Foreign and defence policy implications of the Final Report of the Future of Europe Group

Eleven EU Foreign Ministers
Eleven EU Foreign Ministers
Year published
A review by Nigel Chamberlain and Ian Davis, NATO Watch
(This review first appeared in NATO Watch Observatory No.37 November 2012)

The eleven foreign ministers of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal and Spain published the Final Report of the Future of Europe Group in September 2012 as “a response to the ever accelerating process of globalization [which] pose an unprecedented dual challenge for Europe. … We have to take action to restore confidence in our joint project”.  With regard to collective foreign and defence policy, they conclude that:

The EU also needs to fundamentally reinforce the Common Security and Defence Policy and shape relations with strategic partners more effectively. In the long term, we should seek more majority decisions in the CFSP sphere, joint representation in international organizations, where possible, and a European defence policy. For some members of the Group this could eventually involve a European army.

In Detail

The ministers believe that they have to enhance the coherence of the EU’s external action and it has to act more united in international organizations; e.g. by delivering CFSP statements on behalf of the EU.  They set out their objectives thus:

  • There is a need to strengthen the Common Security and Defence Policy. Our defence policy should have more ambitious goals which go beyond “pooling and sharing”. The possibilities of the Lisbon Treaty, in particular the establishment of Permanent Structured Cooperation should be implemented.
  • We have to make our relations with our strategic partners more effective. The High Representative has a leading role to play here; she should be supported by Member States.
  • We must improve the setting of priorities in the sphere of external relations. We have to improve how the Foreign Affairs Council works. On the basis of a six-monthly agenda planning, we have to make our consultations more strategic and focused. We need more informal meetings in the Gymnich format and better interaction with the European Council; one meeting per year should focus on external relations policy with the participation of the Foreign Ministers. We should consider reviewing the European Security Strategy.

To make the EU into a real actor on the global scene they believe, in the long term, it should: 

  • Introduce more majority decisions in the CFSP sphere or at least prevent one single member state from being able to obstruct initiatives (and in this framework also further develop the concept of constructive abstention);
  • Seek, where possible, joint representation in international organizations; and
  • Aim for a European Defence Policy with joint efforts regarding the defence industry (e.g. the creation of a single market for armament projects); for some members of the Group this could eventually involve a European army.

Opponents and sceptics

In his Telegraph blog, Nile Gardiner (a Washington-based foreign affairs analyst and political commentator) states that the final report of the Future of Europe Group should be a wake-up call to both London and Washington as it “offers a blueprint for a federal European superstate”.  He believes that the foreign ministers’ support for the establishment of a ‘European Army’ is their most dangerous recommendation, “a concept that both Britain and the United States have strongly opposed in the past, and which threatens the future of the NATO alliance”.

US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warned in 1998 against what she called “the three Ds: decoupling, duplication and discrimination”.  Gardiner says that the report, if implemented would undermine the transatlantic alliance in all three areas and it is “an illusion to think that NATO and a European Army could co-exist in an effective fashion”.  He called on the United States and Great Britain to firmly oppose it and refuse any cooperation with the development of an independent EU defence identity.

Writing about the failed EADS-BAE merger talks, editor Dean Carroll writes that the CFSP’s collective military doctrine is “not much more than a fudge whereby ministerial meetings are held and the end result is simply vague speculation about future collaboration. Certainly, a collective European army remains nothing more than notional”.

He claims that pronouncements of increased military 'pooling and sharing' from the European Defence Agency “continue to ring hollow” and plans to build a 'single operational headquarters' for European defence are still in their infancy.  The idea that the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy will “lance the boil on EU defence, by advocating a downgrade of national sovereignty in favour of military collectivism, seems fanciful”.  Carroll does conclude, however, that if large-scale private sector mergers do occur, “a whole new landscape may yet emerge”.

NATO Watch conclusion

In an earlier NATO Watch comment we asked whether the proposed merger between BAE Systems, the ‘UK’s defence champion’, and EADS, Europe’s biggest civil aerospace group, was the holy grail of smart defence or another non-flying circus.  We now know the answer.  The deal’s collapse was hardly a surprise, however, with two difficult companies and three governments involved. 

Government officials in London, Paris and Berlin blamed each other for not backing the €36bn BAE-EADS tie-up.  France, which controlled 15% of EADS directly, apparently disapproved of German demands for the business to be headquartered in Munich, while Germany was seemingly unhappy with France potentially ending up with a bigger shareholding than the 9% it was looking for.  The UK, in turn, rejected the notion of German and French political representatives sitting on the BAE board, as would have been likely under the dual-listed structure envisaged by both companies.

The failure of the deal leaves BAE particularly vulnerable in an era of shrinking defence budgets.  With no Plan B it is little surprise to see the company return to its traditional export-led strategy in the Middle East, with a British Prime Minister once again acting as the company’s chief salesman.  As usual, highly subsidised UK defence manufacturing jobs trump human rights and democracy concerns in key Gulf markets.