The ESDP in a nutshell
By Nicolas Gros-Verheyde | Tuesday 28 October 2008
The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is undoubtedly one of the areas in which the European Union has made the most progress in the last ten years or so. But this dynamism has been achieved at the price of a certain amount of discretion and 'complexity'. As a high-level European diplomat put it when speaking to
Europolitics, “we’ve tended to try to carry out operations while limiting the institutions and procedures to the minimum”. This has been both for practical reasons – “not wasting any time” – as well as political ones – member states, in particular France and Britain, which were behind the Saint Malo declaration, do not look at the ESDP in exactly the same way. So it was about “not being confrontational” and not overshadowing NATO. Today, the ESDP seems to have proved its effectiveness, with nearly 20 operations and missions carried out on three continents. But it still needs to strengthen its political, operational and industrial instruments. This will certainly be the challenge for the next ten years.
A security and defence strategy
The ESDP has an essential mission: being an operational instrument for managing crises that take place outside the EU, alongside other European instruments (diplomatic, economic, legal). It is this possibility of acting on several fronts, and with many actors, that is both the strength and weakness of the EU.
At the end of 2003, the EU adopted a common security strategy. Based on an analysis of global challenges and the main threats hanging over Europe’s security (terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, regional conflicts and rogue states), the strategy sets out three aims:
- facing up to threats by carrying out a policy of prevention of conflicts based on a combination of civil and military means of action
- building security in the European neighbourhood by being involved in the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus
- promoting effective multilateralism by defending and developing international law in the fundamental framework of the United Nations Charter.
This strategy was set out at the European Council of 12 December 2003, following several difficult months, marked by a 'schism' within the EU over the intervention in Iraq, which was supported by some countries (UK, Spain, Portugal, Italy and the Eastern European countries) and rejected by others (Germany, France, Belgium and the neutral countries).
The high representative
Often dubbed the 'chief diplomat' of the EU, the high representative is a little more than that. He is at the head of the EU’s foreign policy and its security and defence policy. In this area, he has the power of initiative, on behalf of the member states (in liaison with the European Commission for budgetary and economic matters).
Once developed, he has the responsibility for executing decisions that are taken in this area. As secretary-general of the Council, he also has control over the administration of this institution, which represents the member states in Brussels, for all the political, economic and legal decisions of the European Communities and of the European Union.
Set up by the Treaty of Amsterdam, which came into force on 1 May 1999, the post has been held, since it was created, by Javier Solana, NATO’s former secretary-general. His first mandate was renewed for five years at the European Council of June 2004, until 18 October 2009.
The Political and Security Committee (PSC) is where the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and therefore the EU’s defence policy is forged. Made up of 27 EU ambassadors, it is the equivalent of Coreper (the Committee of Permanent Representatives) in the area of CFSP. This is where the 27 member states try to seek agreement on issues as sensitive as the independence of Kosovo, sanctions against the president of Belarus or negotiations with Iran on the nuclear dossier. This is where all the generals, EU heads of mission or special representatives back from mission, report back to. This is where EU civilian and military missions, such as the mission of observers in Georgia or the military operation in Somalia, are put together.
Formally set up by the Treaty of Nice (signed on 26 February 2001, entered into force on 1 February 2003), the PSC is chaired by the ambassador of the country which has the Presidency of the EU (France in the second half of 2008, the Czech Republic in the first half of 2009).
Any operation (civilian or military) requires the unanimous political agreement of the member states, defining the mandate, the objective and appointing a head of the operation. The agreement is formalised via a legal decision, a joint action, decided unanimously and published in the Official Journal.
Funding: Athena or the EU budget
EU military operations are financed by each participating country. But, in order to ensure that there is some solidarity, a “mechanism for the management of the financing of common costs for EU operations with military implications or in the area of defence” (known as the ‘Athena mechanism’) was set up in March 2004 (and regularly reviewed, the last time being in early 2007). All the member states (except Denmark) contribute to certain expenditure, strictly defined, according to a fixed coefficient depending on their gross national product. However, this funding only corresponds to one-sixth or one-fifth of the real costs of an operation.
Civilian missions tend to be financed more from the Community budget (external policy) – with a part often coming from member states or non-EU countries, via contributions in terms of personnel or equipment.
The Petersberg tasks
Adopted in 1992, in the middle of the war in Yugoslavia, at an informal meeting of defence ministers at the castle of Petersberg (near Bonn), they set out the EU’s area of intervention. These tasks are now in Article 17 of the EU’s Treaty: “humanitarian and evacuation missions, missions to keep peace and missions of combat forces to manage crises, including missions to restore peace”. The future Lisbon Treaty adds to this list some missions, which are already underway, such as advisory missions and military assistance missions.
Civilian or military missions
The ESDP covers military operations and civilian missions. In both cases, the aim is to achieve security in the country (or zone) concerned: by peacekeeping or by training, restructuring and assisting the existing forces that constitute, for a state, the very essence of its sovereignty (police, justice, customs, army, borders). The distinction between the two may sometimes not be obvious. Use of the term ‘civilian’ or ‘military’ is chosen for reasons that are as much political as operational. Thus, in a ‘civilian’ mission, military personnel can be present (eg in Kosovo or Guinea), carrying and using weapons can be authorised (in Kosovo, a reserve force of 500 mobile gendarmes and carabinieri is expected to be deployed). These missions are deployed in war zones (eg in Iraq or Afghanistan).
The military traditionally works on the basis of different options for action. Various ‘concepts’ have therefore been developed by the EU’s Military Staff since 2000, especially after the military operation in Congo in 2003, with most having been updated in 2008: military planning at the political and strategic levels (September 2001); force generation (September 2002); military rapid reaction (January 2003); strategic transport and movement (February 2006); framework nation (July 2002); global planning (November 2005); support for the host country during operations to manage crises (June 2006); reception, staging, onward movement & integration (RSOM&I, September 2006); battlegroups – tactical groupings (October 2006); medical and health support (July 2007); maritime rapid reaction (November 2007); air rapid reaction (December 2007); military information (February 2008); military command and control (June 2008); geospatial information; Network Enabled Capability (NEC).
The rapid reaction force
Dating back to a Franco-British-German initiative in 2004, after the Artemis operation in Congo, the 1,500-strong tactical groupings (more often known as ‘battlegroups’) are the EU’s light rapid reaction force. With at least 1,500 personnel and tactical and logistics (such as air transport) support to be autonomous, they must arrive on the ground no more than 15 days after a crisis management concept has been approved. They can carry out their mission for between one and four months.
Two GT1500 groupings are on standby every half year. In the second half of 2008, a group led by Germany (plus France, Spain, Belgium and Luxembourg, five countries that form the Eurocorps) and another by the UK are on standby. In the first half of 2009, two Mediterranean groups will be on standby: the first one led by Italy (plus Spain, Portugal and Greece); the second by Greece (plus Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania).
The battlegroups have not so far been used. A debate has started about making the concept more flexible, having a strategic reserve of personnel or a precursor element for deployment during a military operation (until the proper force generation process is carried out).
This is the process that allows the EU to establish the amount of forces that the member states are ready to provide for a military operation outside the EU. Without “significant offers from member states an operation cannot be launched”. It is also the chance for each country to specify the length of its commitment and the limitations (caveats) that it intends to have in some situations (such as zones or rules of engagement).