“Europe has never been so prosperous, so secure nor so free”. It was 2003 and those were the words introducing the self-congratulatory EU Security Strategy that set the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) guidelines for the next 13 years. The former High Representative (HR), Javier Solana, drafted it to tackle indirect and external threats, as almost none existed at home. Now, the current HR, Federica Mogherini, faces very different circumstances and so the strategy does too.

Threat at the heart of the EU

Syrian and Ukrainian wars, the refugee crisis and Brexit have shaken views of the secure European oasis and completely outdated Solana’s strategy. As a result, Federica Mogherini’s first job was to develop a new approach to what is perceived as a hostile environment. But the starting point is very different from the one in 2003. If back then Europe was “so secure” and “so free”, now it “has become more unstable and more insecure”, states the EU Global Strategy foreward by the HR.

Recent terrorist attacks have spurred the sense of insecurity among parts of European society. A Special Eurobarometer opinion survey shows that in 2015, terrorism was perceived as the most important challenge for EU citizens’ security (almost 5 respondents in 10 thought so), while economic and financial crisis was the main concern in 2011.

Threats are no longer distant conflicts that potentially can affect EU countries, but rather highly intertwined internal and external risks, like the Syrian war. This global and regional scenario has changed for multiple reasons, but the EU cannot avoid addressing the debate about the extent to which the current state of affairs is due to its foreign and security policy (or the lack of it).

Realpolitik is back

The 2003 strategy was based on “preventive engagement”, which meant using economic benefits, political cooperation and diplomatic efforts. In fact, the document claims that “preventive engagement can avoid more serious problems in the future”. But guess what, it did not. Terrorism, migration and Russian intervention in Ukraine are serious problems indeed. Hence, Mogherini’s way out has been pragmatism and resilience.

Presented at the European Council on June 28 2016, new European security strategy approach is what Claudia Major and Christian Mölling call “new realism”. Increasing demands for an effective counter-terrorism action, a stronger border control and solid military capabilities, especially in Eastern Europe, have lead the EU to recognise that soft power is not enough to deal with current threats and advocate for hard power to underpin the long-time discredited CSDP.

European defence industry, the big winners?

In this case, realpolitik means rearmament. While countries bordering Russia already announced increases in their defence budgets, Western Europe has been reluctant to do so in times of economic crisis. Between 2009 and 2013, most EU countries decreased their defence expenditure, even Eastern countries did. After Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, the latest increased its military budget by 10-20% in 2015, according to NATO database. In the rest of Europe, 2015 did not mean a significant rise in military expenditure; there were even decreases, like in France or Italy. But 2016 has already seen rises in Western European defence budgets by between 5 and 10%. Keith Proctor pointed out in a Fortune article that “Europe’s defense industry stands to reap a windfall from the migrant crisis”. The current security policy shift confirms these expectations.

The new strategy calls for “a strong defence industry” and a better cooperation among member states’ troops and with NATO. The EU is pushing EU member states to have a “sufficient level of expenditure to defence” and “meet the collective commitment” of 20% of defence budget spending devoted to the procurement of equipment (missiles, aircraft, artillery, combat vehicles, communication systems, etc.) and to Research & Technology. In other words, the EU is pushing member states to inject more money to the ravenous military industry.

CSDP forthcoming action

And yet, more money to do exactly what? Even if strategic documents do not tend to be very specific, some actions can be deduced. Among them, it should be highlighted, a new defence sectoral agreement that will give priority to intelligence and surveillance, digital capabilities and high end military capabilities (equipment), as well as a boost to defence research and technology. Linking homeland security and border management with foreign action, launching tactical operations based on variable geometry and improving defence cooperation among member states will also centre CSDP efforts during the coming years.

This last one is the never ending wish of CSDP policy makers. But in fact, the rest of them are also not that new, except fostering defence industry and border control. The effectiveness of the pragmatic and military approach to European threats has yet to be proven, but legitimate doubts arise when considering precedent efforts like the US militarist counterterrorism policy during the Bush administration.

Natàlia Segura Raventós