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Assessment 2008 of the European Union’s security and defence policy

Défense & Stratégie n°25, hiver 2008 - 31 décembre, 2008
Analyse and essay
Hajnalka Vincze

The year 2008 was that of a triple anniversary and of a double illusion with regard to European defence. Fifteen years ago, the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty marks the official launch of the CFSP (Common Foreign and Security Policy), with the prospect of a possible future defence component.

This latter finally starts to take shape five years later, with the Franco-British declaration in Saint-Malo, 4 December 1998, following the lifting of the British veto on the initiation of a defence policy in the institutional frameworks of the Union. From this founding act, consecrated by the Fifteen six months later, an EU-NATO co-existence will gradually replace the NATO dogma and monopoly in the "European security architecture." Despite the blazing speed with which the different elements of this new "European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) are put in place, it will take five years to see, in 2003, the launch of the first operations in the context of ESDP so far suspended on the definition of a rudimentary modus vivendi and the conclusion of a formal agreement with the Atlantic Alliance. Of the two illusions hanging throughout the year 2008 on European defence, the first concerned the alleged end of American preventions (if not obstructions) in the field. The semi-official messages that had been arriving for months from the other side of the Atlantic were finally confirmed by the remarks made in February, in Paris then in London, by the U.S. Ambassador to NATO. The support claimed by Ms. Victoria Nuland to a reinforcement of European defence was unanimously applauded and interpreted as a radical change in the American position. In fact, if change there is, it is a change in trompe-l'oeil. When the headlines of the press welcome Ms. Nuland who advocates a strengthening of European capabilities, they tend to forget that Washington has always been encouraging, not to say pressing, on this issue. Provided that these capabilities do not escape (their) control, the United States are more than happy to see their allies well equipped to assist them on the field, especially if it is with U.S. material. The real novelty was therefore rather to hear the word "autonomy" and "independence" associated with the idea of European defence by a U.S. diplomat. But the content of these formulas not being clarified, it's rhetoric at low cost. Indeed, the statements by the U.S. ambassador can be seen as the answer to the French President's speeches which, throughout the second half of 2007, continued to reiterate the exploit to bind in a single sentence his Atlanticist profession of faith and his determination to ignore the red lines set by Washington about European defence. Be it about an autonomous headquarters, an independent industrial and technological base or a European caucus within NATO. And he did this with the casualness typical of the character, in the most candid manner in the world, in complete conviviality. This brings us to the second great illusion of the year 2008, namely the heightened expectations that preceded and accompanied the French EU Presidency (July-December), especially on the subject of "defence". By sheer force of his determination (helped by his Atlanticist reputation supposed to wash him of all suspicion), Nicolas Sarkozy was expected to make a qualitative breakthrough in the field of ESDP during the six months of his presidency. Particularly since he had explicitly identified this as the precondition for the return of France to the integrated military structures of the Alliance. However, looking beyond the thunderous rhetoric and the grandiloquent announcements, it is clear that the evolution of European defence has its own dynamics and its own blockages. And they are less affected by a particular rotating presidency, even if French in this case, than by the permanent confrontation of diametrically opposed visions, in which, by contrast, France continues to play a role as essential as unchanged.

Full text in French.


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