Mr. Pierre Etienne CHAMPENOIS
Ambassador of Belgium to France
CREATING A CORE GROUP FOR EUROPEAN DEFENCE COOPERATION?
The Proposals of the Belgian Government
Paris, 13 June 2003
Lecture in the International Seminar for Experts "The Common
Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union - What Lessons Can Be Learned
from the Iraq Crisis?", organised by the Cicero Foundation in the series
Great Debates, Paris, 12 - 13 June 2003.
Core Group or Reinforced Cooperation?
First, let me make a preliminary remark of a semantic nature,
but one that is nevertheless important, to my mind at least. The position
of the Belgian government as regards European defence has more to do with
reinforced cooperation than it does with the creation of a core group.
Reinforced cooperation is a means to progress towards an agreed
objective: it is global and inclusive in essence, while it seeks to accommodate,
when necessary, the need for implementation , differences of status, as well
as the practical constraints of a temporary nature or else local perceptions
and circumstances. The purpose of reinforced cooperation is to facilitate
"opting in" while the notion of a core group is more associated
with "opting out". Restricting, as a matter of principle, European
defence to a core group would be an exercise in futility, especially if this
core group were not to ultimately include the main contributors and key players,
as the UK, to mention but one of them.
Reinforced Cooperation Is Not New
The notion of reinforced cooperation for Defence, or even of
a core group for that matter, is neither new nor exceptional. The Maastricht
treaty provided for just that through the detour of the WEU. It represented
a practical manner to accommodate EU non-NATO members as well as NATO non-EU
members within the European integration process
True, the system did not meet the test of real life because
first, it was too cumbersome and unwieldy; second, the political will to make
it work never really existed; third, the Yugoslav crisis caught us unprepared
materially and even more psychologically, nobody wanted to go to war; fourth,
the then dominant defence concept was still very much NATO forward defence
which implied an integrated NATO defence in which there was no real room for
European defence; fifth, the debate on out of area, especially out of Europe,
was still very much confined to academic circles, mainly for lack of a European
world wide vision and US indecisiveness as to what course to follow in a rapidly
Where Do We Stand Now?
The geopolitical environment has changed dramatically, so has
the EU, and so has NATO. The USSR has passed into history; Russia is institutionally
linked to NATO and EU. There is no direct perceptible military threat in Europe
or to Europe. The threat has become much more diffuse and difficult to identify.
Terrorism is at the forefront of our preoccupations but it will not be eradicated
soon through military responses alone but through a combination of civilian
and military means brought together as a part of a long-term strategy. The
same goes for non-proliferation and WMD.
This raises the importance of the civilian aspects of crisis management and,
whether we like it or not, of nation building. Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa
are good examples in kind of what is in store for the international community.
The EU is well equipped to deal with these multifaceted challenges should
it really organize itself to do so.
NATO's future has today less to do with the defence of Europe, than with projecting
forces for stability, a rather antinomic notion by itself, and the defence
of western interests, which is more to the point but controversial and hard
to define. As a consequence, the old debate about in and out of area has lost
its significance; the challenge for the alliance is more political in nature
than military; and its structures should be adapted accordingly.
In the field of European defence, dramatic progress was also
made since St Malo. ESDP was launched and has now been declared operational.
The goal is agreed at least as far as the implementation of the Petersburg
tasks are concerned. Necessary agreements with NATO (+ Berlin) have finally
been concluded. There is a broad recognition within the EU, if not yet a budgetary
commitment, that the so-called headline goals should be backed by corresponding
capabilities. EU has taken responsibility for the operation in Macedonia and
the force now under deployment in Eastern Congo will also be under EU flag.
In short more progress was made during the last five years than during the
Why the Need for a New Departure?
On the one hand, the Iraq crisis was after Kosovo, the latest
dramatic illustration of the growing hiatus between the two shores of the
Atlantic and which revealed the lack of force projection capabilities of Europeans
individually, and collectively as members of NATO, especially once France
and UK are statistically counted out. This predicament is not without serious
political consequence for the relevance and credibility of NATO as an alliance
of partners but also when it comes to backing CFSP with a minimum of clout
in a world where, whether we like it or not, realpolitik backed by force is
making a strong come back. The question is also to decide what role we see
for ourselves and for EU in the world.
The challenge for us is not to know whether we should match the US, a laughable
pretence, but to decide to what extent we intend to remain allies and military
partners. There we are still a long way from home. Objectives are agreed upon
but implementation is running behind, words are rarely backed by deeds or
by capabilities and, some of us at least, are not putting their money where
their mouth is. Not only do we have to collectively spend more, we have to
collectively spend better.
On the other hand, another lesson of the last few years, since
Cologne and Helsinki, is that the very notion of EDSP doesn't boil down simply
to dispatching of force of 60.000 people for a period of up to one year, not
to mention the need for Rapid Reaction Force deployable in a matter of days.
Taxing as they are, these requirements are only technical in nature. ESDP
needs a strategic concept based upon a threat analysis and a good grasp of
what our global European interests are. The question is less to determine,
now, what the preferred framework for action will be NATO, NATO and EU or
EU alone. This will be in practice resolved by the Americans and local circumstances.
Before we get to that, we need to decide, preferably as the EU, whether it
is worth taking the risk of committing forces if necessary to distant theatres.
European defence requires, as a prerequisite, a European defence policy based
on solidarity, an agreed vision, and the willingness to share risks and not
The Need for a Renewed Effort
Such were indeed the considerations behind the letter of PM
Verhofstadt of July last to President Chirac and PM Blair, as signatories
of St Malo declaration, a letter which was subsequently copied to all members
of the EU. Recognizing in July of last year the quasi-state of stagnation
of European defence, certainly as far as the implementation was concerned,
for reasons which were not entirely germane to ESDP (Turkish -Greek imbroglio),
the letter called for renewed efforts based upon solidarity, i.e. under the
form a mutual security clause to be written in the Constitutional Treaty of
the Union and collective build-up of European military capabilities through
the establishment of an European Agency for the development and acquisition
of capabilities as well as new techniques of financing, specialisation and
distribution of tasks and, last but not least, the development of a European
Staff capability. These recommendations were also made as a contribution to
the work of the European Convention, especially in regard to legal and institutional
This process eventually lead, among much controversy, to the
29 April declaration issued at the conclusion of the Summit of the four. These
conclusions are well known, let me just focus on a number of highlights.
First : Solidarity Extends to Security and Defence
To quote the Maastricht treaty, security and ultimately defence
are an integral part of the European Union process but the treaty itself doesn't
include a security clause, nor any mutual defence commitment.
Some will say that there is no practical use for such a clause, precisely
because security is part of the European process and because most members
are now, directly or not, protected by the NATO treaty. It would indeed be
inconceivable for countries, which decided to share a common destiny and to
exercise in common a number of sovereign competence or to delegate them to
supranational bodies, not to share common security interests as well as the
need to defend them together whether they are or not bound by a treaty of
In practice, the question is therefore not to determine whether
security is a part or not a part of the European Treaty but rather when a
security commitment should be formalized in treaty language. Belgium, and
a number of other states, think that the time has come for the inclusion of
a general clause of solidarity and a binding common security commitment in
the constitutional treaty now in preparation.
For Belgium at least, what is needed, at this juncture, is a
strong political signal based on a legal commitment which will allow for taking,
individually and collectively, the drastic steps which are required to move
European defence forward. Such a security clause which should not necessarily
include a specific European mutual defence commitment for all members should
some prefer not to "opt in" at this stage, would at least allow
for broadening the scope of European security beyond the confine of the Petersburg
tasks which, at any rate, should be revisited.
Second : A European Security Concept.
It is no surprise therefore that European defence in the true
sense of the term, presupposes a European defence policy, which in turn, should
start from a sufficiently clear definition of European security interests.
Belgium is satisfied that this process was initiated in the wake of the last
Gymnich in Rhode. The idea should be to arrive at a EU strategic concept by
the end of the year, not an easy task in view of past experiences, the sensitivity
of the issue and its obvious transatlantic implications.
Third: EU Defence Versus NATO Defence.
This is a false dilemma, one that should be transcended once
and for all because it harms the cause of European defence as well as that
of NATO. EU and NATO are both in need of a new vision and renewed dynamism.
European defence cannot be built alongside NATO and even less against NATO.
European defence will succeed only if done in partnership with NATO. Commitments
within Europe and within NATO are complementary. Any departure from these
lines would be disastrous for the EU as well as NATO.
A true partnership implies, by hypothesis, a credible European
pillar within NATO and only the EU can give this pillar the necessary coherence
and credibility. There is indeed no need to create within NATO a European
identity for the sake of it, unless the ambition is to reproduce a form of
Eurogroup, which was, for 30 years, no more than a fiction precisely because
it was not driven by a political ambition. There is now a pressing need to
account for the emergence of a European defence effort that should be commensurate
with the political ambitions and the economic weight of the EU. Consequently,
there is a need to structure both institutions so as to make them not only
compatible, but also mutually supportive. This is the rationale behind the
Berlin+ agreements, which were finally rounded up in December 2002. These
agreements will have now to meet the test of implementation in a spirit of
open and active cooperation.
One more word about duplications and, more to the point, on
the need to avoid them. The risk of duplication is often used against proposals
to set up European defence institutions or the possible replication of efforts
undertaken in NATO. This is a very valid point, it being understood that a
certain amount of duplication is inevitable if, according to Berlin+ and the
Washington declaration, the EU is to be in a position to act autonomously
should NATO -in practice the United States- decide not to be involved. The
fact that such occurrences would be rare and would not, a priori, imply military
operations of vast magnitude for which, by hypothesis, NATO assets and capabilities
would be required, doesn't mean that they should not be planned for, and conducted
at, an appropriate EU level. One could, of course, resort systematically to
the planning capabilities of a lead nation but such a course would overtime
be neither good politically nor necessarily effective militarily. This is
the philosophy behind the creation of a European headquarter or, a nucleus
of a collective capability for planning and conducting EU lead operations.
Artemis, the operation now undertaken under the aegis of the EU in Eastern
Congo is an illustration of the need for such an European staff capability
especially in an geographic area which, for now at least, is not perceived
as of direct relevance to NATO, contrary to the EU which, as a matter of policy,
is heavily involved in Central Africa.
Fourth: Assets and Capabilities.
A number of suggestions were made in the April 29 declaration
on how to facilitate the development of European military capabilities and
how to improve them in domains where we are individually and collectively
Such measures are in line not surprisingly with what we set
out to do in NATO to meet requirements as identified in that forum, and as
confirmed at the Prague Summit. Indeed priorities are the same and forces
allocated nationally to one organisation are also earmarked for the other.
One cannot therefore speak of duplication at that level but a lot remains
to be done at rationalising, procurement, management and at optimising R&D.
Claims that one organisation stole the priorities of the other are simply
Building up capabilities after years of neglect, and even decreasing
expenditure, calls for more than rationalisation, co-operation and improved
cost effectiveness. A European agency, the principle of which is broadly agreed,
will not by itself do the trick. Budgets will have to be cranked up. This
goes for most European countries, with the notable exception of UK and France.
It certainly applies to Belgium where the equipment ratio is well below average.
This is why Belgium supported an idea, which regrettably could not find its
way in the April 29 Declaration: Why not, in the name of European solidarity,
set out, as was done for the monetary Union, a number of parameters or convergence
criteria? It would not be a Stability Pact but a Solidarity Pact for European
Security. In practice EU members should commit themselves not to let, over
an agreed period of time, defence expenditures, in particular investments,
fall significantly behind an European average.
Calls for more money for defence will not necessarily be heard.
Governments have to justify defence expenditure in the face of other pressing
needs. It is difficult for a country like Belgium to justify defence needs
as a national requirement when there is no specific military threat discernible
against the national territory. Nor, for the same reason, is NATO perceived
as providing a convincing case when it comes to defending Europe. As for issues
beyond Europe, NATO is regrettably seen more and more as a tool supporting
the ambitions of "great powers".
Only the EU can provide a credible political rationale for a
national military effort in support not only of the defence of Europe but,
more importantly, for the defence of European interests world wide. NATO doesn't
mobilise emotions; Europe could if it chose to be more assertive and willing
to act, in conjunction with US, and where necessary in a NATO framework. The
best way to ensure NATO legitimacy overtime is to reinforce collective contribution
of the EU to NATO. It is for the EU to organize in consequence.
Moving from ESDP to ESDU
Pushing ahead on each of the paths just mentioned is by itself
a worthy endeavour. But more needs to be done to pursue these paths collectively
as part of a comprehensive policy. The mere addition of capabilities will
no doubt increase the ratio of defence spending but will not automatically
produce a matching result in term of European defence output. Again, what
is needed is a concept and a framework on which to base a common approach
to rationalisation, specialisation, mission definition, training. These objectives
cannot be pursued in isolation, unless one would want to spend more for a
diminishing global and probably chaotic result.
I know that concepts such as rationalisation and specialization
were always seen as code words for how to do less instead of more. But let
us face realities as they now stand. The choice for most European countries,
if not for all of them to a lesser or greater extent, is between doing more
individually for a better collective output, which means organising politically
in consequence, or specializing by default or, so to speak, through budgetary
attrition. The outcome, in the latter case, would be to give up on even the
pretence of maintaining a coherent defence effort
This is the rationale behind the European Security and Defence
Union (ESDU). ESDU would unite those willing to go faster and further in strengthening
their defence cooperation while remaining open to all other current and future
members. ESDU, a concept that has yet to find its way in the IGC, would call
for a political commitment based upon the notion of solidarity, backed by
The Monetary Union can be seen as a precedent because it called
for a substantial transfer of sovereignty in a field certainly as politically
sensitive as defence.
The Euro saw the light in 2001 because after years of groping with sectoral
or peripheral solutions, which proved all ineffective because too limited
in nature, it was decided in Maastricht in 1991 to opt for a political and
comprehensive choice, a Monetary Union. Has the European Defence process not
reach the same stage and, all things considered, should it not be addressed
in the same manner?
Reinforced Cooperation Should Apply to Defence.
The future of ESDU will be decided collectively and not simply
by the four. The ideas launched in the April 29 declaration will have to mature
and we will have to wait for the result, not just of the Convention but of
the IGC next year, to see how to progress further, certainly from an institutional
point of view.
Belgium is under no illusion as to the problems ahead. Neither
is she believing that, from the beginning, all partners will agree to take
part in ESDU, nor does she believe that failure to do so, should stop ongoing
efforts carried out under ESDP. But, looking beyond ESDP, and preparing for
the future of an European defence at 25 and more, will help to move the European
Defence process forward from the point of view of EU, as well as NATO.
The main point at this stage is to extend the instrument of
reinforced cooperation to defence cooperation because this is where it could
be brought to bear most effectively. The good news is that the European Convention
decided to go down this path, the more sobering one is that it will require
time and a lot of effort by all.