A European Security Council ? An idea to reflect on

(B2) Berlin regularly insists on an element often forgotten in the European army rhetoric : the installation of a “EU Security Council”. A suggestion that deserves more attention than it has received so far

(credit : Portuguese MOD)

A Franco-German proposal

This proposal did not come up out of nowhere. It appeared in the Meseberg declaration adopted by the two leaders Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel in June 2018. The aim is to have a “European debate on new formats“, “increasing the speCed and effectiveness of the EU’s decision making in [matters of] Common Foreign and Security”.

A “merkelian” explanation

In the European Parliament, in November 2018, Chancellor Angela Merkel stresses the importance of “a framework within which important decisions could be made“, with a “rotating presidency“. The format would be limited, indicates the German side : “a small group of states taking turns and representing the whole of the EU [to] work more quickly and intensively on the resolution of ongoing crises.”(1)

A certain wariness on the French side

On the French side, it cannot be said that the project is generating much mobilization. At the Élysée, prudence is the rule: “It’s an idea [of] the Chancellor. It could be a joint proposal, but it still deserves [to be studied]” declares an insider of the Élysée, off the record, to a few journalists (including B2) in November 2018. Then adding: “We do not have details proposed by the German government: is it a forum to discuss or decide on foreign policy issues? It is not yet a matured position. » (3)

A bad reception of the idea in European circles

In the European corridors, this idea is barely commented on. “I am a bit skeptical about creating a new structure. Is it really necessary? Don’t we already have enough structures?” asks a knowledgeable expert on security issues interviewed by B2, summarizing quite well the overall sentiment in Brussels, perplexed and who has hardly reflected on the idea.

A gaping gap of strategic thinking

This proposal, however, responds to a critical necessity. The European Union now suffers from a gaping void of political leadership at the highest level, of strategic anticipation and responsiveness in the event of a major crisis. Talking about strategic autonomy or reflection without having a capable decision making body is a lure.

European leaders collectively absent

Certainly, in theory, the European Council must look at the major security issues at least once a year. But this provision of the Lisbon Treaty has remained rather unheeded. It is clear that in recent years, on all major crises – Libya, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, the migration crisis, Turkey’s coup, etc. –European heads of state and government, collectively, were behind.

A clear lack of anticipation

Take the list of the recent crises. On the eve of signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine, had the 28 clearly assess the consequences of this act on their relations with Russia, given their agreement in due form? Did they plan a crisis management system, either diplomatic or military, in case of Russian intervention (largely predictable)? During the failure of the Arab Spring in Syria, did they anticipate the refugees and future migrant crisis? After the Franco-British intervention in Libya, which resulted in a torn country and a failed state, had they considered and debated the solution to the crisis, starting by resolving their differences on the topic? During the coup in Turkey, was there a crisis meeting? No, no, no !

Questions asked are too quickly discarded

At best, the ‘Leaders’ discussed one or two hours to agree on the collateral treatment of the crisis (breakdown of diplomatic ties, humanitarian aid, sanctions …). The longest discussion in recent years has been devoted to defining the intensity of the sanctions put in place on Russia. But rarely dedicated to trying to resolve their differences, find solutions or build roadmaps. At worst, they preferred not to focus too much on the issue.

An easy enough reform to put into motion

If we put certain dimensions of the project put forward by A. Merkel aside, having an EU Security Council is possible in the present structure.

No modification of the Treaty needed

This project won’t require any modification of the constitutive treaties. Just change the uses. It could decided (for example) to devote a half-day to important international issues during each European Council, or (another example) to dedicate one out of the four annual meetings to these questions. It could have be possible to hold an informal European Council once or twice a year in a rotating country (allowing a head of government to co-chair the reunion).

Just change the usages

On the other hand, nothing prevents some countries closer in their relation to security – France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy – to hold regular preparatory meetings on the model of the G6 reunions of the Ministers of the Interior (a small joint circle). Nothing also prevents to couple these Leaders’ meetings, a parallel reunion of the Ministers of Defence or Foreign Affairs, perhaps even some ambassadors, to put into motion immediately the measures drawn out by the Leaders. All these provisions, completely possible in the existing treaties, would allow the Union to move closer to the model advocated for by A. Merkel.

A diplomatic and technical device ready to respond

Below the political level, the European crisis system is rather comprehensive and ready to work. We thus have the ambassadors of the 28 (the Political and Security Committee), who sit permanently in Brussels, with at least two meetings a week (not including breakfasts, snacks and other informal dinners) to exchange and refine common positions. In case of emergency, a meeting of the PSC may be improvised. These diplomats, discreet but perfect connoisseurs of their subjects, are required to be here, on call, 24 hours a day. I have witnessed this myself many times. Meetings held on Sunday, in August, at 6 am or 10 pm.

A monitoring and analytical device

Another useful structure is the monitoring tool of European intelligence (the Intcen, today led by a former member of the German intelligence services) that produces regularly analytical notes. These notes – about 1400 per year – are rather well appreciated by their recipents, according to my information. To this can be added multiple crisis response mechanisms – the European Commission’s Civil Protection Cell, EU Military Staff (EUMS), the Command of Civilian Missions (CPCC) and so on – that exist and only ask to be used. All of these frameworks can, if need be, be reinforced and made more efficient.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

(1) A proposal that should not be confused with Olaf Scholz’s, the German Finance Minister (SPD) proposing to transform the French seat on the UN Security Council.

(2) The questrion of a rotating presidency of the European Council would bring the situation back to the ante Lisbon Treaty times. Ignoring the ‘permanent’ president of the European Council, it is not constitutional today.

Nicolas Gros-Verheyde

Rédacteur en chef du site B2. Diplômé en droit européen de l'université Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne et auditeur 65e session IHEDN (Institut des hautes études de la défense nationale. Journaliste depuis 1989, fonde B2 - Bruxelles2 en 2008. Correspondant UE/OTAN à Bruxelles pour Sud-Ouest (auparavant Ouest-France et France-Soir).