24 July 2020

Germany has bold European security and defence objectives for the EU’s Council Presidency

Negoiţă Sorin

At the beginning of this month, Germany took over the EU Council Presidency, at a turning point for Union’s existence, which is experiencing one of the biggest recessions in its history and which could deepen even more the economic collapse of the European states. Furthermore, now, when Europe’s security is challenged more than in any other moment since 1990, due to the negative impact of the economic crisis generated by the coronavirus pandemic, Germany wants to draw again the attention on the “European cohesion and solidarity”. A first step seems to have been made after signing the recent financial recovery agreement of the European states and the completion of the 2021-2027 multiannual community budget, after “endless” negotiations and discussions, which were carried by the chiefs of states and government, in Brussels, continuously for four days and nights, between 17-20th of July. Therefore, an important field Berlin proposes to promote unity among the EU member states in, in the following six months, is the European security and defence that Germany has bold ambitions about.

Image source: Mediafax

A stronger Europe in the world

Having “Together. Let’s make Europe stronger again” as a motto, on 1st of July, Germany took over, for 6 months, the EU’s Council Presidency.  Only one week after that (8th of July), the federal chancellor, Angela Merkel, has presented in front of the European Parliament, in Brussels, the priorities of the German Presidency, which, according to the German leader, ”is a task that asks for respect and compassion”, as she belives in Europe and she is convinced that it represents „not just an inheritance of the past, but also hope and vission for the future”.

This important responsibility comes at tough times for the European Community, along with a health crisis, but also a deep economic one, generated by the coronavirus pandemic, which affected, more or less, all the European states, when the international security environment is in a permanent change, becoming more and more dynamic and complex, and the security challenges against Europe are more mixed and frequent. Therefore, Merkel thinks that if protecting and preserving Europe is an objective, then they should turn it into that in a tenable manner, to then assume to be able to “play a sovereign and responsible role of its own in a rapidly changing global order”. Also, in this globalized world, she sees Europe as a “living entity that we can shape and transform” and where we can “preserve our beliefs and our freedoms”.

According to the German Presidency program, called “Together for Europe’s recovery”, in terms of the European foreign policy, security and defence, “The EU has a considerable responsibility to help shape the global order in the spirit of stronger international coordination and cooperation as well as greater sustainability and solidarity”. To that end, when defining Europe’s geostrategic priorities, Germany wants, first of all, to develop a complex and active cooperation between EU and US, the closest foreign policy and security partner, based on a large political dialogue and a positive transatlantic commercial agenda. Also, Berlin wants to have an ambitious and complex partnership between the EU and the United Kingdom. Therefore, the German executive is willing to contribute to the negotiations between the EU and Great Britain, for the future partnership to be based on a balanced relationship between rights and obligations, but also by promoting fair competitiveness conditions.

Hence, Germany wants a better cooperation of EU with China and is promoting a larger reciprocity in all fields, based on the long-term common European values and interests. To that end, it wants to make concrete progresses like negotiating a bilateral investments agreement and the approach of topics like climate change, biodiversity, global health and the common solution of problems related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, it wants to adopt a Euro-African agenda within the UE-African Union Summit, to deepen the political cooperation partnership with Africa, through some common initiatives in important fields like peace and security, well-governing, climate changes, health, migration etc.

On the other hand, Germany thinks it is necessary to intensify the EU’s states commitments to manage the major international conflicts and to promote peace. Therefore, the programs talks about solving the Libyan conflict, combating the consequences of the crisis in Syria, the nuclear issue with  Iran and the issues in Sahel and Eastern Ukraine regions. It also supports the support the EU must give to Afghanistan, seeking peace, stability and development.

Besides these two key projects, the German Program also foresees the foreign policy and the support for a trustable perspective for the Western Balkans’ accession to the European Union, both to their benefit and as part of EU’s own strategic interests and the support for the High Representative of the Union for foreign affairs and security policy to “resettle” the EU’s relations with Russia, based on Union’s principles and an inventory of how to implement them.

In order to make a stronger EU in the world, Germany also wants to give a special attention to the successful implementation of the integrated approach by all relevant actors for consolidating, on long term, EU’s reaction capacity to crisis. For Berlin, “A more effective European foreign and security policy will only succeed if all Member States more clearly recognise the responsibility they share for a strong Europe in the world”. To that end, Germany will promote, during the Presidency’s mandate, the availability for “cooperation, compromise and interests’ balance” and will continue its efforts to consolidate the common security and defence policy (PSAC). So, it will support the coherence of all EU’s defence initiatives will contribute to creating the necessary reaction structures, will try to apply the continuous development pact of the civilian  CSDP and will consolidate the civilian-military planning and leadership structures in Brussels for the CSDP operations. Also, Germany wants to create a European centre responsible in managing the civilian crisis, headquartered in Berlin, to develop the conceptual standards and recommendations for civilian crisis. Furthermore, Berlin thinks that the Global Strategy of EU on foreign policy and security, which establishes the EU’s strategic objectives in the security and defence field, should include also the response to pandemics.

Not least, the Program of the German Presidency of the EU Council foresees the UE-NATO cooperation promotion, through dialogue, transparency and periodical coordination. Given the coronavirus pandemic, it should include also military support capabilities for the civilian structures and contributions for resilience as well as for the civilian protection and against catastrophes.

All of these priorities, which refer to the German Presidency’s objectives in the Union’s foreign policy issue for the next six months, were enhanced by the German Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas, with the occasion of the works’ development of the Foreign Affairs Council of EU (July 13th), in Brussels. Additionally, the German official draws the attention on the necessity to consolidate the relation between UE and Turkey, which is strategically important, but, at the same time, seems to be very complex. The EU does not have to ignore the more or less legal actions of Turkey in the Mediterranean Sea, in the detriment of some the EU Member States, but also that Turkey is a key actor in the Libyan conflict, which threatens to enter a dangerous phase and divide the African world.  

A more resilient and capable Europe to act in the defence and security field

A week (July 14th) after German’s chancellor Brussels speech, the defence minister from Merkel’s cabinet, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has informed the Specialized Commissions of the European Parliament – the Commission for foreign affairs, human rights, common security and defence policy (AFET) and the Subcommission for security and defence – about the German priorities of the EU Council in the defence and security policy field[1]. To that end, according to the report presented by the German minister of defence, the general objective of Germany is to “create” a more resilent and capable Europe in terms of the defence and security problems along with enhancing the NATO-EU cooperation. Furthermore, referring to the security and defence experiences we all went through during the pandemic, Kramp-Karrenbauer underlined that “One of the major tasks in the following months will be to make and define a more resilient and how could its military contribution be conceived”.

According to the German leader, one of the priorities of the Chancery’s agenda is defining a strategic compass that Berlin wants to elaborate in the following six months with the support of Portugal and Slovenia (the other two states in the EU’s Council leadership trio) to be completed in 2021, as part of the French Presidency of the EU Council. Hence, according to the German Executive, in order to make a more resilient Europe it is necessary to define the threats Europe faces clearly and, to that end, they gave as example the totally different manner the EU member states see Russia as a threat. Consequently, the German minister thinks that a first step in this whole process should be done by the EU Intelligence and Situations Center[2], which, along with the national intelligence services, are planning a common analysis of possible threats, until the end of this year. Therefore, based on such an analysis, the EU Member States should agree with the security and defence policy common concrete objectives and the strategic compass to define what Europe can do about this issue and what should represent a priority. This strategic tool should gather, in a common strategy, the current European defence and security initiatives – PESCO (Permanent Structures Cooperation), the EU Fight Groups and bilateral cooperation.

Another priority which could lead to a more resilient and capable Europe is the strong EU-NATO cooperation. According to the German minister, both organizations are key components of the European security architecture, so it is necessary to seek ways to effectively complete the national competences with the European ones, but also with NATO’s.  To that end, Kramp-Karrenbauer stated that “For me and the German federal government is it clear what we can reach a bigger European action capacity only together with NATO”. This is the only way to provide the European citizens security, who, in German leader’s perspective, will experience bigger security challenges than the transatlantic allies.

Asked about the future projection of the EU-NATO relations, as well as about the transatlantic relations, Annegrett Kramp-Karrenbauer underlined that Europe stays dependent on the US and NATO and that there is no doubt that this aspect will change in the near future. Also, she seemed aware that EU is quite far from replacing NATO’s capabilities and their transatlantic partners and, consequently, she thinks that “NATO is and will stay a cornerstone for the European security”.

At the same time, talking about the transatlantic relation, the German minister of defence stated that she believes in a change of “tone” after the possible victories at this year’s elections of counter candidate Biden, even if the US foreign policy will be redirected towards China as a global rival will continue to be an essential direction at Washington, in Europe’s detriment. Therefore, she stated that “If this is the situation, it means that we, the Europeans, must be capable to work more intensively than it is happening today”. So, Germany wants to establish a defence agenda for the EU and diminish the “American impression” in Europe.

A third important aspect, in Berlin's view, is strengthening the permanent structured cooperation. In this area, Germany will strongly support, during the Presidency of the EU Council, third countries, such as the United Kingdom, to participate in PESCO projects. Although PESCO is a form of enhanced cooperation between Member States, given that they do not have sufficient expertise in all areas, the invitation of third countries will be auspicious and will probably also contribute to raising the level of cooperation between EU Member States and NATO.

Another important goal stated by Kramp-Karrenbauer, which is based on the lessons learned during the health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, is to increase resilience and cooperation in the military medical field at European level, in order to increase the capacity to react in crisis situations, during possible future pandemics. In this regard, she gave as an example the PESCO project of the European Medical Command (EMC), coordinated by Germany, which could involve European medical forces in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic or other pandemics - at least in the procurement and storage medical supplies or in the joint coordination of medical care before and during operations.

When questioned by MEPs on how to reduce national defense budgets and contributions to the European Defense Fund (EDF), the German defense minister said that another priority for the German presidency in this regard is the negotiations to maintain budgets of national defense services as high and stable as possible, and for the structure of the European budget, EDF and military mobility to be best represented. The German leader also said that European funds could be used as efficiently as possible if Member States jointly planned and harmonized their options for military capabilities and arms purchases.

Also, in response to the Euro-parliamentarians questions on the current EU security challenges, Kramp-Karreunbauer referred to other priorities 3which Berlin considers, like Russia and China’s geopolitics, the states at conflict, Syria and Libya, the unstable situation in Sahel region, as well as the increased participation of women within the EU missions.

Translated by Andreea Soare

[1] (AKK presents the priorities of the Presidency of the Council of the EU to the European Parliament), available at: https://www.bmvg.de/de/aktuelles/akk-eu-parlament-prioritaeten-eu-ratspraesidentschaft-livestream-315342.

[2] The European Union Information and Situations Center is an information body of the Union External Action Service, under the authority of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.