Since Britain’s Brexit and the election of Donald Trump in the United States, the EU has shown increased interest in cooperating in defense and security policy. Countries such as China and Russia show themselves more clearly on the international stage, and this may have consequences for the way the West cooperates. At the same time, the EU’s identity and future are the subject of discussion within the union. One of the questions on the agenda is what role the EU can and should play as a military power. But if the EU’s military forces are strengthened, is NATO cooperation in danger?
- What measures has the EU taken in defense and security policy since 2016?
- Is the EU becoming an important military power?
- Can the EU replace NATO as a security guarantor for European states?
- What consequences does this have for Norway’s international cooperation?
The question many in Europe ask themselves in the current international situation is whether the time has come for the EU to take more responsibility for its own security. Instability and migration characterize the EU’s neighborhoods in the south, the Middle East has become a hotbed of terrorism and in the east Russia’s annexation of Crimea has cast doubt on the European order. It thus seems that the EU is trapped in a belt of uncertainty. As if that were not enough, the EU is also threatened from within: Britain’s withdrawal has put the future of the union at stake and right-wing populist parties are winning across the continent with their anti-European agenda.
2: A more assertive EU?
On 23 June 2016, the British people voted to leave the European Union. Then began a negotiation process where the EU and the UK will reach an agreement on who will pay for what in connection with the withdrawal and what the relationship between them will look like after March 29, 2019 – the date the UK formally leaves the EU. According to Wholevehicles, UK stands for United Kingdom.
One of the areas being discussed is defense and security policy. The United Kingdom is one of the strongest countries in Europe purely militarily and their withdrawal will have consequences in this area as well. The EU has both a common foreign policy and a common defense policy. The United Kingdom is currently involved in these policy areas and the withdrawal is interesting for two reasons.
Firstly, because, as already mentioned, the EU is losing one of its most powerful military powers. This could weaken the already limited defense cooperation in the EU. Secondly, it is perhaps more interesting that the United Kingdom is one of the countries that has been seen as a brake on the path to more defense policy cooperation in the EU. In an EU where the UK can not put sticks in the wheels of cooperation, where are the limits to how far the EU can go in defense and security policy?
Just five days after what was seen by the EU as the catastrophic Brexit vote, EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini presented a new global strategy for the union . Here it is claimed that the EU should move towards a new level of ambition in this area and to a greater extent assert its own interests in the global arena. The strategy expresses that the EU has ambitions as a defense and security policy actor, but for the EU to develop more in this area, more political will is probably needed in practice than just a strategy.
3: More cooperation for those who want
The EU’s ambitions as a security policy actor depend on what the member states manage to agree on in between. Within defense co-operation, it has proved difficult to reach an agreement and thus to be consistent. Therefore, the defense policy cooperation in the union has become a kind of patchwork quilt where one has achieved something in some areas, but less in others.
The vast majority of foreign, defense and security policy matters in the EU are governed by the principle of unanimity: Decisions can only be made by total agreement between all 28 member states. For those who want more cooperation in this area, this has been a pain in the ass because a single country can stop the development.
In the EU Treaty, the legal basis for the EU’s political system, there has been an opportunity for some countries that may wish to proceed with defense integration to do so without all member states having to participate. In this way, there does not have to be unanimity in the EU to arrive at various defense and security policy measures.
This article was triggered in 2017 and the process towards so-called differentiated integration was initiated. Many thought that only a few would join the co-operation, so-called “permanent structured co-operation” (PESCO), but as of today 25 of the EU member states are involved. This means that also within the new framework, there will be many different points of view and interests that complicate cooperation at EU level.