More than ever, Europe is confronted with a number of conflicts and tensions on its periphery. These developments have increased following the outbreak of COVID-19.
The pandemic has led to the erosion of democratic and human rights standards around the world and has been used in some countries to increase repression on fundamental freedoms.
It has aggravated existing security trends and has emphasised the need for the European Union to strengthen its power and its capacity, in line with our values and interests, including on supply chains and technology.
The European Parliament’s 2020 annual report on the implementation of the EU’s Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) states that the pandemic is a wake-up call for a more united European foreign policy and an effective multilateral global order.
We need to quickly adapt and adjust our EU response to this new geopolitical reality. The EU is a ‘partner of choice’ for third parties, guided by the promotion of democracy and the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
It is also a reliable actor and mediator in conflict resolution, and also a leader in promoting multilateral frameworks. We need to strengthen our global influence, consolidate our strategic alliances with like-minded partners across the world, and diversify our cooperation on an ad hoc basis.
The many threats we face today should lead the EU to develop its strategic sovereignty while strengthening cooperation with its allies. They go hand-in-hand.
“We need to strengthen our global influence, consolidate our strategic alliances with like-minded partners across the world and diversify our cooperation on an ad hoc basis”
With regard to security and defence, the EU needs to take further steps to develop a fully-fledged European Defence Union. We need to close as many of the existing capability gaps as possible.
For this reason, the European Union has created several important building blocks for setting up a meaningful architecture in this field since 2016. It is now crucial to make these new instruments operational or bring them to the next level of ambition.
Setting strategic priorities for the newly-adopted €7.9bn European Defence Fund (EDF), as well as an ambitious work programme, is of the utmost importance for its success. It will also help strengthen the correlation with the EU’s strategic Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) projects.
The European defence pillar will profit from the participation of the United States, Canada and Norway in the ‘Military Mobility’ strategic PESCO project. Our road to establishing a stronger, more sovereign, more united and more strategic defence and security policy must reinforce - and under no circumstances undermine - transatlantic cooperation and NATO.
As the Military Mobility example shows, it is possible to build up meaningful structures in the EU framework and pave the way for stronger and more ambitious defence cooperation with partners.
Moreover, I expect the European Peace Facility to be fully operational by July this year, with full transparency in its use, adequate safeguards, and coherence with other EU instruments.
And there is more to come: The ‘Strategic Compass’ will be another new instrument to unite EU Member States behind a common foreign policy vision and a common security and defence culture. Europeans still have differentiated risk perceptions.
Countries in the south or in the southeast have a different understanding of threats and dangers compared to the Nordic and Baltic States, who are at the forefront of Russian cyber and hybrid threats.
“Our road to establish a stronger, more sovereign, more united and more strategic defence and security policy must reinforce - and under no circumstances undermine - transatlantic cooperation and NATO”
In my opinion, the Strategic Compass should explain how the EU will protect its citizens, enhance its strategic sovereignty and become a stronger global partner.
It should also define what kind of security and defence player the EU wants to be. A draft of the Strategic Compass should be presented sooner rather than later, in order to enter a broad public debate with a parliamentary dimension.
The EU has great untapped potential in the area of foreign and security policy, if all components - both hard power and soft power - are combined and integrated. Despite all these developments, let us not forget that NATO and the transatlantic partnership remains an indispensable pillar of our security architecture in Europe.
It is true that we, as Europeans, have to shoulder greater responsibility by investing in capabilities that enable our shared defence, both in our imminent neighbourhood, as well as globally.
In this, let us remain transatlantic and also become more European. High ambitions need to be underpinned by actual military means and capabilities. Only a strong and united EU, with the combined weight of its 27 Member States, can assume a responsible and active leadership role on the international stage.