Security policy: EU countries apparently agree on crisis strategy

Status: 02/06/2022 08:53 a.m

With a strategy paper, the EU wants to prepare for the threats of the future – and act internationally again on an equal footing. Now the member countries have apparently agreed on the details.

By Tobias Dammers, ARD Studio Brussels

It was a remark like a slap in the face: the European Union apparently wanted to “remind people of their own existence,” said Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in mid-January after negotiations on the Ukraine crisis. In the serious negotiations, the EU is “not visible”. In fact, the EU was not represented at the meeting, but had previously expressed solidarity with Ukraine on several occasions and repeatedly demanded that no decisions be made over the heads of Europeans.

In the following weeks, the situation in eastern Ukraine was negotiated in a wide variety of compositions. Russia demands security guarantees from NATO, the western allies demand a Russian troop withdrawal. In the meantime, European states are sitting at the table in negotiations: for example in the NATO-Russia Council, at the OSCE, at meetings in the so-called Normandy format or in personal talks between Russian President Putin and Emmanuel Macron from France.

But: The EU as an institution is not represented. According to Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Security and Foreign Policy, the EU is informed by the USA before and after negotiations, is active in exchange and coordination. Nevertheless, the impression remains: Without the USA, the EU is not an international heavyweight in terms of security policy.

Strategic compass for the future

The European External Action Service of the EU Commission also fears a “strategic loss of importance” on its own website. The EU would actually like to be more responsible for itself in security and defense policy in the future – and if necessary, be able to act on its own. To this end, she has been working on a so-called strategic compass since the German Council Presidency in 2020.

It aims to identify security and defense policy priorities and possible threats. The joint strategy paper is to be adopted in March. Most recently, French Foreign Minister Florence Parly advocated that Europe should be “completely sovereign” and “master of its own destiny”.

According to foreign policy expert Ricardo Borges de Castro from the European Policy Center in Brussels, the difficulty lies in uniting the often very different national security interests of 27 member states. According to information from ARD-Europamagazins the member countries now largely agree on the details of the compass.

“Threat Analysis” as a basis

The strategy is based on a global “threat analysis” – the first that the EU has worked out together. A confidential draft of the Strategic Compass from November describes a wide variety of dangers in detail: armed conflicts in Syria and Libya, Russia’s actions, cyber attacks and hybrid wars, terrorist groups, political instability in Africa and Latin America, but also climate change, migration and disinformation .

China is described as a “partner, economic competitor and systemic rival”. The inventory is ruthless: The draft compass states that the EU is “collectively unable” to counter the dangers. And: The discrepancy between the efforts and actions of the EU must be closed.

Nabila Massrali from the EU Commission emphasizes that the wars and crises have changed radically in contrast to the past. She believes the Strategic Compass will be a “game changer” and a “booster for European defences”.

For Ricardo Borges de Castro, on the other hand, the strategic compass is an arbitrary collection of security interests. He lacks concrete priorities, clear goals and ways to achieve them. He also fears that, in the event of acute threats, the national governments will lack the political will to implement the declarations of intent from the compass, to relinquish powers and put individual strategies on the back burner.

Rapid reaction force with 5000 soldiers

The draft Strategic Compass emphasizes partnerships with NATO and the US, as well as the need to invest in domestic security and defense resources. In addition, “more flexible modalities” of EU law are to be discussed to carry out EU operations. The declarations of intent make it clear that the EU would like to be able to act in a more agile, flexible and independent manner.

The most concrete idea is that of a rapid reaction force, in which 5,000 soldiers should be ready for action from 2025. The reason for this was apparently also the helplessness of the European troops in the Afghanistan debacle surrounding the withdrawal from Kabul airport. In the event of a future crisis in which evacuation would also have to take place, says Nabila Massrali from the EU Commission, “this unit would help a lot to be on site quickly”.

But even with the rapid reaction force, Borges de Castro still has doubts: He points out that the EU has had a similar unit at its disposal in the form of the “Battle Groups” since 2007. However, it has never been used. “There is simply no political will.”

You can see this and other reports on Sunday, February 6th, 2022 at 12.45 p.m. in the “Europamagazin”.

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