As EU defense ministers prepare for formal meetings within the Foreign Affairs Council, the hope is that this will provide political impetus for the refinement and further development of the bloc’s common defense and security policy.
As the EU security and defense policy has been upgraded from European (ESDP) to common (CSDP) with the entry of the Lisbon Treaty, EU defense ministers are seeking to boost the credentials of their gatherings, too.
So far, they have met four times a year. Two meetings have taken place in informal settings. Twice they have gathered prior to their joint session with the foreign ministers. There, on the sidelines of the Foreign Affairs Council, the defense ministers have held one session as the steering board of the European Defence Agency and one to discuss but not decide CSDP matters.
Due to French and Spanish efforts and with the blessing of the European Parliament, this is about to change. It is widely expected that the EU defense ministers soon will hold their own formal meetings in a ‘Council of Defence Ministers’ format within the Foreign Affairs Council. First though, some institutional questions and crucial elements of the set-up await decision.
Moreover, concerns that formal defense ministers’ gatherings will further the militarization of CSDP are to be addressed. They are set to persist even though EU defense ministers will meet within the Foreign Affairs Council. A defense minister’s council separate from the Foreign Affairs Council is legally not feasible. It would require a treaty change so as to enable High Representative Catherine Ashton, president of the foreign ministers’ council, to chair it.
Different ministerial formats within a single Council do not constitute novelty. EU trade ministers already meet irregularly in the framework of the Foreign Affairs Council. Other Council of the EU formations host different ministerial formats, too. Nor is a distinct council politically appropriate. The Common Security and Defense Policy is an integral part of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).
EU defense ministers may finalize the way they organize themselves within the Foreign Affairs Council at their next informal gathering. Until then, an understanding must be reached on the following elements of the set-up:
How frequently will the defense ministers meet formally? Will all these gatherings take place on the same day as the meetings of the foreign ministers? Which issues fall within the exclusive decision-making competence of the defense ministers? What will be the specific hierarchy between the joint session of foreign and defense ministers and the defense ministers’ format when it comes to preparing and taking decisions?
Moreover, a core area of responsibility encompassing specific duties must be defined. There are five tasks by which EU defense ministers could guide and drive forward the CSDP:
• Decision-taking in relation to military capabilities and procurement matters
• Overseeing the preparatory work for the launch and the termination of EU military operations to be decided jointly with the foreign ministers
• Furthering strategic convergence among member states by defining specific EU security interests and objectives as well as elaborating and reviewing strategic and conceptual documents
• Working out procedures for the implementation of defense-related treaty provisions
• Deepening security cooperation with third states and international organizations
Providing political impulse
In addition to these general responsibilities there is no shortfall of particular issues in need of political impulse. Above all, they should take charge of the process elaborating a White Book on EU Security and Defence called for by members of the European Parliament, civil society as well as academic representatives.
It is their duty to specifically define security interests, objectives and priorities and outline the means available and necessary for achieving them. They should, moreover, agree on criteria for deploying EU military operations, for intervening overseas as well as for the use of force.
There are also new treaty provisions to be translated into political practice. Procedures for implementing the mutual assistance clause or common defense in case the European Council decides to apply these provisions must be worked out. In addition, the start-up fund financing the preparation of CSDP activities has to be established.
EU defense ministers should also discuss ways to further institutionalize and formalize structures for dialogue, consultation and cooperation with their Norwegian, US, Turkish, Russian, Canadian and Ukrainian counterparts. Finally, they should work on improving EU-NATO cooperation and should, thus, ensure that the NATO secretary-general takes part in as many of their discussions as possible.
Countering fears of militarization
So far, the EU’s approach to crisis management, conflict prevention and peace-building has been characterized by a comprehensive, civilian-military strategy. A council of defense ministers must, therefore, raise fears of military predominance in developing CSDP. The misgivings are further aggravated by increased emphasis that the Lisbon Treaty puts on the defense component of CSDP.
And yet, the defense ministers will meet within the Foreign Affairs Council only. The fact that CSDP decisions of wider implication have to be taken jointly by foreign and defense ministers should, additionally, guarantee that the EU’s comprehensive approach to security will not be diluted.
Moreover, both the foreign and defense ministers gather in meetings chaired by the High Representative. She and her team will ensure that all instruments at the EU’s disposals will receive due application. Notwithstanding these efforts, EU defense ministers should commit to review and further develop the comprehensive civilian-military approach. To this end, they should occasionally invite justice and home affairs as well as development ministers to participate in informal discussions.
A council of defense ministers format within the Foreign Affairs Council provides a good opportunity to refine CSDP-related procedures, instruments and activities. There are too many topics on the Foreign Affairs Council’s agenda to deal with all relevant issues in depth.
CSDP will benefit most by regular dialogue among defense ministers advancing the strategic convergence and ensuring the political backing of ongoing CSDP engagement. Eventually, such a council format could become a key tool for creating a common security and defense policy.
By. Valentin Misteli