This Just the Facts examines the Strategic Compass for Security and Defence which was agreed by EU leaders at the European Council in March 2022.
EU defence cooperation has been an evolutionary process. As early as 1952 a European Defence Community was agreed by the six Member States of the then European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) but was blocked by the French parliament in 1954. Cooperation in the areas of foreign policy and defence slowly evolved during the 1970s and 1980s and was formalised with the creation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) under the Maastricht Treaty, which came into force in 1993. In 1999, the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) was launched. This became the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) under the Lisbon Treaty.
However, results have been mixed and according to the Josep Borell, High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, “The history of European integration is full of plans and initiatives to strengthen the EU’s security and defence policy. Most have come and gone.”
The Strategic Compass – A quantum leap?
EU Heads of State and Government agreed the Strategic Compass at their meeting of the European Council on 24 and 25 March. It is an “ambitious plan for strengthening the EU’s security and defence policy by 2030”.
The Strategic Compass predates the current war in Ukraine. The first version was tabled by the High Representative in November 2021 after a lengthy period of preparation and consultation. The document was significantly altered and updated throughout February and March 2022 to reflect the worsening international situation and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The new version was approved at the Foreign Affairs Council of the EU on 21 March and then endorsed by the European Council.
The Strategic Compass is part threat assessment, part strategy. It presents the challenges facing the EU and the external, geo-political environment in stark terms. It describes a world where the “crisis in multilateralism is leading to more and more transactional relations among states.” Power politics and armed aggression have returned. The incidence of conflicts is rising, the world is becoming less free and EU interests and values are increasingly contested in a “highly confrontational system”.
Russia is now “a long term and direct threat for European security” while China is “a partner for cooperation, an economic competitor and a systematic rival”. The EU is surrounded by “instability and conflict” and is “confronted with a dangerous mix of armed aggression, illegal annexation, fragile states, revisionist powers and authoritarian regimes.”
Emerging threats and challenges also directly impact the EU’s security. Hybrid strategies, cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns, interference in elections, economic coercion and the weaponisation of migration represent the “increasing misuse of law to achieve political, economic and military objectives”. Contestation and competition have increased on the seas, in the air and in space. Climate change is a driver for instability and conflict, while Covid-19 “has fuelled international rivalry”.
In summary, “our security is at stake, and home and overseas”.
The document commits to substantially increasing defence spending and proposes “a quantum leap” in EU defence and security cooperation between now and 2030.
- An EU Rapid Deployment Capacity of 5,000 troops will be operation by 2025, with live exercises starting in 2023.
- Article 44 of the Treaty on European Union which allows for the “implementation of a task to a group of Member States which are willing and have the necessary”, or coalitions of the willing, will be utilised to conduct military or civilian operations. The practicalities of this step will be decided next year. The document also calls for “rapid and more flexible decision-making processes”.
- An EU Hybrid Toolbox will respond to hybrid campaigns and improve intelligence, including Rapid Response Teams to support Member States and partner countries targeted by hybrid threats.
- All Member States will improve the ability of their armed forces to “support civilian authorities in emergency situations”, including live exercises.
- On the sea, a more “assertive” EU presence is needed “as well as the ability to project power”, including more frequent port calls and patrols in the Indo-Pacific.
- In the air, new combat and air defence systems are envisaged, while in space the EU will “protect its space-based assets” through a Space Strategy for Security and Defence.
NATO remains the strategic partnership “essential” for European security and cooperation will be deepened and strengthened. The United States is singled out as the EU’s “staunchest and most important strategic partner.” Canada and Norway receive special mention, alongside the United Kingdom to which the EU remains open “to a broad and ambitious security and defence arrangement”.
The Strategic Compass concludes by declaring the Union is “strengthening our geo-political posture” and becoming a “more assertive and decisive security provider”.
The ambitiousness of the actions and proposals are recognised but these are “achievable with sustained political commitment”.
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Defence Simon Coveney said, “Ireland welcomes the Strategic Compass as a means of setting out our shared strategic vision for the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy and of enhancing the EU’s role in international peace and security over the next 5-10 years. I am pleased that the document reflects the core values that underpin our approach to CSDP, including the commitment to effective multilateralism and the rules-based international order, notably through our partnership with the UN.”
The Minister later told RTÉ, “Not only are we backing this plan, we’ve shaped this plan and we’ve been debating the strategic compass for the last two and a half years.
The implementation of the Strategic Compass will be subject to annual progress reports. A new and updated threat analysis will be conducted in 2025 and with revisions to the proposals possible at that stage.