The author: H.E. Pierre Buhler, Ambassador of the Republic of France to the Republic of Poland.

In December 2013, in order to reinforce the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP), the European Council drew guidelines and set operational targets to improve our capacity to conduct missions and operations abroad and to strengthen the European defense technological and industrial base. Heads of states and governments decided to revisit the issue in June 2015 and assess the implementation of their decisions.
Only two months later, a worrying sequence of events in Ukraine required quick reactions and challenged the EU’s ability to take quick political decisions to face unforeseen security challenges while keeping up with the efficiency of its reactions to external crises.

How can the UE tackle this crisis in the short run without losing track of the longer term strategic goals set last December? The credibility of our common diplomacy, defense and security is at stake and in many respects this is a defining moment for the EU.

Last year’s European Council highlighted the fact that CSDP does not only enhance the security of European citizens, but also contributes to peace and stability in the EU’s neighborhood and beyond.

The events in Ukraine are now putting to a test our ability to act accordingly in a crisis right at our borders, but we should remember that it is not the first time the EU is involved in the security of neighboring countries. In the Western Balkans, it played a key role in helping relations between Serbia and Kosovo normalize, along with NATO, and last December’s summit showed that the EU was keen on taking more responsibilities in this region.

We should also keep in mind that the European Council emphasized that the security of Europe was tightly linked to that of Africa, especially the Sahelo-Saharan strip. In this area, terrorist groups, internal conflict and a growing number of refugees cannot be handled by weak or even failed local states.

This is why the EU must focus on securing borders in this area, helping States such as Libya to strengthen their capacities. It has hence decided to extend the EUTM Mali mission by two years and to complement it with an interior security forces training mission. The maritime security strategy that the EU is to establish before June 2014 will encompass such regions as the Gulf of Guinea and the Mediterranean. France and twelve other European countries also sent troops to Central African Republic. It should be highlighted that Poland is one of them, which shows its determination to become a key player within CSDP in taking joint military action and helping enhance interoperability of systems, units and forces.

Interoperability of the EU’s armed forces is essential to their reactivity and ability to act efficiently on external theaters of operations. Apart from participating in missions overseas, it can be reached through joint exercises,

including those run within the framework of NATO. France has been acting consequently, being one of the main providers of the NATO Reaction Force. In 2014, it assumes the command of its land component, not long after the noticed participation of 1250 French troops in the Steadfast Jazz 2013 exercise.

However, if the EU wants to strengthen the ability of its member states to cooperate and intervene efficiently through CSDP, it should also address such issues as the funding of missions through the ATHENA mechanism. As president Hollande emphasized in December, we must broaden the spectrum of activities this common instrument can finance. We hope that the conclusions of the current review of ATHENA, which are due end of June 2014, will be in tune.

If such efforts can boost the EU’s ability to deploy quickly and efficiently, in the long run, the strength of the CSDP also relies on maintaining the EU’s « strategic autonomy », a concept that European heads of states and governments endorsed during their December summit.

This idea is very dear to France, which believes that to advance on the path to strategic autonomy, the EU needs to tighten the bonds between its national defense industries and streamline them. It should also further develop the skills that are essential to the future of its defense industry.

Being the Ambassador of France to Poland, I can state that both countries share the belief – which recent events have proven right – that the world remains dangerous place and that each country should stay alert and be able to count on its own forces if needed.

That is why we rank among those European countries caring most about security and maintaining military budgets at substantial levels in a time when resources go scarce.

But for these expenses to yield the highest leverage, we should spend clever, first of all by boosting cooperation, especially through the European Defense Agency. Both Poland and France participate in joint projects such as the drones’ users club and the Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) project, and France is one of the European Air Transport Command’s (EATC) participating nations. Such initiatives could also be encouraged by the EU through tax incentives such as a VAT exemption on transactions that help building common capacities – a mechanism that already applies within NATO.

Moreover, Europe’s ability to take full responsibility in terms of security and defense and reach strategic autonomy relies on the control we have on our military equipment.

This is why France, which hosts a strong and renowned defense industry, is ready to share its technologic potential with allies. It can offer much more than what off-the-shelf procurement does: a real industrial partnership, including shared R&D and joint crafting of source codes.

Such is our ambition for the Europe of defense, and such is for instance the spirit of the relationship we have built together with Poland, which engaged in a modernization of capacities process and started in 2012 to restructure its defense industry. In the same spirit, the Airbus Group recently offered Poland to enter the very core of the European aerospace industry by becoming its fifth industrial basis, a unique opportunity to engage in a genuine technological partnership that hopefully Polish authorities will grab.

In the end, the EU’s unique ability to combine the various instruments at hand to prevent, deal with and solve crises and conflicts is its added value to the world’s security. The idea of imagining solutions that encompass hard defense as well as tools and resources in fields such as diplomacy, funding, trade, cooperation, development or assistance in state building, is not new as such. It has been applied as the organizing principle of EU actions in many cases in recent years, for example in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel and the Great Lakes.

Closer to us, the EU’s reactions to events in Ukraine have illustrated how fruitful such a « comprehensive approach » to external conflicts and crises can be. In a joint communication, the Commission and the High Representative pleaded last December in favor of such an approach, emphasizing that it was more than ever relevant and should be applied systematically. They insisted on the need to link European policies and external action, and to work in partnership with local actors as well as multilateral players such as NATO or the IMF.

Over Ukraine, EU members managed to speak as one and to address the crisis in a united way. Together, they have decided to impose gradual sanctions upon Moscow and the EU has been part of the four-way talks held in Geneva. It is worth noticing the stabilizing and constructive role played by the Weimar Triangle when dealing with the Ukrainian issue. As its three member States represent different sensibilities among the UE, their common analyses and proposals bear weight, and since the beginning of the crisis they have been carrying out active diplomacy.

Apart from its diplomatic efforts, the EU has proved able to mobilize several types of resources and to figure out innovative solutions involving both local and international partners. The EU’s €11bn support package for Ukraine combines EIB and BERD loans with funds from the European Neighborhood Instrument, aiming at stabilizing the economic and financial situation of the country. Several European countries have also offered technical assistance to strengthen the Ukrainian state’s capacities.

In parallel, the Allies – the United States first, followed by several European countries including France – have reinforced air surveillance and military presence on the territory of its Eastern Europe’s allies, and offered support in the field of cyber defense. To take such measures to reassure our Allies, accurate, strong and available military and intelligence capacities were needed.

This is why last December’s European Council statement – « defence matters » – remains up to date, and by exploring the above mentioned tracks, we should collectively concentrate on making it matter. But efforts towards an efficient, strong and strategically autonomous European defense must be combined with a clever and comprehensive approach to security issues outside the EU’s borders. These are the two tracks the EU should follow if it wants a safer Europe and a safer world.

Road to WSF2014 is a project accompanying the international conference Warsaw Security Forum 2014. It is a collection of analyses from the Forum’s Program Council as well as from globally renown security experts focusing on international security challenges and opportunities. Issued in the printed form, Road to WSF2014 will be distributed to the public administration, participants of the WSF2014, as well as to the general public.

PDF version of the policy paper can be downloaded HERE