European defence

France believes in the need for the construction of Europe to be anchored in a common or even a shared approach to its defence.


The emergence of crises and hazards on Europe’s borders is likely to affect its security. To the east, fragilities remain among the States that were born out of the former USSR and the former Yugoslavia. On Europe’s Mediterranean borders, many countries are in the throes of transition towards democracy, at a cost of great instability, tragedies and uncertainties: notable amongst them are Syria, Egypt and Libya. In Africa, despite the continent’s potential for growth, the risks to security stem from failed States in certain countries, from inequalities, trafficking and/or corruption. Added to these are the more diffuse yet no less menacing threats of proliferation, cyberwar or terrorism.

In the face of these risks, a shift in American strategic priorities, tending towards a degree of disengagement from Europe and a closer focus on Asia, is increasingly leaving Europe to face its responsibilities alone for the first time since the end of the Second World War.

At the same time, the countries of Europe are struggling with budget constraints incompatible with increased defence spending. European Union member States are facing limitations on their capability development or even, in some cases, significant cuts.

While differences persist, Europeans have developed a more widely shared conception of their common security interests. The European Security Strategy (ESS) adopted in 2003 contributed to this process and the European Union began to move forward on the basis of a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP).

In terms of crisis management and conflict prevention, Europe has acquired tools that could hardly have been dreamt of when the foundations for a common defence policy were first laid in Saint-Malo in 1998. In just ten years, the European Union has successfully established political and military structures, a mechanism for financing military operations and a rapid reaction force with tactical groups and an operations centre, the nucleus for a future joint European defence headquarters. From this base, the European Union has so far launched 27 civilian and military operations on three continents: 11 have been completed, 14 are currently ongoing (three in Europe: the Balkans and the Caucasus; four in Asia, the Middle East and Central Asia; seven in Africa) and two are in the planning stage.

France’s position

The Treaty of Lisbon opens the way for progress, bringing greater consistency to Europe’s external action through the European External Action Service (EEAS) and asserting the European Union’s global role, by extending the scope of European Union missions and improving solidarity between the European States on ensuring their defence and security.

In response to these many challenges, France looks to the European Council to be held in December 2013 to create renewed impetus via a pragmatic approach that must be based on:

  • a transparent and lucid analysis of the existing situation;
  • a method of concrete progress, starting with improvements to the tools and structures already in place and relying on the possibilities for cooperation offered by existing treaties, without ruling out the possibility of separate progress by core groups once the objectives are clearly defined. At this stage, however, France is keen for all 28 countries to engage in the debate and to determine future directions for the European Union as a whole.

This European Council must also serve as an opportunity to promote a competitive European defence industry, a factor for growth and strategic independence, including in particular industrial cooperation on drones.

Pooling resources and cooperation are also realistic ways forward in terms of capability development. "We must pool our efforts, share, find areas of consistency if we are to retain our credibility, avoid the downgrading of our strategic influence and remain able to ensure the security of our continent and our citizens," said Laurent Fabius on 11 July 2013 in a speech to the National Assembly.

Europeans must also revive a number of major structural programmes by placing greater reliance on the European Defence Agency.

Furthermore, the European Union must set out its global approach more explicitly through better linkages between development initiatives and security. The European Council could usefully stress the need to close the gap between development and security by incorporating initiatives aimed at strengthening security into its development assistance programmes.

In parallel to this process of cooperation and concrete progress, France also calls for progress in defining European Union defence and security priorities, in the fields of cyber-security, border surveillance and post-conflict stabilisation, for example.

Updated: 31.07.13

How to revive European Union defence policy?

  • 27 civilian and military operations on three continents (Europe – Asia – Africa)
  • 11 completed
  • 14 currently ongoing
  • 2 in the planning stage

Data taken from the speech by Laurent Fabius on "How to revive European Union defence policy?" (11 July 2013)