Usually, the spotlight is not on the informal European Councils. This one attracts all eyes. Not only because it is organized by the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU). Thursday March 10 and Friday March 11 in Versailles, the Twenty-Seven must lay the groundwork for the summit of March 24 and 25 in Brussels, supposed to consecrate the famous “strategic compass” of the EU. A kind of ” White Book ” setting the main guidelines for European security and defense until 2030.
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Version 4 of this text, written after the February 24 Russian invasion of Ukraine, takes note of the upheaval in the geopolitical order. The document goes from 34 to 41 pages. “The return of war in Europe as well as major geopolitical changes call into question our ability to promote our vision and defend our interests”, says the draft unveiled by the EURACTIV site. “A more hostile security environment requires us to leap forward and increase our capacity and will to act, build our resilience and ensure solidarity and mutual assistance. » It was necessary to review from top to bottom the European doctrine which did not address the military threat from the Kremlin, nor the risks of hybrid attack, and even less attacks on the Union’s energy supply.
Since their last physical meeting, the leaders of the Member States have made spectacular announcements, with extraordinary military means, like the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who will devote 100 billion euros to the modernization of his army. , judged “extremely limited” in the opinion of the Chief of the Army Staff. Berlin will accede to Paris’ repeated request to devote more than 2% of its GDP to military spending, in accordance with the threshold desired by NATO.
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The conflict also validates the policy of increasing the French budget. “Our country will increase investment in its defense, decided in 2017”, assured Emmanuel Macron in his speech on March 3, without specifying the amount and the timetable for this effort. Passed in 2018, the 2019-2025 military programming law already provided for annual increases: by 1.7 billion euros per year to reach 41 billion credits in 2022; then marches of 3 billion for an envelope of 50 billion and a target of 2% of GDP in 2025. An expected amount, but not up to the reality of a high intensity conflict.
Poland, a neighbor of Ukraine, will, for its part, increase the effort to 3% next year (against 2.2% today). Finland and Sweden are preparing to join NATO. And what about Denmark? Copenhagen, which had accepted the Maastricht Treaty on the condition of not participating in the common defense policy (so-called “opt-out”), is going to organize a referendum next June to get back in line. He too has pledged to reach the standard of 2% of GDP in military spending by 2033.
“Autonomy” and “sovereignty”
“Now we have to see how to spend this money”, says Édouard Simon, director of European security and defense research at the Institute for International and Strategic Research (Iris). “The Europeans’ combined budgets are much higher than Russia’s, but the Europeans are investing badly, not enough together. » While this observation is widely shared among the Twenty-Seven, they still differ on the directions to take. Paris has also been able to experience the slowness of its partners to engage in the Sahel.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki advocates the creation of a “strong European army” under NATO command, which is not in line with the“strategic autonomy” defended in Paris, nor of the “strategic sovereignty” granted to France by Berlin. Warsaw over the past three years has spent at least $10 billion on military equipment “made in USA”. And Germany, whatever it said in its coalition contract, is about to buy American F35s.
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Another fundamental question that remains unanswered: on what architecture should this metamorphosing defense Europe be based? “We are not going to reinvent the wheel, there are things that already exist: the EU military committee, the EU military. The whole question is to give them content,” says Samuel Faure, lecturer at Sciences Po Saint-Germain-en-Laye and specialist in international defense cooperation. Defense Europe is not starting from scratch. Important foundations were laid from 2016, bolstered by Brexit, as London held back strategic and military attempts at integration.
Encourage research and development
This is how the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) was launched in 2017, with projects shared between Member States: renovation of the Tiger combat helicopter (France, Germany, Spain), precise geolocation of forces using the Galileo satellite, sharing military bases to intervene as quickly as possible…
For the first time, the European budget 2021-2027 also includes a defense fund (7.9 billion euros) in order to encourage, among other things, research and development. It should not remain underutilized. As for the European Peace Facility (EFF), it serves as a basis for delivering arms to Ukraine, whereas until now there was no question of supplying lethal equipment.
“Strengthening our defense capabilities” : in his letter of invitation to the Versailles summit, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, made it a priority. The future and usefulness of “battlegroups”these rapid reaction forces under the aegis of the EU, which have never been deployed, occupy the debates, and this since the rout of the withdrawal from Afghanistan which had highlighted the extreme dependence of the EU to the United States to evacuate its soldiers. “There is this idea that these units have at least 5,000 personnel, against 1,500 today, but how will that have more weight, when NATO can field 40,000 men? », asks Paul Maurice, from the French Institute of International Relations.
The EU and NATO could be complementary on many aspects. “The EU has the capacity to invest and exchange information that NATO does not have”, defends Samuel Faure. The expert lists a whole battery of common defense capabilities that would make sense: transport, supply, tactical transport… But at this stage of the reflection, the “strategic compass” European Union does not integrate the distribution of roles with the Atlantic Alliance, also for lack of consensus. This will no doubt be the role of a forthcoming EU-NATO declaration.