This question could not be timelier given the recent momentum in the area of security and defence, with the European Council last December discussing defence for the first time since 2005 (!).
Last Wednesday, we were honoured to welcome Rini Goos, Deputy Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency; Robert G. Bell, U.S. Secretary of Defense Representative, Europe and Defense Advisor to the U.S. Mission to NATO; and Dr Jamie Shea, Deputy Assistant Secretary General for Emerging Security Challenges at NATO to our offices as speakers to discuss exactly that question at a roundtable event. FH’s Dan Baxter, SVP and Partner as well as Global Manufacturing and Industrials lead moderated the discussion.
Pooling and sharing of defence capabilities was a recurring theme, as expected; in an age of austerity defence cooperation makes sense to provide the efficiencies and savings that Member States so desire. Whilst regional alliances and coalitions of willing Member States were encouraged in terms of cooperation, we were also reminded of how we are still far off from an ideal situation (or even a definition of what such a situation might look like).
Although there are still challenges facing Europe such as capability shortfalls, affecting its ability to lead and partner with its allies, the EU is increasingly being recognised as a credible actor in the security and defence arena. Huge steps have been taken since the inception of the CSDP, but the question of a wider strategy or ultimate goal remains. Will the EU remain active in its current niche, with smaller missions largely focused on Africa? Will it set a goal of strategic autonomy, whether that means a full spectrum of capabilities or a range of tools for peace-keeping and security, or will progress be reversed? The question was, perhaps, actively avoided by Baroness Ashton at the recent Council in order not to impede progress on smaller, incremental steps to a common approach.
During the discussion it also became apparent that the premise of European defence cooperation, greater transparency, and joint planning is not accepted by all. Some argued that regional and alliance cooperation does not necessarily require EU involvement, nor do all citizens and nations share the view that European aggregation of defence capabilities is the best way forward.
As for the near future, the Greek Presidency has promised to focus on maritime security and the forthcoming Italian Presidency has promised to keep defence on the agenda as well. The European Council in June 2015 will then take stock of what progress has been made since December 2013. As one participant so ably put it, everyone knows what needs to happen to make European security and defence cooperation work. We just need to get into action and that remains easier said than done.
Lorraine and Pamela