Whatever happened to the European Security Strategy?

1 June 2005

Opening the Dialogue, Mr. Bildt, said that agreeing the  ESS in 2003 was a “big success” given the difficult state of transatlantic relations and the dissension between European Member States. At the same time, there was a perception now that the ESS had lost momentum, particularly on the political issues linked to the priorities highlighted in the Strategy. The most significant development to come out of the ESS had been the EU-3 negotiations with Iran.  There had been some movement with respect to Security and Defence Policy, most notably the creation of the European Defence Agency and the so-called Battle Groups, but the deployability of the Battle Groups, for instance, was still not clear. Battle Groups were essentially to support UN missions, yet the functional military dimension - the ‘how to’ had not yet been fully addressed. There had been some progress towards  the European External Action Service (EAS). There had also been a surge in anti-terror coordination on the European level following the attacks in Madrid, which, while praiseworthy were still insufficient. Overall, “momentum has been lost on political issues.”

Security and defence policies were areas of interest to the wider European public but were not sufficiently emphasized in public discussions. “The European public wants us to do more on security and defence and we should be able to explain our policies and move ahead.” The EU had failed to sufficiently deal with crucial issues in its ‘near abroad,’ such as the Cyprus question and the situation in Kosovo. A failure to bring peace and reconciliation to Cyprus highlighted “monumental” shortcomings in European Foreign and Defence Policy. The unwillingness to proactively address the issue, a year after the referendum and Greek Cypriot accession to the European Union was a further sign of inadequacy.

On Kosovo, the EU had failed to address the wider political issues, Mr. Bildt said. It had “spectacularly” failed in its state-building intentions and had not sufficiently moved economic development and the building of a multi-cultural society forward. Both of these failures had wider repercussions: “You cannot accept Croatia into the European Union without dealing with the problems in Kosovo, nor can you enlarge to include Turkey without first resolving the Cyprus question,” he said.

Southeastern Europe was a testing ground for the ESS and although different missions were going ahead, the general political and strategic direction was often not sufficiently defined. Cyprus was only part of “an enormous task” which the Union had ahead of itself, in terms of creating or influencing the creation of stable structures from Bihaj to Basra. The Union needed to develop state-building and democracy promoting strategies.  Even the US had done more, though the American approach could be criticized as overly simplistic. On state-building, Europe needed to use its comparative advantage and fully realize the difference between nation-state building (often the US approach) and state-building in the European sense, which included the creation of democratic, tolerant, multicultural states. He advocated the creation of research centres excellence for state-building as a starting point for the logistical implementation of related missions. This would be of particular use in countries in Central Asia, he suggested.

Turning to other geographic areas the EU was engaged in, he noted that Afghanistan, too, was at risk of turning into a political failure, as it was on the verge of becoming a ‘narco-economy’ – the effects of which would be felt in Europe, the principal destination for the drugs produced in Afghanistan; but would also have a destabilizing effect on transit countries e.g. in the Balkans. In Africa, where 22.000 troops were expected in Sudan at the end of the year – a mission likely to be underwritten by the UN - the international community and Europe faced the most complex state-building exercise to date – more difficult even than Iraq or Palestine, Mr. Bildt warned. If this mission failed, he predicted that the country  would enter into a “significant phase of disintegration.” He added “we have a massive operation down there but we are engaging in too little a discussion on our goals.”

On terrorism, Europe could play a larger role in stemming the root causes of terrorist activities that often developed out of national conflict. The Bosnian conflict, for example, had been a recruiting ground for fighters and operatives that later became active in Kashmir and Iraq. Recruitment activities were also going on within European countries and the European Union had to be vigilant in its monitoring and counter-action efforts.

The ESS and its institutional and political context

Respondent Giovanni Grevi said that in evaluating the ESS one had to see it in the context out of which it evolved. The document had been a part of a wider movement of EU reform. The ESS had established the Union as an external actor – it was not intended as a ‘how to’ guidebook on security and defence for every situation. The importance of the document should neither be over exaggerated nor undervalued. Had their been a credible European Foreign Minister in office, backed by an ESS, in the summer of 2002, perhaps the disarray over Iraq could have been avoided. Nevertheless, this institutional core needed time to develop and to foster common positions, coherence and necessary leadership.

Mr. Grevi briefly outlined how the different elements in the Constitution, including the provisions for the Foreign Minister and the External Action Service would help shape issues in the future, should ratification in all Member States be possible. Though some had argued these foreign policy related elements might be realized outside the Treaty framework, should the Constitution fail, Mr. Grevi pointed to a number of legal and political problems. Other issues also had not been sufficiently resolved. For instance, the political remit of the EAS had not yet been clarified, although consensus was emerging that the Service should be working on the political aspects of the Commission’s work on the European Neighbourhood Policy. It was unlikely, however, that the EAS’ remit would include trade policy. Development policy was also a sensitive area for many Member State governments, making it difficult to foresee how this might fit into the EAS’ portfolio.

The EAS would have to provide a centralized interface and coordination, through the creation of a planning unit, similar to the existing Situation Centre (SitCen) or the Policy Unit in the Council. Alternatively, these could be consolidated or upgraded. In the long term, the EAS would need an autonomous planning unit that would allow it to cooperate with other international bodies on the prevention of terrorism, border security and criminal cooperation in addition to diplomatic tasks.

A third question touched on the organization and position of the Service: should it be linked to the Commission, or the Council or have full independence, as a sui generis institution? Practical questions then arose out of the last proposal of a sui generis institution, which was emerging as the consensus in discussions. Who would appoint and finance employees?

He agreed with Mr. Bildt that the ESS had not been debated enough. It  could have been a useful tool to connect with citizens, who were indeed interested in Europe’s position in the world


A participant from the Turkish Mission to the EU said that given that the ESS was devised to serve a Union of 28 Member States, including Turkey, it could not be considered a ‘target’ country under the ESS. While the Turkish government felt the ESS was a “good, compact document,” it shared a similar view to Mr. Bildt regarding the failure of the Security Strategy to positively impact the Cyprus situation. Already, the difficulties of having accepted only the Greek Cypriot part of the island into the Union was complicating matters, as could be seen in the recent decision to include Turkey in the European Defence Agency through the agreement of a ‘special relationship.’ This had been blocked by Cyprus.

Mr. Bildt said that one could not expect Europe to make progress on the Cyprus issue as long as unanimity was in effect. Blockages could happen in many areas with the intention of making a political point. Still, there were ways of manoeuvring particular issues so that one could move forward. “The fact that it’s not easy cannot be an excuse for not dealing with it.”

A participant from the Council defended the track record of the ESS. Its implementation had been a success and its introduction had strengthened rule-based order. The Union’s three-party talks with Iran were a good example of the kind of effective multilateralism the Union wanted to pursue in the future. He agreed with Mr. Bildt, however, on the lack of progress on Kosovo and Cyprus, though he noted that this was a notable result of the lack of coherence in EU foreign policy. He cautioned that the EAS would never by the same kind of diplomatic service as that of a Member State. 

Returning to the issue of Africa, Mr. Bildt said that the Union could not develop a policy regarding Darfur in the absence of a wider Sudan, and a wider African policy. How one approached EU policy toward Africa hinged on the Sudan question. If state-building efforts failed over the next six years and a 2011 referendum resulted in the division of Sudan into two countries, the Congo, Chad and Somalia were likely to be effected by the resulting instability.

On the lack of communication about foreign and defence policy, Carl Bildt said that the Union failed to communicate well and if the wider European public did not understand the issues at stake, they were likely to say no to any further advances. “Security, peace and freedom are our strongest messages. We cannot continue to speak about the past but must outline a CFSP that is relevant to our time, in a language our electorates can relate to.”

Reflecting on the role of EU Special Representatives, Mr. Bildt said that it was a model, which the US used with great effectiveness. The problem of European foreign policy and the role of the future foreign minister was that the EU overall had too few political heavyweights active internationally, whereas the US had a Vice-President, a Foreign Secretary, a National Security Advisor, a Secretary of Defence, etc. – all of which could speak forcefully on the US foreign policy line. Thus, the “mandate of the White House is always travelling.”

Asked whether the European Neighbourhood Policy might become one of the issues dealt with by the External Action Service, Mr. Grevi said that this was one of the unresolved questions. Could the Commission services currently working on the ENP be integrated into the EAS? Would that be a manageable system? He felt that at least at a political level, the work of a future EAS would at least have to be linked into the Commission’s work on the Union’s neighbourhood.

Chairman Fraser Cameron thanked panellists and participants for an interesting discussion, noting that the EPC would continue to work on related issues through its ‘Future of CFSP Work Programme’ and the events hosted under its auspices.