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Author: Clodagh Quain, Researcher (Security and Defence)

The EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy, which was presented in June 2016, sought to “nurture” the ambition of European ‘strategic autonomy’. Debate on the meaning and implications of this aspiration continue today and raises questions such as:

  • Does ‘autonomy’ imply an independent capacity to act with the associated political will?
  • To what extent must such action be contextualised based on the current multi-polar system and be contingent upon the realities of interdependence and the multilateral order?
  • Are there concerns among states, which are members of both EU and NATO, that this ‘autonomy’ should align with their existing security and defence obligations?
  • Can we conclude that reaching an appropriate level of autonomy implies a voluntary approach to cooperation in security and defence policy?

The timing of the 2016 EU Global Strategy launch was considered unusual given the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. After considerable reflection and advice, the EU High Representative for Foreign Policy, Federica Mogherini, briefed colleagues in the European Parliament on her decision to proceed, admitting that despite the UK referendum results, it was “exactly the right moment” for Member States to advance with efforts to pool resources, in particular in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP).

By the end of 2017, High Representative Mogherini remarked that “we have achieved more in this last year than we achieved in decades on security and defence in the European Union”. Though this statement was somewhat exaggerated, developments on CSDP were already underway.

Support for advancing CSDP was not limited to the EU institutions. In a Spring 2018 Eurobarometer survey, three quarters of respondents expressed support for a common security and defence policy among EU states (with one in five opposed). Ireland ranked seventh place, with 67% in favour and 24% against. According to the EU Global Strategy, the political context was then “fragile”, which contrasted starkly with the previous EU security strategy document in 2003, entitled ‘A Secure Europe in a Better World’.

This policy brief will examine the accelerated development in the subsequent two years, which has resulted in closer cooperation on security and defence issues. This includes Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), the European Defence Fund (EDF) and the new 2018 Capability Development Plan (CDP). Second, it maps the further evolution of CSDP, an integral component of the Union’s Foreign and Security Policy, and third, it argues for further coordination to address the continuing and substantial capability gaps in Europe’s security and defence policy.

The paper can be accessed here.