European Council on Foreign Relations
podcast banner

ECFR podcasts - experts and big names talking about Europe's place in the world - in English, Spanish, French, German and Italian.

Go to the podcasts page

Scorecard The Europe Question

Re-energising Europe's Security and Defence Policy

Published on 29 July, 2008

The Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty has cast doubt over institutional reform within the European Union, but the author of a new policy paper published by ECFR argues that EU governments cannot afford to move at the speed of the slowest on defence, and should push for a "multi-speed Europe". Author Nick Witney, who is a Senior Policy fellow at ECFR and former Chief Executive of the European Defence Agency, issues a stark warning about the state of European defence, arguing that "inertia and resistance in the defence machinery" are thwarting the European Union's declared aim to make a real contribution to global security.




There is a chronic capabilities gap in Europe, as defence budgets are squandered on Cold-War style militaries. Europe keeps almost 2 million men and women in uniform (half a million more than the US), yet 70% of land forces are unable to operate outside national territory.

The total number of troops deployed today in ESDP operations, around 6,000, constitutes a paltry 0.3% of European military manpower. The failure to reform outdated militaries means that much of the annual 200 billion euro that EU governments spend on defence is "simply wasted", the report says.

Witney says the the haphazard nature of joint operations has been shocking. "Javier Solana has often been reduced to phoning Defence Ministers in person to secure a single transport plane or field surgeon. In Aceh, the operation was initially financed on the personal credit cards of mission personnel along with a loan from the entertainment allowance of the British ambassador in Jakarta."

Duplication within the defence industry (5 ground-to-air missile programmes, 3 combat aircraft programmes, 6 attack submarine programmes, and more than 20 armoured vehicle programmes) has led to a massive waste of resources and inflated prices - making companies vulnerable to takeovers from US rivals.

Nick Witney argues that Europeans will punch their weight - and be worthwhile partners for the US - only if they pool their resources and cooperate more closely. Reviewing the widely differing performances of the Member States (on defence spending, investment per soldier, participation record in operations), the report urges the formation of "pioneer groups" of the most willing and able.

The idea could be operationalised within the European Defence Agency through the creation of a number of overlapping pioneer groups, which each specialize in areas such as research and technology, armaments cooperation, defence industry cooperation, and the pooling of civilian and military capabilities.

The countries most active in various pioneer groups would constitute a European "core group" on defence - similarly to the "permanent structured cooperation" mechanism, envisaged by the Lisbon Treaty. Countries that do not meet some basic qualifying criteria (such as a minimum 1% of GDP spending on defence, and a 1% minimum level of personnel deployments in operations) should either commit to catch up, or leave the Agency altogether.

Witney's report identifies seven EU Member States in particular - Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg and Malta - as needing either to raise their game, or to allow others to proceed without them.

The report also proposes a number of key steps to equip Europe's armed forces with the right tools - including a new political effort to re-start the consolidation of European defence industries. To cut down on the waste of duplicative programmes, it urges governments to pool a larger proportion of their defence budgets together.

On operations, amongst the report's recommendations is the creation of an EU headquarters in Brussels, which would integrate civilian assets for crisis management (such as police) with the military. The report also urges the creation of a civilian reserve corps, to ensure the right personnel are available.

Click here to download the full report

This report represents the views of its author, not the collective view of ECFR

Click here to read the press release

You can download the executive summary of this report in Bulgarian, French, German, Italian, Polish and Spanish


European defence: noises off by Nick Witney, EU Observer, 29 July 2008

Peace, or more Euro-squabbling? by Chris Patten, The Guardian, 25 July 2008

EU defence: the numbers don't add up/Podemos by José Ignacio Torreblanca, El País, 22 July 2008


Entrevista: El futuro de la UE Nick Witney, El País, 22 August 2008

Press clippings

Nella difesa europea trionfa l'improvvisazione, Il Riformista, 04 August 2008

AFM sees the EU's lowest equipment expenditure, below average military spending, The Malta Independent, 03 August 2008

The bear is back, The Guardian, 01 August 2008

Beschr änkt einsatzfähig, Kurier, 01 August 2008

Think-tank quer defesa europeia a "multiplas velocidades", Publico, 30 July 2008

Эксперты признали катастрофической боеготовность армии Евросоюза, Izvestia, 31 July 2008

Europe de la défense, "la décennie des occasions perdues", 24 Heures, 30 July 2008

UE. - El 70% de los militares europeos no están capacitados para actuar fuera de su territorio nacional, según estudio, El Periodico, 29 July 2008

Former German Minister calls for flexible EU defense policy, Deutsche Welle, 29 July 2008

NATO suspicious of Russian security pact idea, EU Observer, 29 July 2008

Streitkräfte im Tiefschlaf, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 29 July 2008

Joschka Fischer fordert europäische Verteidigungs-Avantgarde, Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung, 29 July 2008

Europa, obligada a construir su defensa, El País, 29 July 2008

Pioneers needed to boost European defense, Defense News, 29 July 2008

Defensive gestures, The Economist, 24 July 2008

With Soviet enemy gone, NATO polishes its brand, International Herald Tribune, 15 July 2009




European Spring: How to put our economies and politics right? - 15 Jul 14

With European economies failing to deliver higher standards of living, and growing public disillusionment with apparently self-serving politicians, Philippe Legrain discusses where

Read more…

In the Press

JOL Press
15 Sep 14

Mattia Toaldo on a potential French intervention in Libya.

La Croix
14 Sep 14

Piotr Buras about the accession of Ewa Kopacz as head of the Polish government.

Deutsche Welle
13 Sep 14

Andrew Hammond on the Muslim Brotherhood leaving Qatar.

Read more press >