European Defence Union – Quo Vadis?


Estonian ALDE MEP Urmas Paet,  Rapporteur of the European Defence Union and ALDE Party President Hans van Baalen’s debated at our reoccurring ‘Liberal Breakfast’ event series about the need for an updated European defence policy and where it is heading to as whole.


Shifting challenges, from the threat of terrorism to far reaching military conflicts to cyber security issues, along with changing political players on the global stage have influenced the EU’s security environment significantly.

A variety of initiatives from different European institutions, such as the European Council, as well as the European Commission have led to an increased focus on a more efficient Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Also Member States have sought to deepen integration and cooperation on this field. Most recently the European Parliament, in particular the Liberals (ALDE), used this momentum to call for stepping up military and defence capabilities.

The report brought before the parliament by rapporteur and Estonian ALDE MEP Urmas Paet on the European Defence Union underlines the need for clear commitments from Member States and an updated policy approach. This and the question on where the European defence policy is heading to as whole, were the focal point of MEP Urmas Paet’s and ALDE Party President Hans van Baalen’s debate at our reoccurring ‘Liberal Breakfast’ event series, organized by FNF Europe and the ALDE Party.


Independent policy

One of the most crucial aspects that MEP Paet pointed out, is the realisation that the EU cannot solely rely on the U.S. policy and especially budgetary input within NATO to secure its own defence. It is compelling that the EU has to not only create its own structures in a policy sense, but should financially adapt its resources too in order to become independent. Raising defence and security in the Member States’ budget will have to be the utmost priority, in order to make new policy work at all. This implies also stronger investments in research in the area of defence and security.

Another notable issue and pressing obstacle in the context of creating a consistent defence policy alongside NATO, is the fact that six countries of the EU are not even part of the Alliance and are subject to the policies of outside actors – leaving the EU as a whole a reactive, rather than proactive player on the field.


Complementarity to NATO

The underlying question during the ‘Liberal Breakfast’ discussion was how permanent structured cooperation (PESCO) could work alongside the commitments to NATO. Paet indicated to look at the opportunities laid out in the Lisbon Treaty. According to the Treaty, permanent structured cooperation is foreseen on the grounds of financing, equipment, operational, capabilities and defence industry. These areas can work complimentary to given NATO commitments and should serve as a point of departure. Especially in the cyber and hybrid sector, EU and NATO could become valuable partners.


Steps towards a comprehensive approach

Especially in light of current problems the EU is facing, a missing comprehensive defence structure has only led to inefficient military capabilities in Europe, which are slow in reaction and showcases how wasteful in resources they are.

The re-design of battle groups, implying an equal readiness of military capacity all over the EU, could symbolise one of the steps towards reducing mismanagement. Another element as Paet suggested, could be the creation of a ‘Military Schengen’, which would allow for a smooth movement of battle groups and equipment between countries, without the unnecessary bureaucratic procedures attached to it.


How far-reaching these developments will become in the future, Paet concluded, is up to debate, but will need Member States’ full determination and commitment in order to reach an effective European Defence Union.



Daniela Oberstein, Programme Manager / Media Officer, European Dialogue Programme, Brussels.