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Report | 24 September 2018

European Defence: Messages for the Next European Commission

This report is based on discussions at the high-level roundtable organised on 7 September 2018 in Brussels by the European Leadership Network (ELN) – in partnership with the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), and Palacio y Asociados.

Sir Julian King, EU Commissioner for the Security Union, set the scene. Participants then discussed the lessons learned and future prospects for Commission involvement in defence and security, including with regards to capability development and industrial policy. Participants came from relevant branches of the European Commission, European Defence Agency, European External Action Service, European Council, and European Investment Bank. A few selected experts and representatives of defence industry were also present.

The event was held under the Chatham House rule.

With European elections upcoming and the shape of the next Commission unknowable, this report is not an agenda for the years to come but rather a set of lessons for the next Commission from the developments of the last two years.

Main messages:

  • Recent years have seen strong political activism and commitment from the Commission. EU actors have learnt that the Commission can make a difference, especially if internal rivalries are subordinated to the larger goal.
  • The ball is now rolling for the EU as a defence actor, but the Commission’s role still feels new, remarkable, and fragile to those involved. There is uncertainty as to how the Commission’s involvement will develop in the next term.
  • After the achievements of a highly political Commission, the challenge for the next term will be to “mainstream” defence issues both inside the Commission and across EU institutions.
  • No matter what the results of the May 2019 European election and the political direction of the next Parliament and Commission, the institutions will find ways to at least preserve the current momentum and progress.
  • The Commission’s role will remain constrained by EU treaties, culture, and Member States. The success of EU initiatives remains heavily dependent on whether Member States truly invest and make full use of the fast-developing EU tools and incentives

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The opinions articulated above also do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address pressing foreign, defence, and security challenges.