With a constant emphasis on the intertwined security issues at home and abroad, the Strategy very comprehensively outlines the political level of ambition the EU should have as a world actor by touching upon a vast number of important topics. But the most ambitious statements, ideas and proposals it puts forward are related to defence and military capabilities.
First and foremost, the Strategy insists on the need for Europe to develop an appropriate level of ‘strategic autonomy’ in order to be able to guarantee the security of the Union and its citizens. “Europeans must take greater responsibility for (their) security” and, therefore, need to invest more and better in defence in order to be “better equipped, trained and organised”, be it for contributing to collective defence efforts (NATO) or for acting “autonomously if and when necessary”. Therefore, “an appropriate level of ambition and strategic autonomy is important for Europe’s ability to foster peace and safeguard security within and beyond its borders”.
The Strategy also stresses that “a sustainable, innovative and competitive European defence industry is essential for Europe’s strategic autonomy and for a credible CSDP”. A solid European defence, technological and industrial base needs a “fair, functioning and transparent internal market, security of supply, and a structured dialogue with defence relevant industries”.
In this respect, EU funds to support defence research and technologies and multinational cooperation are crucial for European security and defence efforts underpinned by a strong European defence industry, the Strategy underlines. “Crucially, EU funding for defence research and technology, reflected first in the mid-term review of the Multiannual Financial Framework, and then in a fully-fledged programme in the next budget cycle, will prove instrumental in developing the defence capabilities Europe needs”.
While insisting on the undisputed fact that “NATO remains the primary framework for most Member States”, the Strategy underscores that the EU needs to be strengthened as a “security community: European security and defence efforts should enable the EU to act autonomously while also contributing to and undertaking actions in cooperation with NATO”.
Echoing the letter and spirit of the Joint Declaration signed by both organization on 8 July in Warsaw, the Strategy calls for a strong EU-NATO relationship with both sides being complementary: “The EU will therefore deepen cooperation with the North Atlantic Alliance in complementarity, synergy, and full respect for the institutional framework, inclusiveness and decision-making autonomy of the two”.
Defence cooperation has to become “the norm”
For Europe to achieve strategic autonomy and become a security provider capable of responding to external crises and keeping its territory and citizens safe, Member States need to have at their disposal “all major high-end military capabilities and equipment”, as well as the technological and industrial means to acquire and sustain such capabilities. “This means having full-spectrum land, air, space and maritime capabilities, including strategic enablers”, one reads in the Strategy.
Europeans must also improve the monitoring and control of flows which have security implications. This requires investing in Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance, including Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS, or drones), satellite communications, and autonomous access to space and permanent earth observation, the document emphasizes.
Furthermore, Europeans must invest in digital capabilities to secure data, networks and critical infrastructure within the European digital space. “We must develop capabilities in trusted digital services and products and in cyber technologies to enhance our resilience. We will encourage greater investments and skills across Member States through cooperative research and development, training, exercises and procurement programmes”.
Against this backdrop, and not-withstanding the overarching consensus that “Member States remain sovereign in their defence decisions”, the Strategy urges EU leaders to come to terms with the reality that “no Member State can afford to do this individually: this requires a concerted and cooperative effort”. As a consequence, “Member States will need to move towards defence cooperation as the norm”. Cooperation is all the more indispensable as “nationally-oriented defence programmes are insufficient to address capability shortfalls”.