Blog AnalysisEU Defense (Doctrine)Interview

Europe must learn to take responsibility for itself (Arnaud Danjean)

(BRUSSELS2, 2011 report, exclusive) At the end of the year, B2 was able to speak with Arnaud Danjean, the president of the Defense subcommittee of the European Parliament, to provide an overview of the challenges in terms of defense after a year full of “strategic surprises” and twists and turns. The French MEP believes that the year is ending better than it began for the European Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). But there is still a lot of work left. Europe must today learn to take responsibility for itself and take responsibility. The global approach desired by the drafters of the Lisbon Treaty is not yet fully implemented. Because there is still a timidity in tackling and developing the security aspect of European action.

• How do you see this year?

The CSDP process is still alive. This is already a result. The results are undoubtedly less meager than one might have thought at the start of the presidency. We had the July report (NB: a report which owes a lot to Pierre Vimont, the director of the Diplomatic Service and his advisor, Yves de Kermabon who pushed in this direction) as well as a debate during the last council. This debate proved that there was real political will – something that could still be doubted a few months ago. Ministers took over, not only French but also Polish and German. The weight of budgetary and strategic constraints remains there. The Libyan crisis preempted certain debates. Today we wake up to our real constraints: the rationalization effort (with pooling and sharing) is inevitable and the situation is strategic. The United States is our allies. But their eyes are turned elsewhere. Gates said it, Panetta also said it, Obama was in Asia recently. Today, European defense must stand alone.

• When you say “stand alone”, how do you see it?

The United States is our ultimate ally, both the ally with which we will engage in a high-intensity and long-lasting conflict – such as in Afghanistan – and the ultimate ally for the defense of our territory. Today it is difficult to see a massive external commitment or maximum mobilization on the territory. But there are medium-intensity crises on the margins of the European continent (like the Arab world, etc.) or on European territory; and, there, the response can only be European. Today, the United States is clearly telling us: “deal with it”! Politically, diplomatically and, where appropriate, militarily, Europeans must take their responsibilities.

• If the Americans believe that the Middle East or Asia requires their full attention, would there then be a certain distribution of tasks?

In the arc of crisis (which runs from Asia to Africa), we can indeed say that Europeans must take charge of the Sahel, Africa, the Arab world. The Americans will be there, if necessary, but in support, as for the training of Somali soldiers. It is the Europeans who form. And the Americans pay salaries or provide certain logistical functions. The question now is: is the EU ready to give substance to the famous global approach?…

• This global approach was one of the objectives of the Lisbon Treaty. It's not ready yet?

No. The European approach does not appear, for the moment, to be so global. “Classic” Community instruments – development and financial instruments – remain favored. As soon as we approach the security aspect, not to mention the military aspect, we immediately see certain questions raised: should we use the CSDP or not? Deploy a few experts or heavier equipment, via PSDC missions or via the stability instrument? There is a real debate which has not started, which must be started. We can clearly see this in the Sahel, for the Horn of Africa…

• Have we had two strategic documents from the EEAS?

Yes. Right now, there are a lot of words. But on the security aspect, nothing is decided. It is a very good thing that these priorities are included in the schedule. But I'm a little worried about the implementation. However, without the security aspect, especially in areas like the “Horn of Africa” and the “Sahel”, we cannot hope to have a global approach.

(Editor's note: A fundamental question. During the last meeting with Catherine Ashton, the Nigeriens and Mauritanians requested from the EU as a priority, vehicles, transmission capacities, even weapons, and were not really interested in the training of judges that the Europeans wanted to propose).

• To hear you, the EU is too shy?

Yes. The important thing now is to act. The ball is in the EU's court. The High Representative's timidity regarding operations is not justified. She has to suggest things. For the Sahel, we can have a PSDC mission, possibly with a transitional phase at the beginning. Because a CSDP mission has a certain slowness of implementation and force generation. Catherine Ashton is right on this point: finding 50 highly skilled people today is not easy. But, spontaneously, Mr. Ashton did not take the measure of the “security and common defense” dimension. It places a lot of emphasis on preventive diplomacy, mediation, etc., less on the EU's security and defense capabilities. We saw this clearly in Libya; planning has not really been undertaken. Mr Ashton told us: not all Member States were willing. In the European Parliament, we respond: “We must not take the hesitation of Member States as an excuse not to do anything or to do it at a minimum; we must not over-anticipate the reluctance of Member States.”

• Were there any changes between the July and December Board meetings?

The little "explanation of text" with the British in July was not useless. This is what made it possible to uncork in December. At least, no doubt, but we got through. In Paris, there were some doubts about not having the UK on board, two years after Lisbon. But one of the pleasant surprises of the discussion was to see it end at 26 (even if there was some reluctance among the Member States).

• What do you remember from this discussion?

We must not be afraid to ask questions of truth at some point in the process, we can seek the minimum compromise at 27. But there is a day when we must face up to our responsibilities. If tomorrow there is a major crisis, we risk finding ourselves in the same situation as in Yugoslavia 20 years ago. We really haven't gone far in the case of Libya. We can't pretend that everything is adjustable at 27. Everyone has to take responsibility.

• Defense Europe – like economic Europe – seems to operate more at several speeds, isn't that dangerous?

Multi-speed Europe has existed since the beginning. There are several speeds in migration, in defense (with Denmark's opt-out), in agriculture — rebalancing —, regional, etc. In terms of security and defence, we are at several speeds, objectively. This is not an argument to prevent those who want to advance from advancing. Those who go forward will set the pace.

• And the United Kingdom?

The UK is pragmatic. If there are operations that work, if they are relevant and well-conducted, the British will be there. They will join us. I strongly believe in the virtue of joint operations. The British have undoubtedly misjudged the scope of Gates' speech and the American change of course – Europe is no longer the main concern of the Americans. Which, combined with budget constraints, will weigh heavily in the future.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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