We live in an era of increasing strategic competition between states and complex security threats, where power politics have returned to stay. This is not the world we Europeans have chosen — it is the world we face. The European Union has to be ready to defend our interests and values in this increasingly contested world order.
The new threats are not just related to disputes between militaries or over territories. Hybrid threats, disinformation or cyberattacks have become new frontiers of geopolitical conflict. Interdependence is becoming increasingly conflictual, and even soft power is weaponized. The “vaccine diplomacy” around the delivery of COVID-19 vaccines is a good example.
In this more hostile security environment, we cannot afford to treat our security as “business as usual.” It requires us to increase our capacity and willingness to act. That is what the “Strategic Compass,” which I presented to member states in November, seeks to address.
The Strategic Compass is a political proposal that defines a higher ambition for our security and defense policy, and it sets concrete means to make this ambition a reality. It draws an assessment of the threats and challenges we face, and proposes operational guidelines to enable the European Union to become a global security provider that protects its citizens, values and interests, and contributes to international peace and security.
First, it makes a political proposal to set out a common strategic vision for EU security and defense for the next five to 10 years. It is an ambitious but achievable plan that will lead to strengthening our security and defense policy.
Second, it contributes to building a common strategic culture, to strengthening unity and solidarity, to enhancing EU capacity and willingness to act together, and to protecting our interests and defending our values around the world.
Finally, it offers a range of proposals to bring greater coherence and common sense of purpose to European security and defense actions and specifies clear targets and milestones to measure progress.
The options put on the table are ambitious and far-reaching, and cover a wide spectrum of security and defense — from crisis management to hybrid threats, and from cyber defense to space and maritime security or partnerships. However, to achieve the full potential of the Strategic Compass, we also need to ensure that all our actions and investments in the development of defense capabilities and new technologies go in the same direction.
On this front, we have some homework to do. The EU is the second-highest defense spender in the world, with a combined total defense budget of $226 billion, second only to the U.S. However, the U.S. far exceeds the union in available capabilities. The EU is still facing significant fragmentation and inefficiencies.
Around 80% of defense procurement is still run on a purely national basis, often leading to costly duplication of capabilities. And only 9% of defense research and technology is conducted in cooperation among member states. To address this, the Strategic Compass puts forward proposals to invest in the capabilities Europe needs, and stimulates joint procurement of equipment and technologies developed at the EU level.
The Strategic Compass also suggests ways to invest in innovation, reduce our strategic dependencies and secure supply chains. Emerging and disruptive technologies are changing the future battlefield and have an increasing impact on the defense sector. Their development is key to maintaining a military advantage.
We have put in place ambitious structures to make this happen, but we must make full use of all the instruments available, such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation, the Coordinated Annual Review and the European Defence Fund to advance such projects and develop new ones. The latter is key to boosting cooperation. With €8 billion (U.S. $9 billion) for the period of 2021-2027, the EDF represents a step change, making the EU one of the top three defense research investors in Europe.
Ensuring coherence among our EU defense initiatives is fundamental. With my three hats — high representative and vice president of the European Commission as well as head of the European Defence Agency — I am working on this, together with my colleague Commissioner Thierry Breton.
However, a strong EU defense also requires a competitive and innovative European defense industry — one that is able to provide the necessary, state-of-the-art capabilities to our military forces. The renewed momentum on defense cooperation — through the various defense initiatives and the Strategic Compass, but also the overall increase in defense budgets — creates favorable conditions for strengthening the European defense technological and industrial base.
Defense industrial consolidation will play a key role in stimulating European cooperation in this strategic area. That is why member states and industry should actively engage in this process to support a stronger EU defense and a stronger EU in the world.
Josep Borrell is the European Commission’s vice president.