The Strategic Compass of the European Union, from the European External Action Service (EEAS)
According to the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Union's diplomatic service, the European Union is facing new and increasing threats and challenges. To counter them, protect its citizens, and enhance its strategic autonomy to become a stronger global partner, the EU needs to define what kind of security and defence actor it wants to be.
According to the European External Action Service (EEAS), as the global security environment is deteriorating, the European Union and its Member States face an increasing number of complex threats and challenges. To respond to these adequately, the EU has taken action to strengthen its work in the field of security and defence. With a comprehensive set of defence initiatives, being implemented since 2017, the EU has taken defence cooperation to a new level. As a credible actor and reliable partner, the EU now also needs to provide more clarity about its strategic goals.
With the Strategic Compass, Member States have embarked on a journey to define what they want to do to strengthen the EU, namely when it comes to responding to external crises, building the capacity of partners and protecting the Union and its citizens. EU Heads of State affirmed the EU’s commitment to developing the Strategic Compass in their Statement in February 2021.
As indicated by the Council in June 2020, the Strategic Compass will define policy orientations and specific goals and objectives in four clusters:
- crisis management,
- capability development,
These four dimensions are interconnected. It is crucial to set clear and ambitious goals across them, if we want the EU to become a more effective security provider and a more responsible and reliable partner. As the Strategic Compass aims to provide political guidance for civilian and military planning processes, it should contain concrete proposals for action as well as timelines for implementation.
How is the Strategic Compass developed?
Member States have entrusted the High Representative with the task of acting as the penholder for this strategic process. The role of the European External Action Service is to structure and facilitate the debate amongst EU Member States and support the High Representative in drafting the final document.
How is the workflow on the Strategic Compass evolving?
The first step in the process of developing the Strategic Compass was the presentation of an intelligence-based “comprehensive, 360 degrees” independent analysis of the full range of threats and challenges the EU currently faces or might face in the near future. For more information, about the Threat Analysis, see this MEMO.
A strategic dialogue phase kicked off in early 2021, with the aim to gather ideas and proposals for each of the four baskets. Groups of Member States presented written input on specific issues and organised workshops to stimulate discussions between officials, academics, experts as well as ministers during this stage. This phase will run until October 2021.
Based on Member States’ input, the EEAS presented an overview of all the ideas put forward for each of the four baskets. These are internal papers prepared to facilitate the more in-depth discussions amongst Member States and drafted in close cooperation and consultation with the European Union Military Staff (EUMS), the European Commission and the European Defence Agency (EDA).
What does this mean in practice?
The EU’s operational engagement through its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions and operations contributes to build peace and security in different countries and regions affected by conflict and instability. They also enhance the security of the European Union and its citizens.
The Strategic Compass aims to further strengthen the EU’s role in crisis management, using the different instruments at its disposal, including the recently established European Peace Facility. It should set clear goals and objectives to enhance the effectiveness and flexibility of the EU’s operational engagement as well as strengthen the collective readiness to react to future crises.
To improve the effectiveness of our operational engagement, for example, we need to think about possible incentives for the force generation as well as more flexible and robust mandates for our CSDP missions and operations. We have made progress in that direction with EUTM Mali(link is external) and Operation Atalanta(link is external) by expanding their mandates. Operation Atalanta, for instance, in addition to the fight against piracy, will now also counter drugs- and arms-trafficking. As regards Libya, Operation Irini(link is external) has also been fulfilling a robust mandate, inspecting vessels suspected to be in breach of the UN arms embargo.
At the same time, we need to become more flexible in our actions and decision-making. We should strengthen cooperation with European-led ad hoc coalitions. The speed of our decision-making needs to be improved if we want to respond swiftly to crises.
We also need to improve the readiness of our military. The EU and its Member States should be ready to deploy rapidly to respond quickly to future crises through combat or stabilisation operations, as well as maritime or even an air operation, in line with the Level of Ambition that derives from the EU Global Strategy of 2016. This can be done by further developing scenarios and putting them into practice. We need to give further guidance to our military on what kind of future crisis scenarios they need to be prepared for. We also need serious scenarios for operational contingency planning: for example an initial entry operation, a stabilisation mission, a maritime or possibly an air interdiction operation. The armed forces can then use these scenarios for training and exercising together.
On the side of the civilian CSDP, it is equally important to intensify the implementation of the Compact adopted in 2018, for example by implementing the commitment undertaken by Member States to be able to deploy 200 personnel within 30 days, as well as by strengthening cooperation between CSDP and Justice and Home Affairs actors.
In a rapidly evolving security environment, the Compass should help to enhance our ability to detect and anticipate threats and challenges. The first-ever conducted Threat Analysis allowed for a good picture of the threats and challenges the EU faces. It should be regularly reviewed to keep it up to date. Risk surveys to be conducted amongst Member States should also help us to get a clearer picture about our vulnerabilities.
We equally need to develop an overarching policy that could help tackle the comprehensive threats that are directed against us with a clear political objective in mind. This could encompass measures against cyberattacks, disinformation but also other forms of interference such as the use of migration flows as tools of hybrid attacks against the EU. This obviously has to be complementary to ongoing work strands such as the EU Cybersecurity Strategy and the Cyber Diplomacy Toolbox.
We also need to better prevent threats and challenges from materialising. For instance, strengthening the resilience of our partners can only benefit our own security. To help them, we can make use of our financial instruments, including the European Peace Facility. We need to secure European access to the strategic domains (space, cyber, maritime), which are more and more contested by our strategic competitors. Looking at the increase in cyberattacks, we should strengthen our cyber security and defence capabilities. We need to invest more in the naval domain. The EU has already naval presences in the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Guinea. We should further develop the Coordinated Maritime Presences concept and look at other maritime areas of interest, including in the Indo-Pacific. Lastly, space is becoming more and more contested. The EU should develop a space strategy for security and defence, which would complement the EU space programme and other relevant initiatives developed by the European Commission.
In case of need, we also need to be able to respond to threats and attacks. This goes hand in hand with the need to increase solidarity and mutual assistance. To counter foreign information manipulation and interference more effectively, for example, we need additional means to deter perpetrators and impose costs on them.
Conflicts and crises unfold in highly complex and usually unpredictable ways. If the EU wants to make a credible contribution, it needs the necessary civilian and military capabilities to act quickly and decisively.
EU Member States have a single set of forces, which they can use in different frameworks. Both civilian and military capability planning requires clear political guidance. The Strategic Compass seeks to provide more specific goals and objectives for the planning and development of the required capabilities to implement the EU Level of Ambition. It should help reviewing the Union’s civilian and military capability needs in light of the evolving security situation and provide a coherent vision on the future military forces and civilian capacities.
The Strategic Compass should also aim at further deepen European cooperation in planning, developing, delivering and using these capabilities through the EU framework, looking at all the initiatives and tools we have already put in place to increase cooperation and to see how they can be connected in a more coherent and efficient manner in order to ensure that we have the right capabilities for the tasks at hand at the right time.
Lastly, the EU needs to be much more ambitious and coordinated in maintaining its competitive edge and promoting technological sovereignty, especially in the area of autonomous systems and digital technologies. Examples include machine learning in order to facilitate better image analysis used for missions and operations, Artificial Intelligence (AI)-supported decision-making based on sensors or hypersonic weapons. The level of cooperation and integration of the most advanced military technologies will determine whether Europeans will possess the means to independently pursue common security objectives. We need to strengthen the European Technological and Industrial Base including in particular an enhanced common EU approach to emerging and disruptive technologies in the security and defence domain. The EU should foster a coherent and long-term approach to these issues, for instance by scaling up investments in these technologies, ensuring synergies between civil, military and space industries and exploring the possibilities for cooperation with NATO.
Part of the EU’s DNA as an actor on the international stage is to act with partners whenever possible, to both strengthen effective multilateralism and contribute to a global rules-based order, as well as to increase the impact of its own actions. This holds true both for international organisations as well as for cooperation with individual countries. The EU has an interest to work with partners sharing common values but also common interests, to advance its political agenda and contribute to peace and security.
While the question of the EU’s partnerships runs through all the different baskets, there is also a need to reflect on the approach to strengthen and develop them in a more strategic manner. In order to make the most of the possibilities of cooperation, the EU needs to be clear on its own interests and priorities and subsequently develop specific tailor-made approaches.
The EU will aim to deepen cooperation with international and regional organisations, particularly the United Nations, with which we have a long-standing framework for cooperation on crisis management and peace building, and with NATO, ensuring close complementarity and synergies between EU and NATO activities. The EU will also aim to develop further its relationships with the OSCE, African Union and ASEAN in support of its values and interests.
With individual partner countries, the EU will seek to deepen cooperation on security and defence issues, including through dedicated dialogues and consultations. Potential areas for further engagement could include CSDP missions and operations, capability development; countering hybrid and cyber threats; maritime security; disarmament and non-proliferation; counter-terrorism; security and defence aspects of climate change; strategic communications and disinformation; emerging and disruptive technologies; security and defence aspects of space; and security sector governance and reform.
The contribution by partners of assets and personnel to the EU’s CSDP missions and operations, based on the prior conclusion of a Framework Participation Agreement, will continue to be a key area of cooperation and an important indicator of the strength of the partnership in security and defence. At the same time, we will seek to identify additional areas for practical cooperatio, such as exercises and training activities and cooperation in-theatre between CSDP missions and operations and activities carried out by partners. The EU will also seek to further enhance its support to capacity building of partners in order to contribute more effectively to international peace and security.
What are the next steps in the Strategic Compass?
Building on these discussions and the input provided by Member States, the High Representative will prepare a draft of the Strategic Compass to be presented to Ministers in November 2021 for discussion and guidance. The goal is for the Council to adopt the Strategic Compass in March 2022, in line with the Statement of the Members of the European Council of February 2021.
The Strategic Compass of the European Union, from the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS)
The European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) is the European Union’s Agency analysing foreign, security and defence policy issues. Its core mission is to assist the EU and its member states in the implementation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), including the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) as well as other external action of the Union.
On 14 October 2021, the Slovenian Ministry of Defence and the EU Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) co-organised an online high-level conference on EU-NATO cooperation and the Strategic Compass. The conference was organised in the context of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The conference looked at how the EU and NATO can better anticipate and prepare for threats and challenges out to 2030, and it also focused on concrete ways to develop EU-NATO cooperation in the areas of crisis response and resilience. The conference took place in the context of the forthcoming EU-NATO Joint Declaration, the EU Strategic Compass and NATO’s new Strategic Concept.
The conference attracted over 120 participants from Member States, EU institutions, NATO, third state partners and think tanks. It took place in the context of the Strategic Compass dialogue phase. The event welcomed a number of high-level speakers from the Dutch Ministry of Defence, the European Commission, the European Council on Foreign Relations, the European External Action Service, NATO International Staff and the Slovenian Ministry of Defence.
EU-NATO cooperation and the Strategic Compass of the European Union
A report based on an online high-level conference organised by the Slovenian Ministry of Defence and the EU Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) on 14 October 2021. The conference took place in the context of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
The European Union’s (EU) cooperation with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is set to prominently feature in the Union’s Strategic Compass on security and defence. In dealing with resilience and partnerships, there will be scope under the Strategic Compass to assess how the EU and NATO can better respond to complex crises and emergencies and the protection of Europe. As NATO also moves towards the revision of its own Strategic Concept, and with a view to enhancing the security of Europe and the transatlantic relationship, there is an opportunity for the EU and NATO to discuss a range of strategic issues.
Any discussion of EU-NATO relations has to take place against the backdrop of a broader strategic context in which European states are being called to take on more responsibility for their security. With the rise of China and the actions of Russia, as well as emerging and disruptive technologies and climate change, there are new security challenges on the horizon. As a consequence, the EU increasingly understands that it may have to take on more responsibility for crisis situations in its near and wider neighbourhoods. Given the shared memberships of EU and NATO by many European countries, this is an opportune moment to discuss the future of EU-NATO relations.
To this end, this high-level conference brought together over 140 individuals including senior government representatives, EU and NATO officials and think tank analysts to discuss the current nature of EU-NATO relations. In particular, this conference was an opportunity to take stock of EU-NATO relations following the experiences of the Covid-19 pandemic, recent events in Afghanistan and the climate-induced crises experienced in Europe during the summer. Finally, this conference was timely in that it precedes the likely signing of a new EU-NATO Joint Declaration by the end of 2021
BUILDING AN ESSENTIAL PARTNERSHIP
There have been decades of cooperation between the EU and NATO, dating back even before the 16 December 2002 EU-NATO Declaration on European Security and Defence Policy. Nevertheless, cooperation has certainly intensified since 2016 with the adoption of a EU-NATO Joint Declaration. A follow up Joint Declaration in 2018 and a common set of 74 proposed actions helped to maintain the momentum for cooperation and a further Declaration is foreseen at the end of 2021. The timing of this Joint Declaration could not be more timely given that the EU is drafting a Strategic Compass and NATO is set to revise its Strategic Concept.
Beyond political declarations, however, there is clearly a need for the EU and NATO to address the strategic landscape faced by the Euro-Atlantic region.
Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed the vulnerabilities Europe faces when confronting major health crises. The evacuation from Afghanistan has also raised a multitude of questions, including whether Europe is ready and capable of undertaking rescue and evacuation missions. What is more, the recent experience of the ‘AUKUS affair’ suggests that communication between NATO allies remains to be improved. Finally, both the EU and NATO increasingly have to address the challenge of resilience and ensuring that partners can effectively counter hybrid threats such as disinformation and cyber-attacks.
Even though Russia’s illegal seizure of Crimea brought the EU and NATO closer together, it is clear that the EU’s own shift from strategic innocence to more responsibility for security and defence has contributed to a more mature EU-NATO partnership. Indeed, the high-level political bodies such as the EU Political and Security Committee (PSC) and the North Atlantic Council (NAC) are meeting more frequently and political dialogue has been strengthened.
At the staff-to-staff level, the Policy Planning Divisions at NATO International Staff and the European External Action Service have taken steps to organise foresight seminars to enhance strategic awareness and anticipation. However, staff members from both organisations can aim for a more structured approach to dialogue. This can include a listing of regular exchanges and strategic dialogue meetings on different topics aimed at ensuring more coherence and avoiding unnecessary duplication at the working level.
What is more, the EU and NATO can boast of cooperation in regions such as the Western Balkans where there are close operational relations. Both organisations have also worked more intensely on countering disinformation, especially in relation to countering harmful narratives and supporting European governments with capacity and support. Of course, the experience of Afghanistan highlights the distance to go before European governments in NATO and the EU are better prepared for complex crises occurring beyond their shores. Although it is too early to draw concrete lessons, there is certainly a need for closer civilian-military interaction.
The EU has also taken the bold step of opening up the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) project on military mobility to Canada, Norway and the United States. Not only is this a sign of good will on the part of the EU, but it allows the EU and NATO to intensify the respective efforts on ensuring the movement of military equipment across Europe in a more timely fashion. Beyond this example, the progress reports on the Joint Declarations clearly show an intensification of efforts in areas such as the Parallel and Coordinated Exercises and hybrid threats at the working level.
ADDRESSING THE STRATEGIC CHALLENGES
However, there are challenges standing in the way of greater EU-NATO cooperation, although some of these obstacles are not insurmountable. One of these dynamics relates to the growing importance of EU security and defence and the reprioritisation of US interests vis-à-vis Europe and the IndoPacific. In one important respect, the Biden Administration appears to be open to the idea that the EU should take on more responsibility for security and defence in its own neighbourhood. For some, this can be seen as an opportunity to enhance the EU’s strategic autonomy, but this concept continues to have a divisive meaning among European capitals.
In this respect, a greater European capacity and willingness to take on more of the security burden from American partners is generally viewed positively in Washington. There appears to be momentum in this regard, especially following the ‘AUKUS affair’. Paradoxically, this episode and the experience of Afghanistan may even lead to a greater US push for more European strategic responsibility. Nevertheless, with such momentum comes risks. Primarily, ambivalent European governments need to be reassured that a greater commitment to EU security and defence does not come at the expense of the US security guarantee.
Another major issue facing EU-NATO cooperation is the question of China. Indeed, NATO is increasingly focusing on the security challenges posed by China and this approach is largely seen against the backdrop of the US approach to security in the Indo-Pacific. For the EU, a more balanced approach to China may be desirable and this implies a more holistic approach to the region, especially given that almost 2 million EU citizens reside in the Indo-Pacific. In this respect, EU-NATO relations are bound to be increasingly caught up in wider discussions about the Indo-Pacific and China. It is for such reasons that the EU-US dialogue on security and defence is important.
THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE EU AND NATO
A core challenge for the EU and NATO is to ensure that each body can react to complex crises in an effective manner. This implies the need for creative thinking and new policy solutions that may encourage the EU and NATO to work in new and deeper ways together. It also means playing to the strengths of each organisation. For example, cooperation can be much broader than security and defence and also include questions about digitalisation or climate change. In this respect, there are at least three main areas where the EU and NATO can explore further cooperation:
1) Resilience: the EU and NATO can take greater steps to pool their expertise to counter hybrid threats but this implies a need for new technological solutions and, above all else, civilian expertise. Far greater cooperation can be achieved on countering hybrid threat and the EU and NATO can explore ways to ensure cooperation between hybrid and cyber rapid response tools. Notwithstanding the traditional challenge of information exchange between the two organisations, any response to hybrid threats requires information sharing. There has been a strong commitment to resilience by NATO and the EU and the task now is to bring together a range of public and private stakeholders to address critical infrastructure protection, foreign interference, humanitarian crises and climate change.
2) Emerging and disruptive technologies: both the EU and NATO have to make best use of recent and future innovations in defence and civil technologies. NATO has recently initiated efforts on innovation and the EU, through the European Defence Fund, is in an important position to stimulate European investments in technologies. Emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and quantum computing have a clear military relevance, but the EU and NATO have only barely begun to cooperate on the standards and regulations required to manage and harness disruption. Again, given its unique position the EU is well-placed to mobilise and generate regulation and financial resources.
3) Climate change: cooperative EU-NATO responses to climate change will increasingly be required. Both the EU and NATO have taken early steps to ‘green defence’ and the Union naturally has an added-value in this domain given its high-level of investments through the European Green Deal. Nevertheless, the EU and NATO have a vested interest in ensuring that they develop energy efficient technologies and equipment that does not undermine any operational performance.
The Strategic Compass and the Strategic Concept processes represent a key opportunity to bolster EU-NATO cooperation. For this to happen, both processes need to be transparent and encourage further dialogue. A goal should be to enhance the capacities of European governments when confronting traditional and unconventional threats. Indeed, both the EU and NATO find themselves in similar strategic situations where it is clear that a ‘zero-sum game’ mentality will not advance the cause of Euro-Atlantic security. Looking to the next Joint Declaration, the Strategic Compass and the Strategic Concept, there are clear opportunities for finding synergies and ensuring that the outcomes of further cooperation between the EU and NATO are greater than the simple sum of the efforts on both sides.
European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS), the Strategic Compass of the European Union
A Strategic Compass for a stronger EU security and defence in the next decade.
Council of the EU, press release, 21 March 2022.
Today the Council has formally approved the Strategic Compass, at a time when we witness the return of war in Europe.
The Compass gives the European Union an ambitious plan of action for strengthening the EU's security and defence policy by 2030.
The more hostile security environment requires us to make a quantum leap forward and increase our capacity and willingness to act, strengthen our resilience, and invest more and better in our defence capabilities.
The strength of our Union lies in unity, solidarity and determination. The objective of the Strategic Compass is to make the EU a stronger and more capable security provider. The EU needs to be able to protect its citizens and to contribute to international peace and security. This is all the more important at a time when war has returned to Europe, following the unjustified and unprovoked Russian aggression against Ukraine, as well as of major geopolitical shifts. This Strategic Compass will enhance the EU’s strategic autonomy and its ability to work with partners to safeguard its values and interests.
A stronger and more capable EU in security and defence will contribute positively to global and transatlantic security and is complementary to NATO, which remains the foundation of collective defence for its members. It will also intensify support for the global rules-based order, with the United Nations at its core.
The Strategic Compass provides a shared assessment of the strategic environment in which the EU is operating and of the threats and challenges the Union faces. The document makes concrete and actionable proposals, with a very precise timetable for implementation, in order to improve the EU's ability to act decisively in crises and to defend its security and its citizens.
The Compass covers all the aspects of the security and defence policy and is structured around four pillars: act, invest, partner and secure.
In order to be able to act rapidly and robustly whenever a crisis erupts, with partners if possible and alone when necessary, the EU will:
- establish a strong EU Rapid Deployment Capacity of up to 5000 troops for different types of crises
- be ready to deploy 200 fully equipped CSDP mission experts within 30 days, including in complex environments
- conduct regular live exercises on land and at sea
- enhance military mobility
- reinforce the EU's civilian and military CSDP (Common Defence and Security Policy) missions and operations by promoting a rapid and more flexible decision-making process , acting in a more robust way and ensuring greater financial solidarity
- make full use of the European Peace Facility to support partners
In order to strengthen its ability to anticipate, deter and respond to current and fast-emerging threats and challenges, and safeguard the EU's security interest, the EU will:
- boost its intelligence analysis capacities
- develop Hybrid Toolbox and Response Teams bringing together different instruments to detect and respond to a broad range of hybrid threats
- further develop the Cyber Diplomatic Toolbox and set up an EU Cyber Defence Policy to be better prepared for and respond to cyberattacks
- develop a Foreign Information Manipulation and Interference Toolbox
- develop an EU Space Strategy for Security and Defence
- strengthen the EU’s role as a maritime security actor
Member states have committed to substantially enhance their defence expenditures to match our collective ambition to reduce critical military and civilian capability gaps and strengthen our European Defence Technological and Industrial Base. The EU will:
- exchange on national objectives on increased and improved defence spending to match our security needs
- provide further incentives for member states to engage in collaborative capability development and jointly invest in strategic enablers and next generation capabilities to operate on land, at sea, in the air, in the cyber domain and in outer space
- boost defence technological innovation to fill strategic gaps and reduce technological and industrial dependencies
In order to address common threats and challenges, the EU will:
- strengthen cooperation with strategic partners such as NATO, the UN and regional partners, including the OSCE, AU and ASEAN
- develop more tailored bilateral partnerships with like-minded countries and strategic partners, such as the US, Canada, Norway, the UK, Japan and others
- develop tailored partnerships in the Western Balkans, our eastern and southern neighbourhood, Africa, Asia and Latin America, including through enhancing dialogue and cooperation, promoting participation in CSDP missions and operations and supporting capacity- building
Background and next steps
The first version of the Strategic Compass was tabled by the High Representative in November 2021, based on the first ever threat analysis to which the intelligence services of the 27 EU member states contributed and a structured dialogue phase amongst EU member states, EU institutions and experts. Successive versions were discussed in February and March 2022 to reflect the debate between member states and to take into account the Commission's package on defence and space of 15 February and the latest international developments, including in particular Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine. It contributes directly to the implementation of the Versailles agenda.
The European Union has formally approved the Strategic Compass.
The Strategic Compass of the European Union, news and alerts
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