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Strategic Compass: a further step in EU security and defence policy

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On 16 November, the High Representative for Foreign, Security and Defence Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission formally proposed in the Foreign Affairs and Defence Council the Strategic Compass project entitled "A Strategic Compass for Security and Defence. For a European Union that protects citizens, values and interests and contributes to international peace and security". This proposal has been drawn up over the course of more than a year in collaboration with the Member States, based on an analysis of the risks and threats of each one of them, with the aim of establishing a unitary strategy that covers all of them.

In the media, the meaning and scope of the strategy is being misrepresented. In some cases it is said to be aimed at preparing for the threat from Russia. In other cases, it is only mentioned as being important for the creation of a 5,000-strong rapid reaction unit to third-party aggression, which is referred to as the "embryo of the European army". However, even if a modular intervention force is created that will not be effective until 2025, it is certainly not intended to deal with Russian threats as the number of troops would be disproportionate, and has nothing to do with what a response to Russia would require.

The aim of the Strategic Compass is to establish a reinforcement of the set of measures that make up the Common Security and Defence Policy, incorporating all the tools from Permanent Structured Cooperation, the European Defence Fund, the Defence Agency, Crisis Management Operations, etc., with the aim of giving it unity and coherence in order to address present and future risks and threats more effectively. Among the reinforcements, it is worth highlighting the creation of civilian missions, made up of 200 troops, in places of risk that can be activated in less than 30 days.

In order to prevent this project from being paralysed, its basis is to be found in Article 44 of the TEU, which states that "the Council may entrust the implementation of a mission to a group of Member States which so wish and which have the capabilities for such a mission". However, the objectives of the mission will be both for the territorial defence set out in article 42.7 and to improve the performance of other missions, both civilian and military. The aim is to improve the coordination of all instruments of the Common Security and Defence Policy by setting common objectives and timetables.

The full 28-page document presented by the High Representative is based on an analysis of the four main axes of European Security and Defence, namely, Acting, Protecting, Investing and Partnering.

In relation to the first axis, acting, it refers to the fact that we need a European Union with the capacity to respond to any type of situation. The European Union needs to be able to act swiftly and robustly, if possible with partners and if not possible individually, when a new crisis breaks out, whenever action is needed. This will be done by strengthening the civilian and military missions of the Common Security and Defence Policy by promoting a faster and more flexible decision-making process while ensuring greater financial solidarity. This will culminate in the development of a rapid response capability consisting of a flexible and interoperable system of modules that can allow for the early deployment of up to 5,000 troops. In this way, the command and control structure of the European Union will be strengthened.

The second axis will seek to ensure security. In this regard, the European Union needs to be able to anticipate the threats and challenges it will face in the coming years, while ensuring secure access to strategic domains (land, sea, air, space and cyberspace) and the protection of citizens. This will require strengthening intelligence capabilities, especially the Intelligence and Analysis Unit. This is the only way to improve our ability to anticipate and prevent risks, according to the document.

This action also envisages the creation of a hybrid "toolbox" that includes different elements to be able to detect and deal with the new threats, many of them also hybrid, that the EU and its neighbourhood will face in the coming years, as established in the 2020 Risks and Threats Report. Finally, to complete security within the European Union, cyber-defence instruments will have to be developed that can deal with cyber-attacks; while strengthening the domain at sea.

The third axis will focus on investment. The document sets out the need to invest more and better in capabilities and innovative technologies in this respect, thereby reducing the EU's dependence on technology and industry, and thus fulfilling one of the objectives of the EU's self-determined autonomy strategy. This will require a review of our current development capacities as well as the planning process.

Common solutions will have to be found to develop new generation capabilities including new defence equipment. Last but not least, the European Union will have to make full use of the Permanent Structured Cooperation and the Defence Fund, taking into account existing instruments such as the European Defence Agency.

Finally, the fourth axis or pillar of the Strategic Compass will refer to the establishment of alliances or defence partners. The document points to the need to strengthen our cooperation with partners in order to face threats and challenges. To achieve this, it argues for strengthening multilateral partnership with NATO and the United Nations through more structured dialogue, while increasing cooperation with regional partners including the African Union, the OSCE and ASEAN.

At the same time, the paper advocates the deepening of bilateral agreements, especially with those countries that share common values and interests with the EU, such as the United States, Norway, Canada and the United Kingdom. Agreements with our neighbours, especially the Eastern Balkans, the Eastern and Southern Neighbourhood, as well as Asia, Africa and Latin America, should also be adapted in this regard. To increase the multilateral character of defence, the High Representative proposes the creation of a European Defence Forum in which the European Union and its defence and security partners would meet for dialogue, discussion and agreement every two years.

This proposal is to be negotiated between the Council, the Member States, the European Council... and the aim is for it to be definitively approved in March 2022, which will coincide with the summit prepared by the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union and the European Commission for the end of February of the same year. The High Representative is keen to ensure that as few changes as possible are made and, specifically, at the press conference he held following the presentation of the Strategic Compass to the College of Commissioners on 11 September, he said that the Member States "would be stupid to make a plane that could not fly" and explained that "he will not water down the document to make it drinkable for everyone", in other words, that he does not want to change it and that he will press for the text to be kept as it is. We can point out that he understands that the ball is in the court of the Member States.

Finally, does this proposal have anything to do with the Conference on the Future of Europe? In my opinion, completely, since the Conference will have to reach the necessary agreements in its conclusions, so that this strategic compass can be effectively implemented in 2023, with the full support of all the institutional representatives and of citizens and civil society. This proposal is an action guide that aims to make the strengthening of strategic autonomy operational, taking into account future developments, on the understanding that only those states that wish to participate will do so.

Francisco Aldecoa Luzárraga, President of the Spanish Federal Council of the European Movement, representative of National Events and Civil Society at the Conference on the Future of Europe and Professor of International Relations at the Complutense University of Madrid