Belgian Seminar on the Strategic Compass

As you are all aware, the security context is rapidly changing, becoming more complex, multiform and diverse in a world where new forms of competition are emerging and new technologies are ever more prevalent. For the EU, identifying the diversity of the threats was the first step accomplished through the Strategic Compass process initiated last november. Building on this first step, the Strategic Compass aims now to enable Europe to develop further as a credible security actor and provider, by responding to the threats and challenges identified as well as developing a strategic foresight. This should be done as well by coordinating with partners whenever possible or acting alone when its vital interests are at stake. Europe needs to do more and better in the field of Defence, in order also to strenghten the European pillar within NATO.

Since the launch of the Strategic dialogue, we have already debated many security and defence aspects in depth, within and outside Ministerials meetings. Numerous non-papers have been circulated and workshops like this one are fueling the discussions. In this impressive mix of ideas, one should not forget however the main objectives of this exercice, being the implementation of the level of ambition set up in the 2016 global strategy. The Strategic Compass will have to translate these objectives into concrete achievements, both in terms of capability means, cooperation and military inter-operability between the Member States. This should, in turn, contribute to the strengthening CSDP missions and operations. In this exercise, we need to reconcile divergent point of views and build bridges among Member-states, in order to find positive solutions and avoid the risk to reduce the Strategic Compass to the lowest common denominator, which should not be an option.

In order to achieve our level of ambition, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The European Union has put in place a set of instruments and initiatives to assert itself as a security actor. But the EU needs to make these instruments more effective, coherent and improve their use and potential.

The establishment of the European Defence Fund is one of the most promising steps to strengthen EU response both in the capability and resilience baskets, in order to build more competitive and innovative tools to enhance our security impact. The Fund support is vital for the creation of a strong and competitive European Defence and Technological Industrial Base. It must place European companies in better conditions to participate in collaborative projects, favouring in particular SME’s access to the supply chain. The link between EU and NATO work in the field of technologies should also be facilitated by the Compass and NATO 2030 concomitant processes. Strengthening together our resilience to hybrid and cyber-attacks as well as improving civil-military cooperation seem key indeed.

The PESCO framework is paramount to foster cooperation and inter-operability between Member States. Therefore, the evaluation of the PESCO commitments should be made more transparent and objective. With regard to PESCO projects, we need to ensure they address EU shortfalls. A bigger role for the PESCO secretariat could be favoured to make recommendations in order to mitigate the lack of critical enablers. Third parties’ contributions to certain PESCO projects can also add value, as the US/Canada/Norway implication in the project Military Mobility very clearly shows.

The adoption of the first CARD report in 2020 was a game changer in creating a tool dedicated to promoting cooperation opportunities for joint defense capability development. The role played by the European Defence Agency in collecting, analysing data’s and suggesting recommendations give precious strategic orientations to Member States in order to strengthen European defence and concentrate development efforts on next generation capabilities. EDA and the European Defence Fund are driving forces to remain at the edge of technological development.

On the side of missions and operations, the Common Security and Defence Policy gives the EU a framework to develop realistic and calibrated tools to deal with external crises. These require us to clearly and precisely define our priority objectives with regard to crisis management, in order to optimize our resources and act in a more proactive and effective way.

At the political level, the EU must define geographical and thematic priorities based on the most likely and most dangerous courses of action. In this context, the new instrument known as the European Peace Facility should be used wherever needed, south or eastwards, taking into account the needs of the beneficiary countries and other programs already implemented by NATO and international partners.

The EU must also improve the efficiency of its decision-making process, so as to speed up EU deployments on the ground. The avenues proposed for diversifying the decision-making frameworks (robust and flexible mandates, article 44, links with ad hoc missions, constructive abstention, etc.) must be further analyzed and debated. We are looking forward to hearing your views on these issues.

In terms of command and control structures, we need a structure that is able to materialize our level of ambition. In this regard, the role of the MPCC should be increased in order to become a fully operational Headquarters, which could also take over the strategic command of the European battle groups.

When it comes to operational advance planning, the EU should proactively identify a number of scenarios, based on which the MPCC could develop crisis management concepts and generic OPLANS. This would allow the activation of these plans at short notice by the appropriate political level.

To sum up, in order to be able to meet our military level of ambition, the EU needs to develop adequate capabilities and resilience mechanisms that can be concretely developed with partners and autonomously.  The current processes and instruments for ensuring these objectives must be improved and simplified to allow on the one hand a better political appropriation of the processes, linking the top down approach to the bottom up expertise and on the other hand  allowing a more efficient connection between defence planners and political decision-makers. Because the public opinion - our citizens - request more European Defence; we should not disappoint them.

It is in this spirit that Belgium decided to host today’s seminar. By organising a discussion on this particular topic, Belgium wants to step in and contribute in an informal, out-of-the-box but yet concrete way, in the reflexions and discussions that will shape the strategic compass. We are very much looking forward to hearing your views, your ideas and suggestions. Don’t hesitate to surprise us !