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Set up a European Security Council? An idea to work on

(B2) Berlin regularly insists on a point often forgotten in the rhetoric on the European army: the establishment of a " EU Security Council ". A point that deserves some attention

(credit: Portuguese MOD)

With my friends from 'Europe's fault' (J. Quatremer, YA Noguès, K. Landaburu, H. Beaudoin), who receive this weekend Michèle Alliot Marie, alias MAM, the former Minister of Defense (under Jacques Chirac) and Minister of Foreign Affairs (under Nicolas Sarkozy), we talk about 'defence', 'European power' and in particular about this European Security Council (video).

@brussels2 weighs the pros and cons of a European Security Council in the image of @ONU_en pic.twitter.com/JfbkGh4Kot

A Franco-German proposal

This proposal did not come out of nowhere. It was last included in the Meseberg declaration adopted by the two leaders Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel in June 2018. The objective is to have a “ European debate in new formats " and " to increase the speed and efficiency of European Union decision-making [in matters of] foreign policy " (read : Defence, Security, Migrations, Development, the Franco-German agreement of Meseberg).

A Merkelian explanation

In the European Parliament, in November 2018, Chancellor Angela Merkel stresses the importance of " a forum in which important decisions can be taken ", with a " rotating presidency " (read : “A (European) army would show the world that between (us) there would be no more war” (Angela Merkel). The format would be limited, we specify on the German side: “ a small circle of states taking turns and representing the whole of the EU [to] work more quickly and intensively to resolve the ongoing crises. » (1)

A certain French reserve

On the French side, we cannot say that the project is arousing great mobilization. At the Élysée, caution is the rule: It's an idea [of] the Chancellor. It could be a joint proposal, but it still deserves [to be worked on] » Loose in 'off' an Élyséan, to a few journalists (including B2) in November 2018. And to add: « We have no details offered by the German government: is it a forum for discussing or deciding foreign policy issues? It is not yet a position that has matured. » (3)

An idea badly perceived in European circles

In European corridors, this idea is hardly commented on. " I'm a bit skeptical about creating a new structure. Is it really necessary. Don't we already have enough structures asks a good connoisseur of security issues interviewed by B2, summing up quite well the feeling in Brussels, perplexed and who has barely thought about the idea.

A gaping vacuum of strategic thinking

However, this proposal responds to a real need. The European Union today suffers from a gaping vacuum of political leadership at the highest level, strategic anticipation and responsiveness in the event of a major crisis. Talking about strategic autonomy or reflection without having a body capable of deciding is a decoy.

European leaders collectively absent

Admittedly, in theory, the European Council should consider major security issues at least once a year. But this provision of the Lisbon Treaty has remained rather a dead letter. It is clear that in recent years, on all major crises - Libya, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, migration crisis, coup in Turkey, etc. — the European Heads of State and Government, collectively, were 'on the pick-up'.

A certain lack of anticipation

To attest to this, it suffices to take a look at the list of recent crises. On the eve of signing the association agreement with Ukraine, did the 28 clearly assess the consequences of this act on relations with Russia, give their agreement in good and due form? Have they planned a crisis management system, either diplomatic or military, in the event of Russian intervention (largely foreseeable)? During the rout of the Arab Spring in Syria, did they anticipate the coming refugee and migrant crisis? After the Franco-British intervention in Libya, which left a country torn apart and a failed state, did they consider and debate the solution to the crisis, starting with resolving their differences? During the coup in Turkey, was there a crisis meeting in relation to a nearest country? No no !

Questions asked too quickly

At best, the 'Leaders' discussed one or two hours to agree on the collateral treatment of the crisis (breaking 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 to try to resolve their differences, find solutions or build roadmaps. At worst, they preferred not to look into the matter too much.

An easy-to-implement reform

If we put aside certain aspects proposed by A. Merkel, having a Security Council of the European Union is possible within the existing framework.

No treaty change

This project does not require modification of the constitutive treaties. It is enough just to change the uses. We can decide (for example) to devote half a day during each European Council to major international issues or (another example) to dedicate one of its four annual meetings to international issues. It would even 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 meeting).

Just change the uses

Moreover, nothing prevents some countries that are closer in terms of security approach — France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy — from holding regular preparatory meetings like the G6 meetings of interior ministers (a small joint circle). There is also nothing to prevent these Chiefs' meetings from being combined with a parallel meeting of Ministers of Defense or Foreign Affairs, or even ambassadors, to immediately set the measures decided by the Chiefs to music. All these provisions, entirely possible in the existing treaties, would make it possible to approach the model advocated by A. Merkel.

A diplomatic and technical system ready to respond

Below the political level, the European crisis apparatus is quite comprehensive and ready to work. We thus have ambassadors from the 28 (the Political and Security Committee), who sit permanently in Brussels, with at least two meetings per week (not counting breakfasts, snacks and other informal dinners) enabling exchanges and fine-tuning of common positions. In an emergency, a PSC meeting can be improvised. These diplomats, discreet but perfect connoisseurs of their subjects, are required to be there, 24 hours a day on deck. I have witnessed it several times. Meetings were held on Sundays in August at 24 a.m. or 6 p.m.

A monitoring and analysis device

We also have an intelligence monitoring system (IntCen) (directed today by a former German intelligence service) which regularly produces analysis notes. These notes - about 1400 per year - are rather well appreciated by their recipients, according to my information. We can add to this crisis reaction mechanisms — civil protection cell at the European Commission, EU military staff (EUMS), civilian mission command (CPCC) and so on. — that exist and are just waiting to produce results. All these systems can be strengthened and made more efficient if necessary.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)


  1. Proposal not to be confused with that of Olaf Scholz, the German Minister of Finance (SPD) proposing to transform the French seat on the UN Security Council. Read : A permanent seat at the UN for the EU. Is it such a good idea?
  2. OnEuropean intervention initiative, the same will be much more verbose. But one does not go without the other. Without a decision-making mechanism in high places, we will be able to make all the possible exchanges between all the most gifted officers possible, it will not succeed.
  3. The question of a rotating presidency of the European Council would come down to the situation doors Treaty of Lisbon. Ignoring the 'permanent' President of the European Council, it is not constitutional today.

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).

One thought on “Set up a European Security Council? An idea to work on"

  • Remi L.

    The real problem is above all that the idea is perceived as a replica of the UN Security Council which would anchor intergovernmentalism to the detriment of the European project.

    The change of use as presented in the article above proposes a different approach which consists in changing habits but also and above all in strengthening existing structures, which is very different.

    There remain the differences in terms of conception of defense and foreign policy. It is enough to see the faces of MAM and Quatremer when Catherine Martens evoked these subjects in “The fault with Europe”.

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