Following rising security concerns in Europe, increased focus has been placed on the EU’s defence clause, contained in Article 42(7) of the Lisbon Treaty. The Article emphasises solidarity between EU Member States. It states that in the case of armed aggression towards a Member State on their territory, other Member States are obliged to aid and provide assistance by all the means in their power.
Yet, Article 42(7) does not require Member States to take military action in case of armed aggression on EU soil. The clauses of the Article are quite broad, maintaining soft obligations as they do not specify the kind of aid other Member States are required to provide (such as financial, troops, equipment, etc.).
For this reason, during the Ambassadors Conference held last August, France has emphasised a need to strengthen this clause, pointing to the lack of an automatic trigger. France has cited a need to align Article 42(7) more closely with NATO’s Article 50, by introducing a semi-automatic character, which would be provoked by an attack on a Member State. This is part of France’s calls for deeper solidarity on defence and security matters, as well as increased autonomy for the EU in this area. For France, the EU needs to reaffirm its autonomy and guarantee a secure environment for its citizens.
With this reinforcement, Member States would be able to cooperate in the interests of defence and security. However, the reinforcement of the article will not apply to all EU Member States. Sweden, Finland, Austria, Malta, and Ireland will be exempted from the proposed reinforcement due to their historical neutrality. Nonetheless, there may yet be a possibility for such Member States to contribute towards this reinforcement through alternative indirect measures, such as when Sweden provided weapons to France after the Paris attacks in 2015.
Emphasis is also placed on how this reinforcement of the EU defence clause would be ensured to complement the EU-NATO strategic partnership. One of the cited key areas the EU would be able to assist and complement NATO is that of “military mobility”. This has already begun with the introduction of the “European Permanent Structured Cooperation initiative on security and defense” in 2017.
Indeed, continual emphasis has been placed on strengthening the relationship between the EU and NATO. The signed Joint Declaration between the two parties demonstrates this clearly, whereby seven areas were outlined in order to enhance synergy and cooperation, such as cyber security, and countering of hybrid threats. As the European Commission declared in its statement concerning the movement towards a European Defence Union:
“Today, guaranteeing security means dealing with threats that transcend borders. No single country can address them alone. Europe’s citizens are looking to the European Union for protection, with 3 out of 4 in favour of a Common Security and Defence Policy among EU Member States (Eurobarometer, April 2017). More has been achieved in European defence policy in the past 3 years than in decades before.”
Source: (2018, February 17), “#EUDefence: Towards a European Defence Union”, European Commission. (Accessed on the 17th of September 2018: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/towards-a-european-defence-union_en.pdf )
The EU’s and the military forces have not always seen eye to eye in regards to The European Defence Project. The initiative seems to find more interest and traction within governmental and civilian circles, than in the military chain of command. Nevertheless, European militaries are cooperating and increasing interoperability by continually creating joint exercises and informal meetings. There is a clear wish to work together, yet the ability to strengthen the EU’s collective defence remains within the executive domain. For now, the defence mechanism remains primarily under NATO’s remit.
The European Defence Project will still take a while to achieve and only increased political impetus will trigger its realization. Although, the European Union has come a long way in its development, the defence sector remains a vital and sensitive topic, as it resolutely resides under the remit of individual Member States, as part of their jura regalia, the oversight functions of a state. For now, it will be interesting to see how the European Defence Project will continue to evolve.