The tangled path of the European Defence Community

by Asia Modenese

The idea of a Defence Community began to hover in European spirits as early as the 1950s, but what went wrong? And where are we today?

In a nutshell: the EDC

It was in the 1950s when, after the Korean War, Jean Monnet firstly proposed the idea of an European defence organization that would include an European army under the leadership of an European authority: the main concept was to counterbalance Soviet power (precisely the main focus of this article), with the help of the United States, also including West German forces. As known, the plan for the European Defence Community (EDC) was rejected by the French assembly in 1954. Since then, ideas about the EDC have diverged among different countries (primarily because each had and has a different conception of what can be considered a safety hazard), and many proposals have been made to try to revive it.

The German and French visions seemed to come closer in recent years, especially after the spread of terrorism and the 2015 migrant crisis. Starting in 2016, several proposals were made to try to move things along, with the willingness of strengthening EU’s defence capacity: starting with the proposal of a European Defence Fund (EDF) by then European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the communication on the European Defence Action Plan from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament.

Among the main points that figured to achieve effective progress: strategy (in line with the targets and aims of the 2016 Global Strategy), funding, capabilities and comprehensiveness, trying not only to focus on the implementation and reinforcement of PESCO, but also ensuring “democratic elections and tighten[ing] EU’s arms export regime”, as stated by S. Blockmans and D. Crosson.

How February 24th has changed the European approach: new strategies

Definitely, one event that has accelerated the progress for the EDC works is the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine, forcing European countries to review their security and defence objectives. The EU has always tried to keep its distance from the troubles between Moscow and Kiev, given the feared Russian response. Despite this, after February 24, things have surely changed: not only the way in which the EU looks at Russia, but also its role within European security. On March 24, a declaration was published by the European Council, in which it is reported that Russian aggression violates the principles of international law, calls for the interruption of military aggression and affirms its support not only to Ukraine, but also to the Republic of Moldova, and, moreover, in recent weeks the Union has adopted the so-called Strategic Compass. This strategy emphasizes the fact that “At stake are the very principles upon which international relations are built, not least those of the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act”, and for this reason, the EU needs to accelerate its response. Written down by the HR Josep Borrell, the Strategic Compass is “setting out concrete actions”, to increase the responsiveness of European forces and to have a “faster and more flexible decision-making”. This plan is based on 4 points: act, secure, invest and partner (with reference to bilateral partners and the partnerships with NATO and the UN), also with regards to the already mentioned EU Global Strategy.

The Union’s main concerns

Going back to the EDC and the policies adopted by the Union, the latter stressed the importance of the deployment of an EU Rapid Deployment Capacity, which includes about 5000 troops (deriving from military forces of pre-selected member states); all this by implementing Article 44 of the TEU and to be added, as stressed above, to a better flexibility of decision-making. The new strategy also takes into account the most important European agencies, including EUROPOL, FRONTEX and EUROJUST, especially to “increase the synergy between justice and home affairs actors and CSDP”, striving to achieve as soon as possible (believed by the end of 2022) a Troop Rotation Cycle Register for CSDP military operations.

Another relevant point regarding European security is that of cyberattacks, which have become increasingly frequent after recent events. A cyberattack is defined as “any offensive maneuver that targets computer information system, […], infrastructures or personal computer devices”. The EU is trying to invest in intelligence-based strategies, especially in the EU Single Analysis Capacity, with the aim to “facilitate the exchange of strategic intelligence to better respond to the challenges”, also developing a EU’s Cyber Defence Policy against cyberattacks. Together with cyberattacks and under the Strategic Compass, it is also relevant the engagement in disarmament, non-proliferation, and arms control that the Union is promoting.
One of the most relevant problems, however, is that of European dependence on Russian gas (which covers about  38% of Europe’s natural gas important): Member States are trying as much as possible to reduce this overdependence, although this is neither easy nor immediate. As IEA’s studies show, European policy choices are closely linked to the to the relationship with Russian energy and increasing European defence also means trying to rely on alternative pipelines and power sources. All of this must be related to the Climate Change and Defense Roadmap Member States are willing to implement by the end of 2023. On this side, as the European Council has already declared, sanctions have been introduced: first of all, a ban on exports to Russia in the oil refining sector and a ban on new investments in its energy sector.
The EU has also moved for the application of penalties against Belarus.

A more united Europe?

As things are now constantly changing and mutating, we see how Europe is trying to respond in a compact and decisive way, and the strengthening of the EDC, having overcome the early failures of the 1900s, is certainly driving this change, gaining more and more importance also at a global level. Political dialogue, according to the Strategic Compass, will also be strengthened with NATO and the UN, with the intention of developing new defence strategies between 2022 and 2024.
The EDC’s path is therefore tangled, but it seems to be slowly unraveling, thanks to new policies and the joint commitment of all Member States, foreshadowing what already seems to be a more united Europe.