A compass helps to find the way, and the Strategic Compass that I have drawn up at the behest of the European Council will be our operational guide for the development and decision-making of the European Union in matters of security and defense. The document has already been presented to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and Defense of the European Union.
The Strategic Compass is designed to answer three questions: What challenges and threats do we face? How can we better group our assets and manage them effectively? And what is the best way to project the influence of Europe as a regional and global player?
Our global threat analysis clearly shows that Europe is in danger. The European Union risks what I have called a “strategic shrinkage”. This is perceived from three points of view. First, our economic reach is increasingly circumscribed. Thirty years ago, the European Union represented a quarter of the world’s wealth; 20 years from now, it will represent just over 10%. Our demographic contraction is developing in a similar way: by the end of this century, Europe will represent less than 5% of the world’s population.
Most importantly, some of our economic competitors have very different values than we do, posing a threat to our regulatory power. The European Union should integrate this fact into its policymaking, recognizing that competition for global standards is already developing in the race for dominance of artificial intelligence, cloud computing, semiconductors and biotechnology.
Second, the strategic environment of the European Union is increasingly contested, due to challenges from ambitious new players, displays of military force and destabilization strategies including cyber warfare and disinformation. Gone are the days when peace and war were two clearly differentiated states. We are and will increasingly face hybrid situations that require a wide range of defensive means.
Finally, the political sphere of the European Union is shrinking and our liberal values are increasingly being questioned. In the “battle of narratives”, the idea that universal values are really only Western constructions has been gaining traction. The old assumption that economic prosperity would always lead to democratic development has been disproved.
To navigate this increasingly competitive strategic environment, the European Union must become a provider of security for its citizens, protecting our values and interests. But to do this, it will have to act more quickly and decisively when managing crises.
That means anticipating rapidly changing threats and protecting your citizens against them; invest in the necessary skills and technologies; and cooperate with international partners to achieve common goals.
These measures will increase our ability to deter attacks, and to react to one when it occurs. The main value of military force is not that it allows us to solve problems, but that it can help prevent problems from being solved to our detriment. That is why the Strategic Compass proposes a European Union capacity for the rapid deployment of forces across the spectrum of actions provided for by the European Union treaties.
Previous attempts to rapidly deploy European Union forces have had only limited success. But the Strategic Compass aims to make these deployments more operational and effective in three ways. In the first place, it would follow a modular approach, its composition being defined by specific scenarios and reinforced by joint training, rather than being predisposed as a permanent force.
Second, through clear guidelines that would establish that it is the mission that determines the type and size of the force, and not the other way around.
And third, we could redouble our efforts to overcome the various shortcomings that have long hampered our operational capabilities, with clear actions that should be prioritized.
All of this will require legitimacy and flexibility. Who will decide and how should the decisions be applied? Without questioning the principle of unanimity, it is possible to act creatively by activating some provisions such as constructive abstention or Article 44 of the Treaty on European Union that allows the creation of coalitions approved by the Council. Above all, we need political will – without which nothing is possible – and operational efficiency – without which everything is useless.
Obviously, the European Union must not limit its actions to the deployment of military forces. The Strategic Compass also focuses on cyber, maritime and space security. To anticipate threats, it proposes enhancing intelligence capabilities and expanding the set of tools to counter hybrid and cyber attacks, as well as foreign misinformation and interference. It also sets investment goals to equip our armed forces with the necessary capabilities and innovative technologies, to fill strategic gaps, and to reduce technological and industrial dependencies.
Finally, I want to underline that this effort in no way contradicts Europe’s commitment to the Atlantic Alliance, which continues to be the core of our territorial defense. This commitment should not prevent us from developing our own capabilities and conducting independent operations in our neighborhood and beyond, especially at a time when the attention of US policy makers may be focused elsewhere – especially in the Indo-Pacific. European strategic responsibility is the best way to strengthen transatlantic solidarity. This concept is at the center of the new security and defense dialogue between the United States and the European Union.
Europeans must understand that the Strategic Compass is not a magic wand. It is up to the member states of the European Union to determine whether today’s geopolitical changes will be another neglected wake-up call, and the renewed debate on European defense another false start. The Strategic Compass is an opportunity to fulfill Europe’s security responsibilities directly, to our citizens and the rest of the world.
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