BRUSSELS — The European Union’s high representative, Catherine Ashton, is set to call on EU member states to share their plans for key defense capabilities in a wide-ranging report due to be released this month.
A preliminary version of the 18-page report, which was obtained by Defense News, may be adapted following discussion by EU defense ministers at an informal gathering in Vilnius, Lithuania, on Sept. 5 and 6. A separate European Commission report will also be discussed then. Both will be debated at an EU summit of heads of state and government leaders in December that will shape the EU’s defense policy.
“The future threats and challenges are such that some convergence of defence capability plans is essential in order to ensure that European capabilities collectively will be suitable to face them in the post-2025 framework,” says the report.
As it stands, the report calls on EU governments to commit to major projects in the areas of aerial refueling, unmanned aircraft, cyber operations and satellite communications. It proposes a European defense reporting initiative to synchronize budget planning cycles among EU member states.
“That would be a smart thing to do but very difficult,” said Daniel Keohane, head of strategic affairs at the foreign affairs think tank FRIDE. “It would be more realistic if the European Defence Agency could get EU member states to share more information on their plans. There has not been a huge effort to share information about budget cuts between EU member states.”
He does not expect “big new plans for capabilities or developing a European army” but said the areas identified for cooperation — refueling, UAVs, cyber and satcom — are “the right ones.”
He added, however, that the cooperation process would likely take several years. “The A400M [multinational transport aircraft] took nearly 15 years to come on stream,” he said.
Ashton’s report concludes by urging EU heads of state and government to provide strategic guidance for the development of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) and defense cooperation in Europe.
“The December discussion should set in motion a process through which the European Council returns to these topics at regular intervals, to monitor progress, sustain momentum and provide renewed impetus,” says the report.
Keohane said this strategic debate is key. Basic issues such as what the CSDP is for, the need for an EU defense policy, the EU’s priorities in the world (e.g., trade and energy security) and where the CSDP fits in, should be part of the discussion, he said
“Defence hasn’t been discussed by heads of state and government at an EU summit since 2008. This is an opportunity to have defense on the agenda at least once a year,” he said. “Without that discussion, what is the policy for?”