes an important obstacle in their bilateral cooperation. Sticking to the agreement will therefore be decisive – bearing in mind that many Franco-German disagreements on exports stemmed from the fact that the agreement’s predecessor, the 1972 Schmidt-Debré agreement, had ceased to be applied.

Second, more emphasis is also needed on CSDP’s civilian dimension. The past twelve months have already seen progress in this area, most recently with the April 2019 Action Plan adopted by the Council. Philipp Neubauer outlined on this blog how Germany could strengthen the civilian dimension – a key priority for Berlin – by increasing the number of police agents deployed.

Third, another matter that deserves increased attention is the EU’s Early Warning Capacities, as Lisa Musiol argued on this blog. Moreover, strengthened capabilities for situational awareness are a precondition for the EU’s ability to act. A more binding character for European intelligence cooperation could be the way forward in this matter and should be pushed by Berlin. The EU Intelligence Analysis Centre (INTCEN) should also be strengthened, not least through member states' support. To this end, making the sharing of national analyses more binding and increasing the number of detached personnel would be a path to pursue.

Ensure coherence within CSDP and in other arenas of defense cooperation

As a transversal endeavor regarding CSDP as a whole, coherence finally is the key word: making sure that the various CSDP measures are coherent with each other is crucial if they truly are to bolster the EU’s ability to act. In an ideal world, CARD, PESCO, the EDF as well as the Capabilities Development Plan all dovetail, addressing shortfalls in capabilities and helping EU member states to acquire key future systems. Not losing sight of this vision in the face of all the bureaucratic nitty gritty requires political leadership, which Berlin should strive to provide.

Coherence is furthermore the link to the second, “extra-CSDP” dimension that should be yet another German priority. Defining what role CSDP should take in the wider context of the European peace and security order would require Berlin to develop a strategic vision for the future that takes into account a changing transatlantic relationship. Ideally, such a vision would be developed in a joint Franco-German effort – without, obviously, overlooking all other European friends and allies.

One concrete aspect of such “extra-CSDP” coherence is compatibility between CSDP and NATO through increased cooperation. Member states play a crucial role here. It should be understood that the projects in seven key areas that followed the 2016 EU-NATO Joint Declaration cover important aspects, but far from the entire spectrum of European security and defense. EU-OSCE cooperation, as well as coherence between CSDP endeavors and other formats such as the European Intervention Initiative is also most relevant. Germany hardly sits in the driver’s seat of any of this, yet keeping coherence on the agenda is again a matter of political leadership inter alia to be provided by Germany.

Germany should play a leading role in the debate about European strategic autonomy

Taking the need for “extra-CSDP” coherence seriously would also imply being relatively open about third state participation in e.g. specific PESCO projects – in particular regarding the United Kingdom and Norway. For the sake of a holistic take on European security and concerns notwithstanding, Germany should push more actively toward such an opening, even though this will entail disagreement within the Franco-German tandem.

Yet, CSDP only covers certain – even limited – aspects of European security in light of a deteriorating security environment and a changing transatlantic link. More broadly, therefore, developing a vision of CSDP in the wider context of European security means that the debate on European strategic autonomy must be pushed further and taken to the Grand Strategy level. The EU needs to ask itself: what can and what should European security look like in say 2023? To start with, a key message to convey is that this is no longer about Europeanists vs. Atlanticists, although these still seem to be the main features distinguishing the camps in the debate on European strategic autonomy. Rather, Europeans will need to come up with answers on how to secure the continent with a likely lesser degree of US involvement. Such a process requires – again – political leadership. Germany is, at least so far, relatively silent on this matter, leaving the issue mostly to France. However, developing a German vision and seeking joint Franco-German leadership is a necessity – as difficult as it may be.

In sum, achieving both intra and extra-CSDP coherence is not so much a matter of overcoming obstacles, but one of ownership. There is no opposition to such coherence, rather a lack of prioritization and thinking in terms of the bigger picture beyond the narrow EU context. Yet coherence must be a permanent preoccupation, pushed for by EU member states if the EU wants to be a credible actor. Germany as a key member state within the EU has a particular responsibility to do so. If Berlin’s 2020 presidency could help to kick-start strategic thinking about European defense, this would be a tremendous achievement.

Europäische Union Frieden & Sicherheit CSDP

Barbara Kunz

Dr. Barbara Kunz is a researcher at the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg. She specializes in European security, with inter alia a special focus on Franco-German defense cooperation. @BaKu_IFSH